Groening Holocaust Trial: He was a link in the chain of genocide – Erna Paris

Erna Paris on the trial of the former SS guard whose job it was to go through the belongings of new arrivals at Auschwitz and the evolution in defining complicity in international law:

For the past two decades, the UN ad hoc international criminal tribunals and the ICC have been incrementally refining the meaning of complicity in major crimes, including the degree of active participation, including non-violent participation, in a criminal enterprise. The German court will have to decide whether the charges against Oskar Groening meet the criteria broadly known as “contribution” or “aiding and abetting.” He has openly admitted witnessing the gassing of prisoners whose possessions he had earlier stolen.

Given the evolution of the law, not least in Germany, it’s hard to imagine an acquittal. He has acknowledged having been briefed by the SS about his “difficult” posting to Auschwitz. He was told the camp was central to Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews. And he went there freely, proud to serve. An acquittal would reverse Germany’s renewed attempts to try Holocaust-related cases before the last of the perpetrators dies. It would suggest a return to the problematic ways of old. This would be complicated. More than seven decades later, Germans remain haunted by the 12 years that fractured their society and bifurcated the 20th century.

Conversely, a conviction would reaffirm that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity, and that accountability remains possible. For example, there are now optimistic signs in Bosnia, where 10 former Bosnian-Serb soldiers were recently indicted for war crimes committed in 1993. Remarkably, given the history of that conflict, it was co-operation with Serbian prosecutors that made this possible.

Oskar Groening is neither insensitive nor dishonest. Years ago he refuted the Holocaust-deniers. He has expressed shock at the atrocities he witnessed in the Auschwitz camp. He has requested forgiveness for his “moral complicity.” Perhaps he has compared his untroubled postwar life to the murders of millions in his former workplace.

Perhaps he would welcome the justice of a conviction.

In that he would resemble the few elderly men and women who survived the Auschwitz hell and have travelled to the Lunenburg courtroom; or the adult children who have come in the name of traumatized parents who did not live long enough to see – to hope for – a small measure of justice in the closing days of their lives.

He was a link in the chain of genocide – The Globe and Mail.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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