On Friday, Oskar Gröning, also known as the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz, passed away at the age of 96. For his allegiance to the Nazi regime and his role in keeping a record of all valuables belonging to Auschwitz prisoners, Gröning was trialed as a war criminal and sentenced to four years of imprisonment in July 2015.
Bookkeeper of Auschwitz Kept Detailed Journal of Atrocities Committed by Guards
Gröning was born on the 10th of June 1921 in Lower Saxony to a conservative family led by a skilled and enterprising textile worker. With his mother passing away when he was four years of age, Gröning struggled with his authoritarian father.
The man’s first recollections of childhood were related to obedience and discipline taken to the extreme. Although he was ordained to thread in his father’s footsteps, Gröning fancied a military way of life over the dullness of working with textiles.
Still, at the age of 17, he began his bank clerking apprenticeship. Gröning would never graduate, as the Second World War broke out after just a short while.
Although his father opposed Gröning’s desire to join the military, given his war experience, the young and naïve never-to-be bank clerk went against his father wishes and signed up with the SS.
Following a short indoctrination session, Gröning and several other recruits were secretly shipped to the Nazi concentration camp in German-occuppied Poland. In his memoirs, the man noted that he and his companions were forced to sign non-disclosure documents which forbade them to speak to family, friends, and even comrades-in-arms about their destination or the nature of their work.
From his admission in the SS division in 1940 and until 1942, Gröning occupied an administrative position, toiling with figures and invoices, far away from the war’s tumult.
In 1942, the man and several other candidates received departure orders from the SS, citing that desk jobs are to be henceforth, the ‘privilege’ of veterans crippled in combat.
Auschwitz’s SS Barracks Had a Lukewarm Demeanor
Following his arrival at the infamous Nazi death camp, Gröning noted in his journal that the SS barracks had a homey demeanor – the guards and officers were friendly, and the barracks was well stocked with food and other necessary provisions.
Given his background in bank clerking, the man was hand-picked by the commander to serve as the camp’s bookkeeper. Gröning’s main task was to keep a record of every possession each prisoner had on them upon registering in the Nazi regime’s death machine.
In his journal, the now Bookkeeper of Auschwitz wrote that he had to sort, catalog, file, and store everything from currency to personal items the guards would retrieve from the prisoner’s pockets
Although Gröning had first treated his Auschwitz duty with the same diligence and detachment as he would in Germany, he started suspecting that something sinister might be afoot given the volume of personal items he needed to process.
His confirmation came a few days later when an SS guard entered the barracks and shouted that a transport is on its way. After this brief episode, Gröning had a staggering revelation about the true purpose of this SS-curated establishment – utter and indiscriminate extermination of all members of sub-races.
Gröning’s Journal Reveals Sordid Details About Auschwitz Extermination Methods
Before Gröning solicited a transfer to the front lines in 1944, he was to bear witness to the machinations of the regime who fervently believed in maniacal ideals such as race purity.
One of his entries pertaining to the atrocities committed by guards read:
…a baby crying. The child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew that women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately. I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying had bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.
Towards the end of 1942, the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz will again be confronted with the horrors of the extermination camp. Gröning noted that one night, him and the guards he shared the barracks with, were awakened by the sound of a loud alarm.
Seconds later, a soldier barged into the barracks and told them that some Jewish prisoners have escaped and that they should arm themselves before leaving. After scouting the woods on the outskirts of Birkenau, Gröning and his comrades, stumbled upon a deserted farmhouse, illuminated only by flares and stoked fires.
In front of it, seven to eight bodies were lined up. An officer would inform them that the prisoners were caught and executed on sight. Later that night, Gröning will bear witnesses to an SS guard throwing a Zyklon B canister inside a cottage, where several Jewish prisoners were kept.
His only recollection of the event was a low-key hum coming from inside the cottage that rapidly turned into blood-curling shrieks after the guard threw in the gas canister.
After being wounded in the Ardennes offensive, captured by the Allies, and imprisoned in an old concentration camp, the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz would be released and reunited with his wife.
In 2015, he was to be held accountable for the death of over 300,000 prisoners during his brisk tenure at the Nazi concentration camp despite his claims of not taking part in the extermination process.
Image source: PublicDomainPictures
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the Auschwitz Nazi camp in Germany-occupied Poland as “Polish camp” and “Polish concentration camp”