A former Nazi SS guard who was sentenced to five years in prison by a German court for his role as an accessory in the murder of at least 170,000 people in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland has died.
Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning apologized during his trial for failing to take action against the injustice he witnessed. But in April a year ago he apologised to several victims of the Nazis who were present in court, saying he was sorry and ashamed. "I am sincerely sorry".
Former guard Reinhold Hanning died Thursday, a year after he was convicted for his part in the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of people at the notorious death camp. While there was no evidence he directly participated in killings at Auschwitz, he was convicted as an accessory for helping the death camp function in his capacity as a guard in a verdict hailed as an overdue victory for victims.
Hanning first joined the Hitler Youth alongside his class at the age of 13 before joining the Waffen SS when he turned 18. When he was wounded in battle in 1941, he was sent to work at Auschwitz.
"People were shot, gassed and burned", he said during the trial.
"No-one in my family knew that I worked at Auschwitz". Almost 1 million Jews and tens of thousands of others were killed in Auschwitz, which was located in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Thomas Walther who represented more than 20 plaintiffs in the case against Hanning, said following the news of Hanning's death that he was disappointed that the defendant had died before he could be imprisoned:
"If the judiciary had not been silent for decades, then there would not have been this disappointment". Hanning, 95, was appealing his conviction and remained free at the time of his death.
The argument was also used in the 2015 conviction of former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening, whose appeal was rejected a year ago by a top court, firmly establishing the precedent.
Efraim Zuroff, head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, lamented the fact that so far none of the recently convicted men have gone to prison and urged Germany to speed up the process.