Nazi Trials About More Than Punishment, Author Says

Dec 12, 2016

Trials of former Nazis accused of aiding in the Holocaust continue to wind their way through the German legal system even now.

Oskar Groening was a guard at Auschwitz concentration camp from 1942-1944.  A German court last year found the 95-year-old Groening guilty of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. His conviction was upheld by an appeals court last month.

“It’s the idea that living to an old age does not absolve you of guilt,” said Andrew Nagorski, author of the book The Nazi Hunters.

Nagorski says Nazi trials have also helped shape official codes of conduct for militaries around the world.

“If you receive an order that is clearly illegal or immoral, you have an obligation not to follow that order,” said Nagorski. “All the defendants in every one of these trials — from the big trials to the trials of the more junior personnel — always claimed, ‘We were just following orders.’ What these trials did was prove that that’s not enough of a defense. You are responsible for your actions.”

And, Nagorski says, these trials serve an even greater function.

“Each of these trials is an opportunity again to explain what happened – and to talk about the victims,” he said. “Unfortunately, we need constant reminders of history. It’s not as if you teach the lessons of the Second World War and the Holocaust and everyone now understands it. It has to be taught again and again.”

Nagorski will speak as part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s program Tuesday evening at the B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton. Find more information here