A 94-year-old former Nazi SS guard was found guilty today of being an accessory to the murder of more than 170,000 people, a majority of them Jews. Reinhold Hanning, who served at the Auschwitz death camp, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Hanning was an SS guard during Nazi-occupied Poland between January 1943 and June 1944. During that time hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were murdered.
The trial took place in the city of Detmold in western Germany. A doctor determined that Hanning was fit to stand trial, but each session lasted only two hours. At first, Hanning refused to speak and, according to witnesses, avoided eye contact with survivors who had flown in from Canada, the United States, Hungary and Britain to give their testimony.
But at one point during the four-month trial, Hanning broke his silence. “I deeply regret having been part of a criminal organization responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people and destruction of countless families,” Hanning said to a packed courtroom.
According to the Guardian, Angela Orosz Richt-Bein, a 71-year-old Holocaust survivor, addressed Hanning in the courtroom Friday. “People like you, Mr. Hanning, made the hell of Auschwitz possible,” she said. “People who looked on and assisted without asking questions.”
Prosecutors argued that Hanning helped facilitate the death camp function by escorting some prisoners who arrived at the camp to the gas chambers, the Associated Press reported.
Because of the age of Holocaust survivors, many view trials of former Nazi concentration camp guards as one of their last opportunities for justice. According to the BBC, Hanning is one of four former Nazi guards who have gone to trial this year.
During World War II, more than 1 million people, mostly European Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz.
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