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'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' fit for prison, say German prosecutors

A medical examination showed a 96-year-old German known as the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" was fit to start serving his prison sentence, German prosecutors said on Wednesday, but his lawyer said a court should decide whether he's well enough.

The 96-year-old former SS guard had requested a reprieve from serving out his sentence

Former Nazi SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015, at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. Groening, known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz," was sentenced to four years prison after being found guilty of accessory to murder in 300,000 connected cases of deported Jews who were sent to the gas chambers in 1944, but has yet to serve his sentence. (Axel Heimken/Reuters)

A medical examination showed a 96-year-old German known as the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" was fit to start serving his prison sentence, German prosecutors said on Wednesday, but his lawyer said a court should decide whether he's well enough.

Oskar Groening was sentenced to four years in prison in 2015 for his role in the murder of 300,000 people at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in what was seen as one of the last major Holocaust trials.

He has not yet begun serving his sentence because his lawyer appealed the verdict. In November, Germany's Federal Supreme Court upheld the 2015 ruling, and it has since taken time for the files to be transferred back, said Kathrin Soefker, a spokesperson for prosecutors in Hanover.

'Fit for prison'

Prosecutors have rejected Groening's request for a reprieve after a medical assessment determined he was fit for detention, she said.
 
"After getting an official medical opinion we assume Mr. Groening is able to go to prison," Soefker said.

This undated photo shows Groening as a young man in an SS uniform at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the opening of his trial, Groening testified that he bears a moral share of the blame for atrocities at the camp, but that it was up to the judges to decide whether he deserved to be convicted as an accessory to murder. (Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau/Associated Press)

"A 96-year-old has physical constraints but if he can get appropriate medical and nursing care in a prison or correctional facility, he is fit for prison," she added.
 
But Groening's lawyer, Hans Holtermann, told Reuters he did not think Groening could survive imprisonment.

"We will apply for a decision to be made by the court," Holtermann said.
 
"We think a sensible assessment (of Groening's health) should have been carried out and that has not happened yet," he said. 

Fervent Nazi supporter

Groening, who is physically frail, has said he was an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of 21.

During his time at Auschwitz, Groening's job was to collect the belongings of deportees after they arrived at the camp by train and had been put through a selection process that resulted in many being sent directly to the gas chambers.

The 96-year-old requested a reprieve from serving out his sentence in prison, but it was rejected after a medical assessment determined he was fit for detention. (Julian Stratenschulte/Reuters)

In 2015 prosecutors argued that although Groening did not kill anyone himself while working at Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland, he helped support the regime responsible for mass murder by sorting bank notes seized from trainloads of arriving Jews.
 
 

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