The Accountant of Auschwitz | Hot Docs Festival 2018 | 26-28 October 2018
Dir.: Matthew Shoychet; Documentary; Canada 2018, 80 min.
Oskar Gröning was known as the accountant of Auschwitz, in his hometown of Lüneburg. He had lived a very ordinary life for 70 years in this Hanseatic city in Lower Saxony – unperturbed by guilt or singled out for his actions as a member of the SS of Auschwitz.
In his debut documentary Canadian director/writer Matthew Shoychet chronicles the 2015 trial against Gröning and features not only the defendant, but also the surviving victims and the last living judge from the Nuremberg trial and Holocaust deniers.
Born in 1921 into a nationalist family, Oskar Gröning led a mediocre life, but saw the seized the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined the SS. In Auschwitz he was responsible for the accounting of all artefacts stolen from the Jewish internees, the minute they arrived in at the Polish camp. He was there when the goods trains with their passengers arrived, and he was also present on the infamous “Rampe”, where Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death, decided who would be gassed immediately, or who could be of some use as a worker for a limited time. He witnessed gruesome events, such as the brutal killing of a baby (hidden in a suitcase by her mother) after her crying gave her away to the guards. “The crying stopped” was Gröning’s curt comment.
But the survivors’ reactions (also acting also as co-plaintiffs) could not have been more different: Bill Glied (who died in 2018) saw a certain form of justice done. But Eva Morez, who survived the deadly twin experiments of Joseph Mengele (together with her sister Miriam), tells Gröning she forgives him, even giving him a hug.
Benjamin Ferenc, Judge at the Nuremberg Trials, explains why the outcome of this trial is so important: there should never be a statute of limitations for genocide. He also explains that the German justice systems had absolutely no interest in prosecuting SS men and other guards, who kept the concentration camps going: sure, they were little cogs in the machine, but without them, the machinery of death could not have worked. There were 800 000 SS men in 1945, their organisation was declared a “Criminal Association”, but only a quarter of them were vetted, of which about 40% were prosecuted (around 6000), and just 124 life sentences were given out. The reason for this is obvious: judges themselves were guilty of supporting the Nazi death camps, and they certainly wanted to avoid drawing attention to cases, in which they might themselves be implicated. In the end, Oskar Gröning was found guilty and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment as an accessory to murder in 300 000 cases. He lost all his appeals but died before he started his sentence in 2018.
The Accountant is a sobering feature: it once again emerges that the huge majority of Germans shielded the murderer of the KZ camps after 1945. Again we are made aware, that even today the Holocaust is a taboo for many in the united Germany. AS