Survivor who embraced ex-Nazi guard decries jail term for 96-year-old

A Holocaust survivor who shocked the world by embracing the former Nazi SS Guard known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” decried a German court decision Wednesday which found the 96-year-old is fit to serve out his four-year sentence for accessory to murder of some 300,000 people at the camp.

Groening worked as an accountant at Auschwitz, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labor, and shipping it back to his Nazi superiors in Berlin, according to AFP.

Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor, 83, the founder of the Indiana-based Holocaust museum CANDLES, made headlines in April 2015 for a kiss delivered by former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening on her cheek as she interacted with him at his trial. While she testified against him and verified his crimes, she drew criticism for making a public appeal to have his sentence commuted to community service.

Romanian-born Kor was cruelly experimented upon as a child at Auschwitz by Nazi doctor “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele alongside her identical twin sister Miriam. Their parents and two sisters, as well as most other family, were murdered there.

Kor recalled her impressions of the extermination camp, “The first time I went to use the latrine located at the end of the children’s barrack, I was greeted by the scattered corpses of several children lying on the ground. I think that image will stay with me forever. It was there that I made a silent pledge – a vow to make sure that Miriam and I didn’t end up on that filthy floor.”

Nevertheless, Kor reiterated her position against Groening’s incarceration in an email to The Times of Israel on Wednesday, stating that while she is glad Groening is considered physically fit, she questioned the court’s motivations for upholding the sentence.

Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor is embraced by former Nazi Oskar Groening at his April 23, 2015 trial in Germany. (courtesy)

“My question to the German Court is: ‘Does it make you feel mighty and right to put a 96-year-old Nazi in prison?’ I would agree with you if that happened when he was 36, 46, 56, even 76. He lived most of his life as free man,” Kor wrote The Times of Israel.

Following Wednesday’s hearing, court spokeswoman Kathrin Soefkertold AFP that “The prosecutor has rejected the application from the defense for a sentence suspension.” No date has yet been announced for Groening’s incarceration. A court doctor determined that he is able to serve his sentence, on condition he is given appropriate nursing and medical care while in detention, said Soefker.

“Yes, he is guilty, but instead of prison I would prefer see him lecture in schools via Skype and record such lectures to convince the neo-Nazis that it [the Holocaust] happened and it was terrible,” wrote Kor.

Former Nazi death camp officer Oskar Groening (center) and his lawyers Hans Holtermann (right) and Susanne Frangenberg (left) at the opening of Groening's trial in Lueneburg, Germany, on April 21, 2015 (photo credit: AFP/Ronny Hartmann, Pool)

Forgiving is not forgetting

In an in-depth interview with The Times of Israel in November 2016, Kor explained her personal approach of “forgiving” the Nazis in order to neutralize their continued power and influence over her life.

In 1995, Kor controversially read out a proclamation declaring her across-the-board forgiveness of the Nazis while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with Nazi physician Dr. Hans Munch who gave filmed testimony of crimes against humanity.

Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor at Auschwitz on January 27, 1995, reading her letter of forgiveness to Nazi Dr. Hans Munch. (Youtube screenshot)

“I knew right away that he would find it [the declaration of forgiveness] an important and meaningful gift. But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. That no one could give me that power, and no one could take it away,” said Kor.

At Groening’s trial in 2015, Kor approach the former Nazi twice. On their first encounter, he fainted. The second time, Kor had desired to have her picture taken with the former Auschwitz guard.

Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor points herself out in an image in the Auschwitz Memorial Museum during a 2007 trip. (courtesy)

Asked by The Times of Israel about her motivations, Kor said, “I found it to be an interesting experience to have a Nazi validate my experiences in the camp. This is the only Nazi who has ever testified… So actually, in a very strange way, to the neo-Nazis and the revisionists, Oskar Groening was validating my story. That’s pretty interesting, really. So I wanted a picture with him.”

The encounter ended with an unplanned embrace.

This undated photo made available by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, in Oswiecim, Poland, shows the former Auschwitz-Birkenau guard Oskar Groening as a young man in an SS uniform. (Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau via AP)

“You never know how you would react when you meet an adversary. There is something happening between two human beings that is difficult for science to understand,” Kor told The Times of Israel.

During his 2015 trial, Groening testified that it was “unimaginable” to him that Jews would have left the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland alive. Groening described in chilling detail how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to the Auschwitz death camp, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers, according to an AP report of the trial.

According to Kor, it is exactly this type of testimony that is so much more valuable to humanity than a 96-year-old serving time in prison. “He will never see the jail and if so he will die there very fast. So the Germans are still bull-headed idiots in some ways, because my idea had a lot more merit,” said Kor.

Groening’s “words would impress more neo-Nazis than mine the survivor’s. We should utilize this opportunity,” Kor said Wednesday.

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