25 April 2015

Oskar

Oskar Groening worked at Auschwitz. You may have heard of that awful place. Jews were brought there on goods trains for extermination. Oskar  was just twenty one when he arrived at the death camp. He was assigned a clerical position and as a Nazi bureaucrat, he had the job of logging details of the currency that Jewish prisoners brought to Auschwitz.

He was not directly involved in the killing. As he once said,, he had a "desk job" and yet he currently finds himself, at the age of ninety three, facing justice in a court of law charged with being an accessory to the deaths of 300,000 people.

In fairly recent years Oskar Groening spoke out with shame about what he witnessed at Auschwitz. For example, he recalled a particularly terrible incident that had haunted him for sixty years:-
"...a baby crying. The child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew that women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately. I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying had bothered him. He smashed the baby's head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent."

Remember, Oskar Groening was just twenty one when he was sent to Auschwitz. Little more than a boy. In my view, he himself was a victim of the Nazi regime. Like so many young Germans he was caught up in the tide of war. He did not start the war or plan the extermination of Jews. He was just a little cog in the processes of Nazi horror.

I think it's so wrong that this old man now finds himself in a court of law. It isn't justice, it's a legal witch hunt when a line should have been drawn under what happened at Auschwitz a long time ago. He was just a pawn and as in any game of chess, it's the back row you really need to get at and those evil men are already dead. What merit is there in pursuing Oskar? Forgive and forget.

18 comments:

  1. I wonder what I would have done in his situation at his age. I would like to think I would have behaved differently but I very much doubt I'd have had the courage.

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    1. Me too. In reality almost everybody would have swum with the tide - not against it.

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  2. I'm not sure he would have had the option to refuse to do the job he was given. And 21 really is so very young. In any case, I don't see the point in prosecuting an old man who wasn't directly involved in killing anyone. It won't change anything. It won't bring a single soul back. And I can't help but think his life was probably marred by the things he had seen at such a young age.

    I can't help but think of a radio interview I heard a few years ago with one of the American pilots who dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima. He was very matter-of-fact about it and I didn't note any excess of remorse in his voice....and no one is prosecuting him. Surely that's worse than being an office clerk for the Nazis.

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    1. Good point Jennifer. Just because The Allies were the victors doesn't mean to say that that should have given them legal immunity. What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a terrible crime against innocent Japanese citizens and the effects of the radioactivity released are still being felt today. What Oskar did was of minuscule significance in the broad picture of World War II.

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  3. I think you're right - without really knowing the background on Oskar's story. For example, why are they trying him now, so many years later? Did he "hide" his story? Was he sent there to work or choose it, knowing what was happening or not?
    I'd like to think that the best way to get over these horrors is to have a period of confession, reconciliation and forgiveness (if that's possible) or, at least, understanding - but few countries have managed to do this.

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    1. Brian - He was just posted to Auschwitz. He didn't choose it and he was told to do the clerical job he was given. One of the main reasons he is being tried is that in his eighties he came out of the woodwork with his story - possibly never imagining that he would end up in a court of law.

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    2. OK, thanks. That does make it seem bewildering then, that he is being tried now in his 90s.

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  4. As someone whose mother's ancestors were German Jews who migrated to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, let me just say that if it were not for that fact, the likelihood of my being here commenting on your blog today is infinitesimal given how many of Germany's Jewish population were eradicated by the Nazi regime. Still, to prosecute a 93-year-old man -- even if he had knowledge and participated directly, which I strongly doubt -- is not justice. It is misplaced retribution, pure and simple. I forgive this man for his sins and hope he will forgive me for mine, which are many. Nobody is perfect. God help us all to love our neighbor as ourself.

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    1. Yes - "misplaced retribution" - that's exactly it. Forgiveness is a powerful force for good.

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  5. I agree with Adrian and you, Neil, and the others who have commented here, too. It is easy for us to say that we would have never ever worked for the Nazis; we are comfortable, we are well off (more or less), we are not under any persecution or pressure from our countries' governments (I am, of course, just assuming - not knowing exactly where all of you are from). How things can turn around very quickly and make your former neighbour your worst enemy became very obvious when the terrible atrocities between Hutu and Tutsi were carried out in Rwanda. And that is just one example.

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    1. Over seventy years after the darkness, it is easy to stand on the moral high ground. But if those who seek vengeance had been there in young Oskar's shoes they would have very probably done the same as him. And they also seem to overlook the socio-economic and historical forces that spawned the Nazi phenomenon. How could Oskar have changed all of that?

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  6. I don't often disagree with you, Mr. Pudding. But I do today....in part. I agree that we all should find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have wronged us...either as a person or as a nation or as humankind. But forget? I hope we never forget. Never! Perhaps because we remember, countries and governments will not stand by and let a holocaust happen again. (Well, unless genocide is happening in Africa where nobody seems to care!) Perhaps because we remember, countries and governments will never use "the bomb" again. Perhaps because we remember, the enslavement of a whole people will never happen again. Perhaps. Perhaps.

    I have always felt sorry for the person who will be the last person alive who remembers the experience of the concentration camps. What a burden on that person to persuade the rest of humanity........to remember.

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    1. Of course I accept your philosophical rebuke. As you rightly say Mama Thyme, some things should never be forgotten. Forgive but don't forget.

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  7. I agree with you Neil. No justice nor useful purpose is served by such action.

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    1. Ironically, it seems to me that Oskar has a good heart and has spent most of his life rueing what happened at Auschwitz. a he said himself, he was just a small cog in the machine.

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  8. Yet we here in the U.S. are not able to prosecute Dick Cheney.

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    1. Dick Cheney? I don't think it is fair to prosecute a guy just because he has got a rude first name. Would you prefer Penis Cheney?

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.