Former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening was sentenced to four years in prison Tuesday for being an accessory to 300,000 murders at Auschwitz death camp in 1944.
Groening, 94, had admitted to collecting luggage and valuables from prisoners who were transported by train to Auschwitz. However, he said he only shared moral guilt and did not kill anyone.
Irene Fogel Weiss of Fairfax testified on July 1 in the German courtroom.
As a young girl, Weiss stepped off a train that had taken her from a ghetto in Hungary to Auschwitz. As she stood on the platform and underwent the selection process that determined who would live and who would die, her photograph was taken.
That photograph, found among Auschwitz archival documents, helped pin down when Weiss arrived at the concentration camp. As a result, she was asked to testify.
Weiss doesn’t remember Groening, but she does recall told by about a dozen guards to leave all possessions on the train platform. Her testimony and the photograph, helped place Groening at the scene, she said.
While in the German courtroom, Weiss felt like she was 13 years old again, and her family was still alive.
“It is always emotional when I testify,” she said. “I bring to the testimony all my family. They are all there. It’s terribly emotional. I have to tell them how my mother died, how my father died.”
Weiss was sent to Auschwitz with 425,000 other Jews deported from Hungary during a two-month period beginning in May 1944. She was with her parents, an older brother and three younger siblings. By the end of the war, only she and one sister, Serena, were alive.
Weiss spent eight months in Auschwitz and then struggled through a death march to another camp, Neustadt-Glewe, where she was imprisoned for five months.
She was pleased that the German media covered the trial so closely and that Germans of all ages were able to hear what had happened during the Holocaust.
“These people still haven’t dealt with it. The older generation has buried it. The new generation wants to know,” Weiss said.
She called Groening’s 4-year sentence “symbolic more than anything.”
For her, “there is no closure.” What happed at Auschwitz “should never be forgotten. It should never be closed.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said that Groening’s sentence means “[a]lbeit belatedly, justice has been done.”
He called Groening “a small cog in the Nazi death machine, but without the actions of people like him, the mass murder of millions of Jews and others would not have been possible. It was the right decision to put him on trial despite his old age, and it was right that he was handed a jail sentence.”