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Film Review: The Accountant Of Auschwitz

Oskar Gröning was the accountant at the German Auschwitz concentration camp during World Ward II.<br>Photo courtesy of Hot Docs.
Oskar Gröning was the accountant at the German Auschwitz concentration camp during World Ward II.
Photo courtesy of Hot Docs.

(TORONTO, ON) – Is it a bit too late? The documentary The Accountant of Auschwitz reeks of too little, to late. For those who thought the Nuremberg trials created some accountancy for the Holocaust, this documentary is a wake-up call.

Some 3,000 Nazis were singled out for blatant atrocities, but the Nuremberg courthouse had only 22 seats for defendants. As the prosecutor stated, vengeance was not the goal but rather man’s right to life in dignity.

Rest assured, many of the 6 million Nazi-murdered Jews would not agree with that lofty statement.

The accountant of Auschwitz, at his trial in 2015, was the frail, 94 year-old Oskar Gröning, who searched and accounted for valuables during the unloading of prisoners at Auschwitz. He never actually ordered the execution of any Jews, but admitted to knowing about the gas chambers and crematoriums.

That admission was a rare one and appreciated by Holocaust survivors. His crime was complicity in the murders of 300,000 at Auschwitz.

Between 1945 and 1947 there were some 800,000 SS members identified with only 6,200 going to trial and a mere 124 convictions for murder. For many years German laws stated that prison guards were legally responsible only where they were directly involved in executions at concentration camps.

The law evolved to finally hold them accountable if they knew that atrocities were being committed and it was their job to seal all escape routes from the camps.

The film makes the point that there are anti-fascists, fascists, Holocaust deniers, apologists, and countless others who just don’t care in modern day Germany. How could be justice be done after the Second World War when 95% of the German judiciary were Nazis?

The problem today is that there are few competent Third Reich Nazi’s able to stand trial. As a US prosecutor stated, “There are slim pickings.”

They are old and frail people and what few left are dying off quickly.

Gröning gets a sentence of 4 years but, due to numerous appeals, he died before ever having to serve any time. He also never apologized or admitted contrition.

Since his death, eight former SS officials have been indicted and 19 are under investigation, with the youngest aged 92.

While the cry from the Holocaust may be “Never Again” it has happened again; in Myanmar, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia. History does not seem to learn its lessons.

A very interesting history of war crimes trials and the reaction of Germans to them. An obvious intentional failure of the Germans to prosecute their war criminals. A slap in the face to the Jews, Gypsies, Russians, and the other minorities they murdered.

(The Accountant of Auschwitz, director Matthew Shoychet, Canada, 80 minutes, 2017. Part of Toronto Hot Docs Film Festival, screened April 29 and 30 and May 7)

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