Former Auschwitz guard describes camp in chilling detail

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'Accountant of Auschwitz' Guard Goes on Trial

LUENEBURG, Germany (AP) -- A former SS sergeant described in chilling detail Wednesday how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to the Auschwitz death camp, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers.

Oskar Groening is being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland and most immediately gassed to death.

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Former Auschwitz guard describes camp in chilling detail
Former SS sergent Oskar Groening arrives for the judgement at the trial against him in in Lueneburg, Germany Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Groening, 94, who is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz between May and June 1944, has been convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. The state court gave Groening a four-year sentence. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Journalists gather outside the courtroom after a verdict in the case of former SS officer Oskar Groening on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Oskar Groening, 94, sat impassively as judge Franz Kompisch said 'the defendant is found guilty of accessory to murder in 300,000 legally connected cases' of deported Jews who were sent to the gas chambers in 1944. AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Former SS sergent Oskar Groening arrives for the judgement at the trial against him in in Lueneburg, Germany Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Groening, 94, who is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz between May and June 1944, has been convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. The state court gave Groening a four-year sentence. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
94-year-old former SS sergeant Oskar Groening looks up as he listens to the verdict of his trial Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at a court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Groening, who served at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a four-year sentence. (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)
Auschwitz survivor Max Eisen shows a photograph from 1940 that shows him, center, with his parents and brothers, Thursday, April 23, 2015, in a courtroom in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Eisen attends the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening, 93, who is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 were almost immediately gassed to death. (Julian Stratenschulte/Pool via AP)
With the help of a Red Cross worker, former SS guard Oskar Groening, right, leaves the court after the verdict of his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Groening, 94, who served at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a four-year sentence. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
LUNEBURG, GERMANY - JULY 15: Oskar Groening, 94, a former member of the Waffen-SS who worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, awaits the verdict in his trial on July 15, 2015 in Lueneburg, Germany. Groening was accused of complicity in the murder of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz in 1944. He worked as an accountant for the SS at Auschwitz and has admitted moral and personal responsibility for his role there. Groening has been convicted of being an accessory to murder, and sentenced to four years in prison. (Photo by Hans-Jurgen Wege - Pool/Getty Images)
94-year-old former SS sergeant Oskar Groening sits between his lawyers Hans Holtermann, right, and Susanne Frangenberg, left, during the verdict of his trial Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at a court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Groening, who served at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a four-year sentence. (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)
Former prisoner of Auschwitz concentration camp and plaintiff Hedy Bohm , left, and her daughter Vicky Bohm wait in the courtroom for the trial of former German SS officer Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Wednesday July 8 2015 Groening is charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he helped the Auschwitz Nazi death camp function by sorting cash and valuables seized from Jews. German prosecutors sought a 3½-year prison sentence for the 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, saying his role there made him an accessory to murder. ( Christian Charisius/Pool Photovia AP)
LUNEBURG, GERMANY - JULY 15: The joint plaintiff's lawyers Cornelius Nestler (L) and Thomas Walther (R) await the verdict in the trial of Oskar Groening, 94, a former member of the Waffen-SS who worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, on July 15, 2015 in Lueneburg, Germany. Groening was accused of complicity in the murder of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz in 1944. He worked as an accountant for the SS at Auschwitz and has admitted moral and personal responsibility for his role there. Groening has been convicted of being an accessory to murder, and sentenced to four years in prison. (Photo by Hans-Jurgen Wege - Pool/Getty Images)
Former SS officer Oskar Groening waits in a courtroom in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Wednesday July 8, 2015. German prosecutors sought a 3½-year prison sentence for the 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, saying his role there made him an accessory to murder. (Christian Charisius/Pool Photo via AP)
Former prisoner of Auschwitz concentration camp and plaintiff Irene Weiss arrives for the trial of a German former SS officer known as the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz' on July 1, 2015 at the courtroom at the 'Ritterakademie' venue in Lueneburg, northern Germany. German national Oskar Groening, 94, stands accused of 300,000 counts of 'accessory to murder' in the cases of deported Hungarian Jews sent to the gas chambers between May and July 1944. AFP PHOTO / RONNY HARTMANN (Photo credit should read RONNY HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
Former SS officer Oskar Groening , 94, sits in the courtroom in Lueneburg , northern Germany, Wednesday, July 1., 2015. Groening is charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he helped the Auschwitz nazi death camp function by sorting cash and valuables seized from Jews. (Ronny Hartmann/Pool Photo via AP)
Auschwitz survivor William "Bill" Glied shows photos of his sister Anniko, left, his parents Maria and Alexander, center, and of himself as a six-year-old boy in a courtroom in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Thursday, April 23, 2015. Glied attends the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening, 93, who is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 were almost immediately gassed to death. (Julian Stratenschulte/Pool via AP)
Former prisoner of Auschwitz concentration camp and plaintiff Hedy Bohm arrives for the trial of a German former SS officer known as the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz' on July 1, 2015 at the courtroom at the 'Ritterakademie' venue in Lueneburg, northern Germany. German national Oskar Groening, 94, stands accused of 300,000 counts of 'accessory to murder' in the cases of deported Hungarian Jews sent to the gas chambers between May and July 1944. AFP PHOTO / RONNY HARTMANN (Photo credit should read RONNY HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
