94-year-old Reinhold Hanning has recently gone on trial in the German city of Detmold for his role as a Nazi SS guard during World War II. Accused of aiding in the killing of at least 170,000 people, Hanning worked as a guard at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp between 1943-44, where he reportedly escorted Jewish prisoners to the gas chambers. The case will likely be one of the final Nazi war crimes trials, with Hanning being one of the last surviving ex-Nazi guards.
Hanning is among four former SS guards (three men and one woman) who will be facing prosecution in the coming months. While he has admitted to being a guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Hanning has so far denied any involvement in the murder of the prisoners. During the trial, several Holocaust survivors will be testifying against Hanning, in order to shed more light on his role in mass murder. In one such session, Leon Schwarzbaum, an Auschwitz survivor was reported saying:
Mr Hanning, we’re about the same age. And we will soon face our final judge. I want you to tell the truth about what you and your comrades did… The chimneys were spewing fire… the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it.
It is believed that as many as 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Among the victims were Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and others. According to reports from witnesses, Hanning had the task of deciding which inmates would be kept alive for work and those who would be sent off to gas chambers. Before making such “selections”, the prisoners were physically inspected to check if they were too frail to work.
During the time when Hanning served as a guard at Auschwitz, less than 25-percent of those arriving at the camp were chosen for work. The remaining people were mercilessly sent off to be killed. The trial, which is currently ongoing, will take place in 2-hour sessions, due to the defendant’s weak health.