After the results of the high profile Oskar Groening trial and appeal, it seemed even more pertinent to make big strides at the end of the year towards the completion of Tiergartenstrasse4 . It was especially so as these recent events in Germany have doubly convinced me of the need for the populations of the western world to own these historical facts.
It is not enough for there to be accessible resource material available, though that is obviously the necessary foundation. There needs to be a stronger awareness of the warning signs of a society on the edge of repeating such horrors.
After researching the life of Kurt Franz, a deputy commander of a Nazi Polish death camp, Treblinka, I was surprised at the conviction, upheld at appeal, of the ninety-five years old SS sergeant at Auschwitz, Oskar Groening.
As Geir Moulson, of The Associated Press commented, “It is the first time an appeals court has ruled on a conviction obtained under the logic that simply having served at a death camp, and thus helping it operate, is enough to convict someone as an accessory to the murders committed there — even if there was no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.” In comparison with the treatment of Kurt Franz, the decision does seem to be a rather belated attempt to compensate for past legal intransigence.
The 1965 West German court convicted Franz of being pivotal in the cold-blooded ‘murder in concert’ of three hundred thousand Jewish people, many of whom were women and children.
Groening, who had asked to be transferred, processed the money stolen from Jewish victims. He also participated in guard duties.
The process of murder at the Treblinka camp provided much scope for brutality. In contrast, the process of murder at Auschwitz was mostly based on subterfuge. Only a small number of staff there participated in the actual killing.
Witnesses saw the unrepentant Franz personally killing and mutilating victims every day. Franz even kept a photo album during his active service, entitled “The Good Old Days” Schone Zeiten (in German).
You may have seen Oskar Groening on the excellent BBC production, Auschwitz, where he bore witness against Holocaust deniers and gave what I believe was a commendable and heartfelt affirmation of his nation’s past crimes.
As for Kurt Franz, he was released on the grounds of age and infirmity, to spend his last years of life, as a free man. How a brute beast like Franz could be allowed any compassion for anything is mind-boggling. How any court of law could possibly avoid the swift curtailment of such a life, such as that prescribed for other Holocaust notables, is truly astounding.
Eva Moses Kor, child survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, drank deep from the well of Judaeo-Christian justice and mercy, embracing Groening and questioning the actual point of the harsh sentence.
It was obvious during the BBC interviews that Groening realized he was opening himself up for possible legal prosecution. So it remains to be seen how this verdict will affect the willingness of other former SS members to give testimony against Holocaust deniers .
The trial and prosecution of this German citizen, Oskar Groening, came so very late in his life and long after the war. Does this partly explain why a German school student could describe Nazi atrocities as being on a par with the United States’ failings in Vietnam? This speaks volumes as to the ineptitude of prior German administrations in prosecuting Nazi war criminals and in publicizing the facts about the Holocaust.
Such a current situation is, however, timely evidence that humanity needs to constantly evaluate itself concerning its failings of the past. This is just the role that an easily accessible work of fiction such as Tiergartenstrasse4 can, in a small part, play.