'Auschwitz accountant' on trial for complicity in 300,000 murders

Trial: Oskar Groening
Trial: Oskar Groening

A 93-year-old man is going on trial in Germany on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder over allegations that he helped the functioning of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland by serving as a guard there.

Oskar Groening is accused of serving at Auschwitz between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were taken there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death.

Prosecutors say that, among other things, he helped to collect and tally money as part of his job dealing with the belongings stolen from camp victims, earning him the moniker "Accountant of Auschwitz".

Groening does not deny serving as a guard there, but says he committed no crime.

He was expected to address the charges as his trial opened in Lueneburg, south of Hamburg, today.

He has spoken publicly about his role in the camp - and it is that aspect of his case that observers such as Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff say makes it particularly important.

"It's the first in recent history in which a defendant has talked [publicly] about the horrors of Auschwitz, that's something you almost never see," Mr Zuroff told the Wall Street Journal. last year.

"I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria," he told the BBC in the 2005 documentary Auschwitz: the Nazis and the "Final Solution".

"I was on the ramp when the selections [for the gas chambers] took place."

He spoke of witnessing an SS soldier murdering a baby, and how the treatment of the prisoners had "horrified" him.

But he said that at the time he believed that killing Jews - including children - was the "right" thing to do.