Seventy years after committing the crimes, a 93-year-old man has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at the Nazis' Auschwitz concentration camp, prosecutors told the Associated Press on Monday.
Oskar Groening stands accused by German prosecutors in Hanover of "helping operate the death camp in occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death," the Associated Press reports.
According to Bloomberg News, Groening may have been something of a glorified luggage handler, a function that still qualifies him as an accessory to war crimes due to his involvement in the selection process for prisoners funneled into the Nazi concentration camp system:
The man, who wasn't identified, disposed of the luggage new prisoners left on train tracks at the concentration camp, Sabine Stuenkel, spokeswoman for Hanover prosecutors, said in an e-mailed statement today.
The goal was to "hide traces of the mass murder for subsequent inmates," Stuenkel said. "Above all, his task was to count banknotes taken from the luggage and transfer them to the SS's economy and administration agency in Berlin."
Bloomberg News reports that Groening "knew the inmates who were selected upon arrival and classified as 'not capable of working' ... would be put to death in the gas chamber," according to prosecutors, and the money he collected while on duty at the concentration camp "helped fund the Nazis and supported the systematic killing."
Groening's case is the latest in a new string of investigations into Nazi crimes against humanity during World War II. "[In 2011] John Demjanjuk ... sentenced to five years in prison for aiding the Nazis in the murder of at least 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp," Bloomberg reports. Following the Demjanjuk trial, Germany's Nazi investigation unit asked prosecutors around the country to investigate 30 former guards at Auschwitz under a new set of rules for their prosecution.
"The Demjanjuk verdict triggered a new wave of investigations after the judges veered from previous cases that required proof of individual acts," explains Bloomberg's Karin Matussek. "In Demjanjuk’s case, the court said it was enough to show he worked at the camp where everyone was involved in the mass killings."
Since 2011, four former guards, uncluding Groening, have been targeted by investigators. Two other investigations were shelved because the suspects were been deemed unfit for trial, and one was closed when the suspect died. Groening's may be the first to go to trial.
"Many of the co-plaintiffs are among the last survivors of Auschwitz," Thomas Walther, who represents 20 Auschwitz victims and their families, told the Associated Press. "[It's their last chance] to participate in bringing justice to one of the SS men who had a part in the murder of their closest relatives."
Editors Note: Mar. 3, 2015
An earlier version of this article cited Bloomberg's reporting, but did not include quotations around the cited passage. The story has been updated to fully attribute the Bloomberg's language. In addition the article failed to cite a passage from the Independent in accordance with Mic editorial standards. The article has been updated to properly attribute the language to the Independent.