Auschwitz guard jailed for five years for helping send thousands to gas chambers

A 94-year-old former SS sergeant was found guilty Friday of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder and sentenced to five years in prison for serving as an Auschwitz guard, in a verdict that survivors from the Nazi death camp hailed as a long overdue victory. More than 70 years after World War II, Reinhold Hanning, 94, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment over his role at the Nazi-run camp in occupied Poland, capping what is likely one of the last Holocaust trials.

He was complicit in mass murder. He was part of a merciless killing machine. Without the active participation of people like him, Auschwitz would not have been possible.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder

Many Holocaust survivors gave testimony at the beginning of the trial. Hanning denied complicity but admitted to being aware of the murders as they were carried out. He apologized to the court. Though there was no evidence Hanning was responsible for a specific crime, he was tried under new legal reasoning that as a guard he helped the death camp operate, and thus could be tried for accessory to murder. Germany is holding what are likely to be its last trials linked to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed more than six million people, mostly Jews, in a deliberate plan of extermination.

The pursuit of justice for Holocaust victims deserves a maximum effort while those responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich can still be held accountable.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, welcomed Friday’s conviction but also called on German authorities to “do everything in their power to expedite the remaining cases.”