Auschwitz Guard: 'I Could Smell the Burning Bodies'

In court, Reinhold Hanning talks of experience for first time
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2016 11:17 AM CDT
Auschwitz Guard: 'I Could Smell the Burning Bodies'
Former Auschwitz death camp guard Reinhold Hanning, 94, sits in the courtroom in Detmold, Germany, on Friday.   (Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP)

Reinhold Hanning knew what was happening at Auschwitz when he served as a guard there more than seven decades ago. "I could smell the burning bodies," he wrote in a 22-page statement read aloud by his lawyer Friday in a German courtroom. "I knew corpses were being burned." Hanning, 94, was charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder, covering the time period of 1942 to 1944, the BBC reports. "It disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organization," Hanning himself told the court, adding that he is "ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it. I am very, very sorry." It marked the first time he had talked of his involvement at the camp—the AP reports he had never even done so with his family—though he denies actually participating in any murders.

Indeed, "I've tried my whole life to forget about this time," he said. "Auschwitz was a nightmare." The apology is not enough, says Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, who was in the courtroom for Hanning's statement. "I lost 35 family members. How can you apologize for that?" he tells the AP, adding that he is not angry, but that Hanning "should say more for the sake of the young generation today because the historical truth is important." A verdict in the trial, which began in February, is expected next month. Hanning faces 15 years in prison, but even if he's convicted he probably won't spend any time behind bars due to his age and the lengthy appeals process. (More Auschwitz stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.