A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served in Auschwitz testified Wednesday he helped the death camp function in his role sorting cash and valuables seized from Jews after they arrived in cattle-cars.
Oskar Groening told the Lueneburg state court in a statement read by his attorney that it was hard today to understand the blind obedience he had to the Nazi system even when witnessing the terrible atrocities perpetrated at the death camp in German-occupied Poland.
“There was a self-denial in me that today I find impossible to explain,” Groening said, the dpa news agency reported. Groening is accused of helping Auschwitz function in his job at the camp for which the German press has dubbed him the “Accountant of Auschwitz.” He guarded prisoners’ baggage on the ramps, but his main task was to collect and tally money stolen from the new arrivals and then send it to Berlin.
In testimony Wednesday, Auschwitz survivor Irene Weiss, 84, told the court she vividly remembered arriving at the death camp as a 13-year-old and being immediately separated from her entire family except for her older sister.
She said she asked other prisoners when she would see them again. “A woman pointed to a chimney and said: ‘Do you see the smoke? There is your family,’” she said, according to a transcript of her statement from her attorneys.
In his statement, Groening said even though he had known what was going on at Auschwitz, the personal stories of the co-plaintiffs during the trial had brought home the enormity of the atrocities.
“I can only ask my G-d for forgiveness,” he said.