The joint plaintiff's lawyers Cornelius Nestler (L) and Thomas Walther (R) react during the verdict in the case of convicted former SS officer Oskar Groening on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Oskar Groening, 94, sat impassively as judge Franz Kompisch said 'the defendant is found guilty of accessory to murder in 300,000 legally connected cases' of deported Jews who were sent to the gas chambers in 1944. AFP PHOTO / POOL / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum shows his tattooed number to the photographer as he waits to enter the court room for the judgment at the trail against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, Germany, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Groening, 94, who served at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a four-year sentence. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Former SS guard Oskar Groening steps out of a car as he arrives at the back entrance of the court hall prior to a trail against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. Groening, 93, is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 were almost immediately gassed to death. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Former SS guard Oskar Groening sits in ths sun during the noon break of the trial against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. 93-years-old Groening faces 300,000 counts of accessory to murder at the trial, which will test the argument that anyone who served as a guard at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. Groening said he bears a share of the moral guilt for atrocities at the camp, but told judges it is up to them to decide whether he deserves to be convicted as an accessory to murder. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Auschwitz survivor Eva Pusztai-Fahidi, 2nd from right, from Budapest and her 23-years-old granddaughter Luca Hartai, right, leave the court hall during the noon breaks of the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Auschwitz survivor Eva Pusztai-Fahidi, left, from Budapest and her 23-years-old granddaughter Luca Hartai, right, leave the court hall during the noon breaks of the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Former Nazi death camp officer Oskar Groening sits outside during a break of his trial on April 21, 2015 in Lueneburg, northern Germany. The 93-year-old man dubbed the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz' is being tried on 'accessory to murder' charges in 300,000 cases of deported Hungarian Jews who were sent to the gas chambers, and faces up to 15 years jail. (Photo by Ronny Hatmann via AFP/Getty Images)
Former SS guard Oskar Groening, left, uses a walking frame as he enters the back entrance of the court hall followed by his lawyer Hans Holtermann, right, for a trail against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Oskar Groening, 93, and his lawyer Hans Holtermann are seen during the first day of his trial to face charges of being accomplice to the murder of 300,000 people at the Auschwitz concentration camp on April 21, 2015 in Lueneburg, Germany. Groening was an accountant with the Waffen SS and has been open about his role, claiming in interviews with media that he accepts his moral responsibility. Groening has also written an account of his experience, in what he claims is an effort to counter Holocaust revisionists. State prosecutors accuse Groening of accomplice in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. (Photo by Andreas Tamme - Pool/Getty Images)
Oskar Groening, 93, arrives for the first day of his trial to face charges of being accomplice to the murder of 300,000 people at the Auschwitz concentration camp on April 21, 2015 in Lueneburg, Germany. Groening was an accountant with the Waffen SS and has been open about his role, claiming in interviews with media that he accepts his moral responsibility. Groening has also written an account of his experience, in what he claims is an effort to counter Holocaust revisionists. State prosecutors accuse Groening of accomplice in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. (Photo by Andreas Tamme - Pool/Getty Images)
Auschwitz survivors Hedy Bohm, right, and Eva Pusztai-Fahidi sit in a court room in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (Ronny Hartmann/Pool Photo via AP)
Auschwitz survicor Eva Kor sits in a court room in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (Julian Stratenschulte/Pool Photo via AP)
The room is packed with media during a news conference organized by the International Auschwitz Committee on the eve of a trail against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Monday, April 20, 2015. Groening, today 93, faces a trail on Tuesday, April 21, and is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz 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. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
A picture taken on April 21, 2015 shows files ahead to a trial of former Nazi death camp officer Oskar Groening at a court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. The 93-year-old man dubbed the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz' is being tried on 'accessory to murder' charges in 300,000 cases of deported Hungarian Jews who were sent to the gas chambers, and faces up to 15 years jail. Ronny Hartmann via Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken on April 20, 2015 shows a general view of the 'Ritterakademie' venue in Lueneburg, northern Germany. The 'Ritterakademie' is the venue of the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening, that will start on April 21, 2015. For seven decades Oskar Groening has been haunted by memories of serving in Auschwitz, while denying ultimate responsibility for the mass murder at the Nazi death camp. From April 21, 2015, the 93-year-old faces the Lueneburg court that will decide on his guilt. (Photo by Ronny Hartmann via Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
Auschwitz survivors Hedy Bohm, from Toronto, Canada, from left, and Eva Pusztai-Fahidi from Budapest, Hungary, and the Exicutive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee Christoph Heubner attend a news conference organized by the International Auschwitz Committee on the eve of a trail against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Monday, April 20, 2015. Groening, today 93, faces a trail on Tuesday, April 21, and is accused of helping to operate the death camp Auschwitz between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 were almost immediately gassed to death. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Defendant Oskar Groening sits in the dock of the court in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard faces trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, in a case that will test the argument that anyone who served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. (Julian Stratenschulte/Pool Photo via AP)
German neo-Nazi Thomas Wulff (C) is surrounded by police as he stands in front of the venue of the trial against a former Nazi death camp officer on April 21, 2015 in Lueneburg, northern Germany. 93-year-old Oskar Groening dubbed the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz' is being tried on 'accessory to murder' charges in 300,000 cases of deported Hungarian Jews who were sent to the gas chambers, and faces up to 15 years jail. (Photo by Ronny Hartmann via Pool/Getty Images)
People walk through a street of the old town of Lueneburg, northern Germany, on April 20, 2015. A trial will start in Lueneburg on April 21, 2015 against former SS guard Oskar Groening. For seven decades Oskar Groening has been haunted by memories of serving in Auschwitz, while denying ultimate responsibility for the mass murder at the Nazi death camp. From April 21, 2015, the 93-year-old faces the Lueneburg court that will decide on his guilt. (Photo by Ronny Hartmann via Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
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During that period, so many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was "processed," Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court.

