Auschwitz survivor, 94, testifies

  • 12/02/2016

By Elke Ahlswede

A 94-year-old survivor of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp has given his testimony in court, face to face with a former guard, who is charged with helping in the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Leon Schwarzbaum, who lost 35 family members during the Holocaust, calmly recalled the camp's horrors and when he had finished he directly addressed the accused, Reinhold Hanning, also 94, on Thursday, the first day of his trial.

"I want to know why millions of Jews were killed and here we both are," Schwarzbaum said, his voice beginning to tremble.

"Soon we will both stand in front of the highest judge - tell everyone here what happened, the way I've done just now!"

Hanning avoided eye contact throughout, showing no reaction to Schwarzbaum's account.

He had shuffled slowly into court and sat hunched and motionless in what is likely to be one of Germany's last Nazi war crimes trials.

The former guard was 20 in 1942 when he joined the SS Death Head Unit at the concentration camp in occupied Poland, where more than 1.1 million Jews were killed.

The international media frenzy surrounding the case forced authorities to move the trial from the court house in Detmold, a small town in western Germany, to a bigger venue in the suburbs.

There was a heavy police presence around the building with a squad of officers on horseback, as Hanning walked in, wearing black glasses and a brown tweed jacket and looking at the ground.

The session was limited to two hours due to his age.

Prosecutors said Hanning had joined the Death Head Unit, the Nazi organisation overseeing death camps, voluntarily at the age of 18 and fought in eastern Europe in the early stages of World War Two before being transferred to Auschwitz in January 1942.

He is accused by the prosecutor's office in Dortmund as well as by 40 joint plaintiffs from Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain, the United States and Germany.

Hanning will not speak himself but his lawyer may read out a statement once all the witnesses have testified, defence lawyer Johannes Salmen said after the session ended.

He has admitted to having been a guard in a statement to the prosecution, but has denied involvement in the mass killings.