German Court: 96-Year-Old ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ Fit to Serve Jail Term

BERLIN (AP/Reuters) -
The notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free) sign above the entrance gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

A German court ruled Wednesday that a 96-year-old German known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” was fit to start serving his prison sentence, rejecting his plea for the sentence to be suspended.

Oskar Groening, who is physically frail, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2015 for his role in the murder of 300,000 people at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

However, he had not started serving his sentence due to a legal argument about his health.

Prosecutors said in August that a medical examination showed Groening was fit to start serving his prison sentence, though Groening’s lawyer disputed that.

On Wednesday a court in the northern German town of Celle said: “The higher regional court thinks, based on expert opinion, that the convicted man is able to serve his term despite his advanced age.”

It said enforcing Groening’s sentence would not breach his fundamental rights and added that special needs related to his age could be catered for in prison.

In a 2015 court battle seen as one of the last major Holocaust trials, prosecutors said although Groening did not kill anyone himself while working at Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland, he helped support the regime responsible for mass murder by sorting bank notes seized from trainloads of arriving Jews.

Groening, who admitted he was morally guilty, said he was an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of 21.

He has not yet begun serving his sentence because his lawyer appealed the verdict – though the Federal Supreme Court in November upheld the 2015 ruling – and it has since taken time for the files to be transferred back, said Kathrin Soefker, a spokeswoman for prosecutors in Hanover.

Prosecutors have rejected Groening’s request for a reprieve after a medical assessment determined he was fit for detention, Soefker said.

“A 96-year-old has physical constraints but if he can get appropriate medical and nursing care in a prison or correctional facility, he is fit for prison,” she added.

Meanwhile, a German court upheld two convictions of a well-known neo-Nazi for Holocaust denial and sentenced her to 14 months in prison.

Ursula Haverbeck, 89, was sentenced Tuesday by a district appeals court in Detmold for repeatedly denying the Holocaust, which is a crime in Germany.

Haverbeck had appealed her 2016 conviction for writing to the Detmold mayor during the trial of an Auschwitz guard claiming the death camp was only a labor camp. In closing arguments at that trial she again denied the Holocaust, prompting another conviction.

Several courts have sentenced Haverbeck to prison sentences in the past, including a Berlin district court in October, but Haverbeck has remained free pending appeals.

The German news agency dpa reported Haverbeck’s lawyers would again appeal this latest conviction.