A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served as a guard at Auschwitz has been found guilty of more than 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.
Reinhold Hanning was sentenced to five years in prison by the Detmold state court, though he will remain free while any appeals are heard.
During his four-month trial, Hanning admitted serving as an Auschwitz guard. He said he was ashamed that he was aware Jews were being killed but did nothing to try to stop it.
He had faced a maximum of 15 years.
Hanning’s defence had called for an acquittal, saying there is no evidence he killed or beat anyone, while prosecutors sought a six-year sentence.
He said during his trial that he volunteered for the SS when he was 18 and served in Auschwitz from January 1942 to June 1944 but said he was not involved in the killings in the camp.
“It disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organisation,” he told the court in April. “I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions.”
Despite his age, Hanning has seemed alert during the four-month trial, paying attention to evidence and occasionally walking into the courtroom on his own, though usually using a wheelchair.
Several equally elderly Auschwitz survivors gave evidence at the trial about their own experiences, and were among about 40 survivors or their families who joined the process as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.
Leon Schwarzbaum, a 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin who was used as slave labourer to help build a factory for Siemens outside the camp, told the court at the start of the trial that he regularly saw flames from the chimneys of the Auschwitz crematoria.
“So much fire came out of the chimneys, no smoke, just fire,” he told the court. “And that was burning people.”
Schwarzbaum later said he does not want Hanning to go to prison and is happy that he apologised, but had hoped that he would have provided more details about his time in Auschwitz for the sake of educating younger generations.
“The historical truth is important,” Schwarzbaum said.
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