For­mer Nazi Auschwitz guard 94-year-old Rein­hold Han­ning apol­o­gizes to Holo­caust sur­vivors dur­ing trial in Ger­many

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

A94-year-old for­mer SS sergeant ad­mit­ted in court Fri­day that he had served as an Auschwitz death camp guard, apol­o­giz­ing to Holo­caust sur­vivors look­ing on in a Ger­man court­room that even though he was aware Jews were be­ing gassed and their corpses burned, he did noth­ing to try to stop it.

Rein­hold Han­ning told the Det­mold state court that he had never spo­ken about his wartime ser­vice in Auschwitz from Jan­uary 1942 to June 1944, even to his fam­ily, but wanted to use his trial as an op­por­tu­nity to set the record straight.

“I want to say that it dis­turbs me deeply that I was part of such a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said as he sat in a wheel­chair, talk­ing with a weak voice into a mi­cro­phone. “I am ashamed that I saw in­jus­tice and never did any­thing about it and I apol­o­gize for my ac­tions. I am very, very sorry.” As he spoke, Auschwitz sur­vivor Leon Sch­warzbaum watched from about 5 yards away with a steely face, af­ter­ward say­ing he was happy Han­ning apol­o­gized but that it wasn’t enough.

“I lost 35 fam­ily mem­bers. How can you apol­o­gize for that?” the 95-year-old said. “I am not an­gry, I don’t want him to go to prison but he should say more for the sake of the young gen­er­a­tion to­day be­cause the his­tor­i­cal truth is im­por­tant.”

Han­ning is charged with 170,000 counts of ac­ces­sory to mur­der on al­le­ga­tions that as a guard he helped the death camp func­tion, so can legally be found guilty of ac­ces­sory to mur­der. Sch­warzbaum is one of some 40 Holo­caust sur­vivors who has joined the trial as co-plain­tiff as al­lowed un­der Ger­man law, though only one other was in court to hear Han­ning.

Prose­cu­tor An­dreas Bren­del said there was good ev­i­dence al­ready that Han­ning served in the camp, but that his ad­mis­sion Fri­day could help win a con­vic­tion.

“To­day’s state­ment con­trib­uted a lit­tle more to es­tab­lish that he was there, be­cause he ad­mit­ted that, and more im­por­tantly to the fact that he knew about the killings in the main camp — that also is a cru­cial fact,” Bren­del told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Pleas are not en­tered in the Ger­man sys­tem and such state­ments to the court are not un­com­mon, and fre­quently help mit­i­gate the length of a sen­tence.

Han­ning faces a pos­si­ble 15 years in prison if con­victed but at his age it is un­likely he will ever spend time be­hind bars given the length of the ap­peals process.

Ahead of the short state­ment he made him­self, Han­ning’s at­tor­ney Jo­hannes Sal­men read a 22-page state­ment from Han­ning de­tail­ing how his client had joined the Hitler Youth with his class in 1935 at age 13, then vol­un­teered at 18 for the Waf­fen SS in 1940 at the urg­ing of his step­mother.

He fought in sev­eral bat­tles in World War II be­fore be­ing hit by grenade splin­ters in his head and leg dur­ing close com­bat in Kiev in 1941.

Han­ning spoke fondly of his time at the front and said as he was re­cov­er­ing from his wounds he asked to be sent back but his com­man­der de­cided he was no longer fit for front-line duty, so sent him to Auschwitz.

He said he didn’t know what Auschwitz was at that time, but quickly found out, though he said his ini­tial re­spon­si­bil­ity was to reg­is­ter pa­trols and work de­tails com­ing and go­ing through the front gate, far away from where the killings were tak­ing place.

“No­body talked to us about it in the first days there, but if some­one, like me, was there for a long time then one learned what was go­ing on,” he told the court in the state­ment, look­ing down at the ta­ble in front of him as it was read aloud.

“Peo­ple were shot, gassed and burned. I could see how corpses were taken back and forth or moved out. I could smell the burn­ing bod­ies; I knew corpses were be­ing burned.”

He was later as­signed to a guard tower and said all guards had or­ders to shoot pris­on­ers try­ing to es­cape, but he did not say whether he ever shot any­one him­self and did not men­tion any spe­cific in­volve­ment in the killings in Auschwitz, where nearly 1 mil­lion Jews and tens of thou­sands of oth­ers were slaugh­tered.

“I’ve tried my whole life to for­get about this time,” he said. “Auschwitz was a night­mare.”

- The As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer SS of­fi­cer Rein­hold Han­ning, 94, sits in the court­room in Det­mold, Ger­many, on Fri­day.

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