A court in Germany sentenced former Nazi officer Oskar Groening, known as “the bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” to four years in prison Wednesday in what may be one of the last such trials, given the decades that have passed.
Groening, who’s in his 90s, was found guilty by the Lueneburg court of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
He was accused of counting the cash found in the belongings of new arrivals at the camp and sending it to Nazi headquarters in Berlin.
“In deciding the penalty, the court in particular considered the plaintiff’s age and that he should have a chance to spend some part of his life in freedom after serving his sentence,” a court statement said.
But the court did not accept that Groening deserved a lighter sentence, since he did not help clarify other possible crimes committed by other SS members he knew, the statement said.
It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether or not he actually serves his sentence in prison, it added.
Groening’s trial began in April, at which point he acknowledged being “morally complicit” in what happened at the camp, where more than 1 million Jews died.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the UK-based Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, welcomed the verdict, saying it was “very likely one of the last times someone who helped perpetrate the Holocaust will be judged.”
In a statement, she praised the courage of British Auschwitz survivors Susan Pollack and Ivor Perl in going to Germany to testify at the trial.
“Even 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, the need for justice remains powerful,” she said.
“Oskar Groening was part of the Nazi killing machine which murdered 6 million Jewish people, and it is right that a court has judged him for his role. He chose to stand by and be complicit in the killing.”
Perl is quoted by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust as saying: “Initially, I hadn’t wanted to testify against Groening. I wasn’t keen to go to Germany, but I felt that as a survivor, I had a duty to represent the victims.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, also UK-based, said Groening’s conviction “sends an unequivocal message that, although he may not have led or directly participated in the atrocities at Auschwitz, he was clearly an accessory to the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.”
By Laura Smith-Spark and Ben Brumfield
CNN’s Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.