'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' dies aged 96 nearly 3 years after conviction

In this file photo taken on July 15, 2015 Convicted former SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. (AFP Photo)

A former Nazi SS guard dubbed the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" has died aged 96 nearly three years after his conviction for being an accessory to murder, German media said Monday.

A spokesman of the prosecutor's office in the northern city of Hanover told AFP that Oskar Groening's lawyer had informed him of his death but he was unable to confirm it officially.

Groening was only the third person to be convicted as an accessory to Nazi murders.

For decades after the war, German courts argued that the top Nazi leadership was principally to blame for the mass murder of Jews and that lower-ranking individuals in the Holocaust machinery were bound by a chain of command and, therefore, less culpable.

That approach changed radically after a legal precedent set by the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, who was found guilty by a Munich court as an accessory to the murder of more than 28,000 Jews while he was a guard at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

Reinhold Hanning, a former Auschwitz concentration camp guard sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison as an accessory to the murder of more than 170,000 people, died last year without serving a day behind bars.

"Without at least symbolic justice, these trials, as important as they are, lose an important part of their significance," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization that has worked to track down the world's remaining Nazis.

"Their victims never had any appeals, nor did their tormentors have any mercy, consequently these perpetrators don't deserve either," the group said in a statement.

At the age of 21, Groening volunteered to join the elite Waffen-SS before transferring in 1942 to work at Auschwitz, where he counted the money found among the belongings of prisoners and sent it to SS headquarters in Berlin.

A bank clerk in pre-war Germany, Groening never denied his Nazi past and accepted "moral responsibility" for the Holocaust on the first day of his trial.

He was found guilty in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murders of 300,000 people at the camp and sentenced to four years in prison.

A court doctor determined last year that he was able to serve his sentence, on condition he was given appropriate nursing and medical care, but he was never jailed

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