German Auschwitz trial: Justice system criticized by lawyers

AP News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2015 11:02 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Attorneys representing dozens of Auschwitz survivors and their relatives criticized the German justice system Wednesday, saying it moved far too slowly in bringing to trial a former SS sergeant who served at the death camp.

In closing arguments at Oskar Groening's Lueneburg state court trial, attorney Cornelius Nestler questioned why it took 70 years after the end of World War II to try the 94-year-old on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Groening has testified he guarded prisoners' baggage after they arrived at Auschwitz, and collected money stolen from them. Prosecutors say that amounts to helping the death camp function.

Nestler said Groening could have been prosecuted anytime over the past decades, and accused the justice system of being more interested in avoiding such cases than bringing them to trial.

"Proceedings of this kind only materialize anymore where a willing, dedicated and fast-working prosecutor happens to encounter a willing court and where the accused is still able to stand trial," he said.

Prosecutors have asked for 3½ years in prison for Groening should he be found guilty, but recommended 14 to 22 months be deducted from his sentence because it took so long to bring him to trial.

Nestler argued the reduction was unnecessary because Groening, who hasn't been jailed during the trial, was never inconvenienced by any delay.

Thomas Walther, who along with Nestler represents 51 people who joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed in Germany, said Groening deserves respect for admitting his role in Auschwitz, but survivors remain disappointed they didn't hear him take personal responsibility.

"The co-plaintiffs are not giving up hope that the accused will finally liberate his own soul in his last word and open up about what happened and what he saw," Walther told the court.

A verdict is expected later this month.