A former Nazi SS guard known as "the bookkeeper of Auschwitz" has died before serving a four-year jail term, authorities in Germany said.
Oskar Groening, 96, was sentenced for being an accessory to murder in 2015, but never went to jail due to a series of appeals for clemency on grounds of old age and ill-health.
He died in a hospital on Friday, according to Spiegel Online. The Hannover public prosecutor's office said it had been informed of Groening's death by his lawyer.
Groening was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
He was accused of counting the cash found in the belongings of new arrivals at the camp and sending it to Nazi headquarters in Berlin.
At least 1.1 million people were killed in the camps at Auschwitz, the vast majority of them Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide, but also Poles, gay people, disabled people and other persecuted minorities.
About six million Jewish people died in Nazi concentration camps during the war.
Former Nazi officer Oskar Groening, known as "the bookkeeper of Auschwitz," was sentenced this week to four years in prison. Groening, who's in his 90s, was found guilty by a court in Lueneburg, Germany, of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. His was the latest in a long string of prosecutions for crimes committed under Adolf Hitler's regime during World War II.
Onetime Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk spent decades in and out of courts fighting to prove he was not a guard known to inmates at the Sobibor death camp as "Ivan the Terrible." An Israeli court sentenced him to death in 1988, but that conviction was later overturned. In the end, a German court found him guilty of assisting in mass murder as a guard at the Nazi-run Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and died in 2012 in a home for the elderly where he was living pending appeal.
Perhaps the most famous Nazi war crimes trial was that of Adolf Eichmann, who was hiding in Argentina when he was seized by Israeli agents. He was brought to Jerusalem and tried in a protective glass booth flanked by Israeli police. Responsible for helping to organize the deportation of about 1.5 million Jews to concentration camps, Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against the Jewish people. He was hanged in 1962.
Trials of major war criminals, including the upper echelon of surviving Nazi officials, took place in Nuremberg, Germany, on the heels of World War II. The Nuremberg Trials resulted in 12 death sentences, three life imprisonments, four shorter prison terms and three acquittals. Among those sentenced to death at Nuremberg was Hans Frank, former governor general of occupied Poland. Frank was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was executed by hanging in 1946.
Hermann Goering was the highest-ranking Nazi tried at Nuremberg. He issued the order for Hitler's security police to carry out a "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question" -- resulting in the Holocaust. He was sentenced to death but committed suicide before he could be executed.
Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher was a key voice of anti-Semitism in pre-war Germany as the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer newspaper. He was tried at Nuremberg, convicted of crimes against humanity and executed in 1946.
Rudolf Hess (center) was a longtime personal aide to Adolf Hitler. At the Nuremberg trials, he was sentenced to life in prison and ultimately committed suicide behind bars in 1987, at age 93. With him were Goering (left), Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Wilhelm Keitel. All but Hess were sentenced to death.
A key early supporter of Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg went on to become the minister responsible for eastern territories occupied by the Nazis -- where most of the death camps were located. Tried at Nuremberg, he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1946. He was sentenced to death and hanged.
Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, was minister of armaments under the Nazi regime. He used forced labor to keep the German economy going during the war, and was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was released in 1966. He went on to write two autobiographical books, "Inside the Third Reich" and "Spandau: The Secret Diaries."
One of the Nazi regime's top military doctors was Karl Genzken, a leading defendant at the second round of Nuremberg Trials, which took place from 1946 to 1949 and resulted in scores of convictions of bureaucrats, soldiers, physicians, judges and industrialists for crimes committed under the Third Reich. Genzken was found guilty of experimenting on people using poisons and incendiary bombs and was sentenced to life in prison. Other doctors, such as the notorious Josef Mengele, committed inhumane medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners. Mengele was never caught or tried.
For many years after the war, Groening worked as an accountant in a factory and suppressed what he had witnessed and participated in at Auschwitz.
But in the mid 1980s he finally came forward to say he had seen the mass killings in response to claims by Holocaust deniers.
This admission opened him up to public attention and scrutiny -- and ultimately prosecution.
During his trial, Groening admitted that he was "morally complicit" in the crimes but denied that he was legally guilty.
Groening insisted in a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel that he had been no more than a "cog in the gears".
His first plea for clemency was denied by German prosecutors a day after it was made public, but he never served the sentence due to a raft of further appeals. His latest appeal was denied in January.
The legal doctrine under which Nazis can be tried in Germany began to evolve with the conviction in 2011 of another convicted Nazi war criminal, John Demjanjuk, as an accessory to the murder of 28,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
Groening's conviction extended the doctrine further, opening a door to further trials of alleged Nazi criminals.
In 2016, Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz, was convicted of having assisted in the deaths of 170,000 people and sentenced to five years in prison.
The trial of Hubert Zafke -- then 95 and accused of being an accessory to at least 3,681 murders at the same camp -- also began in 2016, but ended in September last year after he was deemed no longer fit to stand trial due to dementia, according to Reuters.
In statement posted online, Dr Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Holocaust research group, said Groning's death just before he was due to serve his sentence was "unfortunate, at least on a symbolic level."
"Without at least symbolic justice, these trials -- as important as they are -- lose an important part of their significance," he said.
"Their victims never had any appeals, nor did their tormentors have any mercy. Consequently these perpetrators don't deserve either."