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A Very Dangerous Precedent

Posted on 29th November 2016

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I wonder whether the German courts, government and people understand exactly what kind of precedent has been set by the case described on this BBC story.

Oskar Groening, known as "the bookkeeper of Auschwitz", has been convicted by a German Federal Court for being an accessory to the murder of prisoners in the Auschwitz death-camp, despite him only having witnessed (and presumably provided logistical support for) the murders.

The ruling surprised many, because of a ruling handed down in 1969 that being aware of the murders and working at a death-camp was not proof of being an accessory to murder (the case in 1969 was against a camp dentist, who was deemed not guilty). The protection afforded by that ruling now seems to have evaporated.

This means that a whole host of trades and professions could now be prosecuted: people working at the camps, either civilian or military, as doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers, supply and delivery staff, cooks and washers-up, cleaners, translators and interpreters.

It could also mean the prosecution of any civilian who had witnessed such murders, or even those who had reasonable grounds to believe that such murders were taking place: basically the whole German nation at the time (more than just citizens of Germany as we now know it, but also most of the Volksdeutsch in Poland, The Czech Republic, Austria, etc.).

I think (and I know I am not alone in this) that it is time that the Germans got over their guilt about the war. It was a very long time ago, when the world was very different. Seeing how easily the modern world swings back in the direction of nationalism, fascism, and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, as evidenced by Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, UKIP, Geert Wilders, etc., it is hard to view the Nazi years as a uniquely German problem.

I remember a conversation with a German friend, a few years ago, about the national guilt over WW II. He said that, of course, German people felt guilty for electing Hitler (although Germans are quick to point out that Hitler was Austrian) and the Nazis, and following them to war, but that a possibly even greater guilt was that, having decided to wage a world-war, "Well, we are Germans, so, of course, we should have won".