I have had only a passing interest in the case of Oskar Groening, the 94 year old former SS guard at Auschwitz who was recently sentenced to four years in prison for being an accessory to murder. There is, however, a deeper story here that I only recently stumbled onto. Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor reacted to the sentence in a startling way. She said
"They are trying to teach a lesson that if you commit such a crime, you will be punished. But I do not think the court has acted properly in sentencing him to four years in jail. It is too late for that kind of sentence... My preference would have been to sentence him to community service by speaking out against neo-Nazis. I would like the court to prove to me, a survivor, how four years in jail will benefit anybody."She has received criticism from other survivors and their families, being characterized as a traitor. She responded
"As long as we understand my forgiveness that the victim has a right to be free, you cannot be free from what was done to you unless you remove from your shoulder the daily burden of pain and anger and forgive the Nazis – not because they deserve it, but because I deserve it. When I talk to survivors, and I say why on earth does my forgiveness hurt you, they have no answers. I guess victims like to have more victims; the bigger the crowd, the better. I don’t understand it. The victims, 70 years after liberation, with 300 others, they were all talking about their experience, falling apart – “poor me… what have they done to me?” I don’t forget what they have done to me. But I am not a poor person – I am a victorious woman who has been able to rise above the pain and forgive the Nazis."
|Eva Kor embracing Oskar Groening at his court hearing.|
Digging a little further into this story one finds something even more startling. Oskar Groening could have continued to lead the quiet life he enjoyed after the war. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut. Instead he responded to friends and acquaintances who denied the holocaust by saying "I know a little more about that. We should discuss it sometime." He responded to a pamphlet by a holocaust denier with "I saw everything, the gas chambers, the cremations, the selection process. One and a half million Jews were murdered in Auschwitz. I was there." He continued to receive phone calls and mail from neo-Nazis trying to prove him wrong, prompting him to go public with his testimony.