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Trial Of Former Auschwitz Guard To Begin In Germany

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Accountant of Auschwitz goes on trial tomorrow. That's the nickname of the 93-year-old German man charged in connection with the murders of 300,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Auschwitz survivors and relatives of the victims will attend the trial to see if they will finally get justice. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Former noncommissioned SS Officer Oskar Groening has for years openly talked about the atrocities he witnessed, while tallying money and valuables stolen from prisoners arriving at Auschwitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OSKAR GROENING: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "I feel compelled to refute those who deny what happened there," he told a German TV network 10 years ago. "You need to believe me when I say these horrors happened. I was there."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GROENING: (Speaking German).

NELSON: But Groening rejects playing any role in those horrors. German prosecutors disagree. They are putting him on trial tomorrow here in the scenic medieval town of Lueneburg. Groening is charged with being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews killed at Auschwitz over 57 days in the spring of 1944. His trial is the first to test the German legal precedent, set four years ago in the trial of former Ohio autoworker John Demanjuk, that even camp guards now proven to be directly involved in the killings can be prosecuted. That ruling launched a new wave of Nazi prosecutions, most notably of Groening. Among the deaths he is charged with are those of Hedy Bohm's parents. Bohm was 16 when she, her family and other Jewish residents of their Hungarian town were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz.

HEDY BOHM: I was reluctant to come here, but I believe it's very important, not for me and Groening, but for the future generation, for the young people - and that it will influence, in the future, those who may want to be part of a killing machine as he was and know that they will be held responsible.

NELSON: She and other co-plaintiffs who are testifying at the trial dismiss criticism that Groening is too old to be prosecuted. They say it isn't important whether he is sent to jail or for how long, but that he is declared guilty. Groening's attorney says his client will make a statement as early as tomorrow. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News in Lueneburg, Germany. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.