miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2016

Auschwitz trial: three survivors describe horrors of Holocaust

Reinhold Hanning in court in Detmold, Germany.
Photograph: Reuters

Youngest witness, now 90, recalls the terror of selection days when SS men decided who was still fit to work and who should be killed.

Three Holocaust survivors have testified about the horrors they experienced at Auschwitz, on the second day of the trial of a former SS sergeant on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.
Justin Sonder arrives at court. Photograph: Bernd Thissen/EPA
Reinhold Hanning, 94, showed no emotion as the witnesses told of crematoria chimneys belching flames, naked prisoners being taken to the gas chambers, and people being shot.
Justin Sonder, the youngest of the witnesses at 90, arrived at Auschwitz aged 17 and was selected to be a slave labourer for the IG Farben company rather than sent directly to the gas chambers.

He told the court that after three or four months he was considered one of the older prisoners and feared most selection days, when SS men would look at rows of inmates – who were forced to stand in a line naked for up to four hours – and decide who was still fit to work and who should be killed.
“I don’t have the words to describe how it was when you know that you could be dead in one or two hours, it made you sick, made you crazy,” Sonder said, his voice trembling. “I survived 17 selections.” 
Hanning is accused of serving as an SS Unterscharführer (junior squad leader) in Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944, a time when hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were brought to the camp in cattle cars and gassed to death.
When first questioned by investigators he admitted that he had served in the Auschwitz I part of the camp, but denied serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where most of the 1.1 million victims were killed.
Prosecutors argue that he is guilty of accessory to murder because he helped the death camp to function, even though there is no evidence of him committing a specific crime.
Hanning has spoken only one word so far in the trial, telling the presiding judge Anke Grudda on Friday, when she asked how he was after the first day of trial, that he was “good”. Trial sessions are limited owing to Hanning’s health, and a doctor is on hand throughout.
Hanning’s lawyer, Andreas Scharmer, said it was highly likely that his client would make a statement during the proceedings, but he would not say when or how detailed it might be.
Sonder said he looked forward to hearing what Hanning had to say. “Perhaps he will try to explain; it would be good if he did,” he said after the session. “I hope he finds the courage to say something.”

Erna de Vries
Erna de Vries. Photograph: Reuters

Another survivor, Erna de Vries, told the court that when the Nazis came for her Jewish mother in 1943 she did not have to go with her to Auschwitz, as her father was not Jewish. But she chose to stay with her.

She had been in Auschwitz for two months when the SS took her and about 85 other people of mixed heritage to the women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück. “That was one of the worst days of my life when I was sent to Ravensbrück and my mother stayed in Auschwitz,” she said. “I never saw her again.”
She said her mother had been happy to hear that she was going to Ravensbrück, knowing that any place was better than Auschwitz. “Auschwitz was a death camp, and she had the hope it would get better for me,” she said.
Leon Schwarzbaum, a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin who was used as slave labourer to help build a factory for Siemens outside the camp, said he could not see the area with the gas chambers and crematoria from where he was kept, but everyone knew exactly what was going on there.
“We saw the fire from the chimneys,” he told the court. “So much fire came out of the chimneys, no smoke, just fire. And that was burning people.”
The three are among about 40 survivors and their families who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law. Not all will testify, but the trial is scheduled to hear from three more when testimony resumes next Thursday and two next Friday.

viernes, 12 de febrero de 2016

A 94-year-old former Nazi guard stands accused of helping to murder 170,000 people

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp,
 leaves in car after the opening of his trial in Detmold,
Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP)
Trials of former Nazi concentration camp guards in Germany have become rare in recent decades: As more and more of the perpetrators have died, prosecutors find it increasingly hard to charge those responsible for the horrendous crimes.
The current trial of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz, may be one of the last of its kind. Hanning is accused of participating in mass shootings and selecting inmates for the executions. The trial started Thursday.
According to the prosecutor's office, Hanning may have been involved in the killing of at least 170,000 people, most of them Jews. More than 1 million people died in Auschwitz alone during World War II. During the time he was a guard at Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis.
According to German news site Spiegel Online, survivors of Nazi concentration camps were among those attending the beginning of the trial in the city of Detmold on Thursday. Several are expected to testify in coming weeks.
One of them, 94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum, described the ordeal, the Associated Press reported: "The chimneys were spewing fire ... the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it."
Hanning denies the charges but acknowledges that he worked in the camp as a guard.
Within the next months, two other men and one woman who are also accused of having been Nazi guards in concentration camps are expected to go on trial in Germany.
For decades, prosecution of Nazi crimes focused on high-level officials and generals. Partially due to a lack of evidence but also given a large number of low-level perpetrators, prosecutors rarely investigated crimes committed by camp guards. That, however, changed after John Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. autoworker, was convicted on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder in 2011.
Only a handful of suspects have stood trial in recent years because it has become increasingly difficult to find evidence of direct involvement in the mass killings. Many others have died before they could be charged.
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reminded its readers that the chances Nazi guards would be sentenced for their crimes had increased since a verdict last year.
Previously, courts had sentenced perpetrators only if they had worked at sites that were exclusively used as death camps, such as Treblinka and Sobibor. Auschwitz was not considered such a camp, which helped many Nazi guards avoid going to jail. Last year, however, a court sentenced an Auschwitz guard to four years in jail for having helped to murder 300,000 people.
Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/02/11/a-94-year-old-former-nazi-guard-stands-accused-of-helping-to-murder-170000-people/