A 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz was convicted in a German court of complicity in the murder of 170,000 people at the Nazi death camp and sentenced to five years in jail, according to media reports.
The verdict in the case against Reinhold Hanning was announced Friday (June 17) by the judge presiding over what is likely Germany’s last Holocaust trials, Reuters reported. Hanning, who could have faced a 15-year sentence, will remain free pending any appeals.
Hanning admitted to the state court in Detmold during the four-month trial that he volunteered for the SS at age 18 and served in Auschwitz from January 1942 to June 1944. He said he was not involved in the killings in the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Hanning worked at the camp during the so-called Hungary Operation, in which 425,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz over three months in 1944. The majority of them were gassed upon arrival.
“It disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organization,” he told the court in April, according to the Associated Press. “I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologize for my actions.”
The defense argued Hanning’s mere presence at the camp did not prove his direct responsibility for the killings.
Fifty-seven Auschwitz survivors and their family members joined the proceedings as co-plaintiffs, as permitted under German law, DPA, the German news agency, reported.
Last year, another 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz, Oskar Groening, was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a four-year prison sentence.
Groening, the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” was convicted in the northern German city of Lueneburg for his role at the camp following testimony that he presided over prisoners’ belongings and collected their money before they were marched to their death in gas chambers.
He did not dispute the charges and admitted “moral guilt” for the atrocities. His lawyers argued he should be acquitted because he did not actively facilitate mass murder.
(Doug Stanglin writes for USA Today)