At trial of ex-Nazi, forgiveness was best revenge

LUENEBURG, Germany-- Judgment day was a long time coming for the man who kept the books at Auschwitz.

Oskar Groening had already admitted his guilt -- his moral guilt, he called it. But it was a German court that would decide whether he was also legally guilty for what he did 71 years ago.

Groening was in the Waffen-SS, the most fanatic of Nazi units. He was assigned to Auschwitz, where his job was to take the money and valuables from Jews as they were brought in to be gassed.

On Wednesday the so-called "Auschwitz Accountant" was convicted as an accessory to their murders.

Susan Pollack testified at the trial. She told of how she arrived at Auschwitz as a 13-year-old. Her mother was immediately taken away to the gas chambers when they arrived.

Left: Oskar Groening as a young man in an SS uniform in an undated photo; right: Groening in the dock of the court in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. AP

"Let me say it wasn't revenge. It never entered my mind," she said. "The length of his imprisonment is of no consequence to me."

Heddy Bohm, another Auschwitz survivor, also came to Germany to testify. For her, the lesson of the trial was that justice has no time limit, in the past, or now.

"What's happening in Iraq, the terrible things in Syria and Lebanon, those people have to know that they will be held responsible," she said.

The trial produced justice. It also produced strange encounters, like when Groening embraced Eva Kor, another survivor, when she went over to confront him.

Forgiveness is the best revenge.

At 94 years old, Oskar Groening may never actually go to prison, but whatever time he has left will be lived in the knowledge that even the accountants of the Holocaust are guilty of its crimes.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.