LUENEBURG, Germany -- A former SS sergeant described in chilling detail yesterday 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.
Oskar Groening, 93, is being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland and most immediately gassed to death.
Groening said as his trial opened a day earlier that he considers himself "morally guilty," but it was up to the court to decide if he was legally guilty.
Eva Kor, 81, an Auschwitz survivor who testified, said good can come from Groening's detailed account of the horrors. Kor said she wished Groening would use the trial to try and dissuade "misguided young people" today from becoming neo-Nazis, but she was still satisfied with his testimony. " . . . it's better than no confession," she told reporters outside court. "Maybe this is the best thing he has ever done in his life. Isn't that sad?"
Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court that during that period in 1944, so many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was "processed," Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court.
Though he was more regularly assigned to the camp's Auschwitz I section, he said he guarded the Birkenau unloading ramp three times, including one busy 24-hour shift. The main gas chambers were located at Birkenau.
"The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn't verify this. I didn't know," he said. "For the sake of order, we waited until train 1 was entirely processed and finished."
Kor, 81, was one of the Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. Though she doesn't remember Groening personally, she said she can't forget the scene.
Her two older sisters and parents were taken directly to the gas chambers, while she and her twin sister, 10 at the time, were ripped away from their mother to be used as human guinea pigs for notorious camp Dr. Josef Mengele's experiments. "All I remember is her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away," Kor remembered. "I never even got to say goodbye."
Kor, who now lives in Indiana, is one of more than 60 Auschwitz survivors and their families from the United States, Canada, Israel and elsewhere who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs under German law.