Though he was more regularly assigned to the camp's Auschwitz I section, he said he guarded the Birkenau camp three times, including one busy 24-hour shift. The main gas chambers were located at Birkenau.

"The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn't verify this. I didn't know," he said. "For the sake of order we waited until train 1 was entirely processed and finished."

Auschwitz survivors describe their arrival as chaotic, with Nazi guards yelling orders, dogs barking and families being ripped apart.

But Groening, 93, maintained the opposite, saying "it was very orderly and not as strenuous" on the ramp at Birkenau.

"The process was the same as Auschwitz I. The only difference was that there were no trucks," he said during the second day of his trial. "They all walked - some in one direction some, in another direction ... to where the crematoria and gas chambers were."

No pleas are entered in the German system and Groening said as his trial opened Tuesday that he considers himself "morally guilty," but it was up to the court to decide if he was legally guilty. He faces between three and 15 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which is scheduled through July.

Eva Kor, 81, was one of the Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. Though she doesn't remember Groening personally, she said she can't forget the scene.

"Everything was going very fast. Yelling, crying, pushing; even dogs were barking. I had never experienced anything that fast or that crazy in my entire life," she told The Associated Press before addressing the court.

Her two older sisters and parents were taken directly to the gas chambers, while she and her twin sister, both 10 at the time, were ripped away from their mother to be used as human guinea pigs for notorious camp Dr. Josef Mengele's experiments.

"All I remember is her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away," Kor remembered. "I never even got to say goodbye."

Kor, who now lives in Indiana, is one of more than 60 Auschwitz survivors and their families from the U.S., Canada, Israel and elsewhere who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.

Thomas Walther, who represents many co-plaintiffs, said he and his clients were happy Groening agreed to testify, but suspected he was withholding many details.

"There is an ocean of truth, but with many islands of lies," he said.

Kor, the first co-plaintiff to address the court, described her experience Wednesday and asked Groening whether he knew Mengele or details about files he kept in hopes of learning more about what diseases she and her sister, who both survived the camp, were injected with.

Groening showed no reaction to Kor's statement and his attorney, Hans Holtermann, said his client would try to answer what questions he could, but he didn't believe that Groening knew Mengele.

Groening guarded prisoners' baggage on the ramps, but his main task was to collect and tally money stolen from the new arrivals and then send it to Berlin - a job for which the German press has dubbed him the "Accountant of Auschwitz."

While he previously testified he was "horrified" by individual atrocities he witnessed, he suggested Wednesday his daily thoughts were more pedestrian, like when the guards heard a train loaded with Hungarian Jews would be arriving.

"If this is Hungary, they have bacon on board," he remembered thinking.

Though he was investigated twice before and no charges were brought, Groening was indicted under a new line of German legal reasoning that anyone who helped a death camp function can be accused of being an accessory to murder without evidence of participation in a specific crime. Groening, who worked for an insurance company after the war, has testified as a witness in other Nazi trials.

Outside court, Kor said she wished Groening would use the trial to try and dissuade "misguided young people" today from becoming neo-Nazis but she was still satisfied with his testimony.

"I'm going to take whatever confession he gives - it's better than no confession," she told reporters. "Maybe this is the best thing he has ever done in his life. Isn't that sad?"

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