SS officer Gröning admits moral guilt

The former SS officer Oskar Gröning admitted "moral guilt" at the start of his trial in Lüneberg on Tuesday. In one of the last Nazi trials, he stands accused of aiding the murder of at least 300,000 people at the Auschwitz extermination camp. The 93-year-old's confession is as vital as the memorials and museums for dealing with the Nazi era, some commentators argue. Others see holding this trial 70 years later as pointless.

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Die Presse (AT) /

Confession at least as important as museums

With his detailed account of Nazi crimes Oskar Gröning is making a valuable contribution to the remembrance culture, the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse comments: "In times when apologies for everything and nothing have taken on an inflationary character, this statement stands out. Seventy years after the discovery of this unique crime against humanity the old man is spreading unease according to the German daily Die Welt: he described how after the cynically named 'selection' process to which victims were subjected on arrival at the camp a baby was left lying behind on the ramp without its mother. An SS man took the baby and smashed its head against the side of a truck and then threw its lifeless body onto the rubbish heap. 'Then I complained, my heart stopped beating,' Gröning said. This terrible deed by a single person was more tangible, more terrible than the mass murders with gas taking place nearby. This confessions 70 years later is at least as important as all the memorial stones and museums."

The Irish Times (IE) /

Judiciary looked the other way for too long

In taking far too long to bring cases like that of Oscar Gröning to trial the postwar German judiciary made itself a moral accessory to the crimes of the Nazis, the left-liberal daily The Irish Times believes: "Public prosecutors refused to open investigations without concrete proof of a specific Nazi-era crime. Without this often impossible burden of proof, they refused to cast their net into the sea let alone drag it back to shore and inspect the contents. And so, the big Nazi fish swam free. … Yet, while elderly Nazis and their victims meet belatedly in court, two generations of German prosecutors will never be held accountable for their moral guilt of letting countless cases get away through decades of official Auschwitz apathy."

Die Welt (DE) /

Too much time has passed since the crime

There's no sense trying a former Nazi 70 years after the fact, the conservative daily Die Welt believes: "Clearly certain parts of the German judiciary wish to leave no stone unturned and to have the law prevail over a sense of mercy. Even though this is essentially senseless, for example regarding crimes that lie so far in the past that the perpetrator or perpetrators inspire pity rather than horror. Extremely lengthy periods of time should not pass between crime and prosecution, not just for the sake of the victims but also so that perpetrators can appropriately atone for their crimes. How are you supposed to punish someone for aiding the murder of 300,000 people when he is unlikely to live long enough to hear the whole argument against him? ... The only point to this trial is that it reminds us that the justice system did too little to bring Nazi criminals to justice when that was still possible."

Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

Model prosecution of Nazi criminals

The dogged prosecution of Nazi war criminals can serve as a model for the Poles in convicting communists, the national-conservative daily Gazeta Polska Codzienna writes, commenting on the trial of former SS guard Oskar Gröning: "The Jewish associations have consistently tracked down the war criminals to put them on trial. They never allowed themselves to be intimidated by accusations that they were being inhumane. … In Poland, by contrast, such criminals still occupy key positions and have their supporters and accomplices. [The Communist party leader] Jaruzelski is already dead. And the media continue to report that [ex-interior minister Czeslaw] Kiszczak's state of health is deteriorating. But damn it, we must be as intractable as the Jews before it's too late! … We wish Kiszczak a hundred years of health so he can cut a good figure in the photographers' pictures when he is led to his cell following his conviction."