Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning convicted

media captionReinhold Hanning is appealing his sentence, as Jenny Hill reports

A 94-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz death camp has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Reinhold Hanning was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.

He was an SS guard at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944. He has said he knew what was going on at the camp but did not act to stop it.

The Nazis killed about 1.1 million people - mostly Jews - at Auschwitz in occupied southern Poland.

The verdict came after a trial lasting nearly four months in the western German city of Detmold.

Observers said Hanning, in a wheelchair, remained silent and emotionless for much of the trial, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

It could be one of the last trials of Nazi officials involved in the Holocaust.

At the scene: The BBC's Jenny Hill in Detmold

image source, AFP

There were just four people in the courtroom today who perhaps truly understand the significance of this verdict. Hedy Bohm, Erna de Vries, William Glied and Leon Schwarzbaum sat, straight backed, in the front row surrounded by friends and family, and listened intently.

Each of them endured and survived the unimaginable horror of Auschwitz. By giving evidence during the trial and describing some of their experiences in harrowing detail, they helped to secure this conviction.

Mr Glied, a dignified man with thick white hair and a ready smile, now lives in Canada. He was accompanied today by his daughter and granddaughter.

Before the verdict he told me that the actual sentence was immaterial. "What matters," he said "is that he is convicted by a German court for what he did."

At the trial, about a dozen elderly Auschwitz survivors testified against Hanning, giving harrowing accounts of their experiences.

Prosecutors said he met Jewish prisoners as they arrived at the camp and may have escorted some to the gas chambers.

Hanning's lawyers had argued that he had never personally killed or beaten anyone.

He told the court in April: "I want to say that it disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organisation.

"I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions. I am very, very sorry."

German prosecutors were required, until recently, to provide evidence that defendants were directly involved in the killings.

image source, Bundesarchiv
image captionReinhold Hanning, pictured here as a young man in SS uniform, was a guard at Auschwitz

That changed with the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, when a judge concluded that his activities as a camp worker in Nazi-occupied Poland amounted to complicity in mass murder.

Last year a German court sentenced Oskar Groening, 94, to four years in jail as an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 people at Auschwitz.

Known as the SS "book-keeper of Auschwitz", Groening was allegedly responsible for counting banknotes confiscated from prisoners.

Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp

  • Construction began in 1940 on site that grew to 40sq km (15 sq miles)
  • About one million Jews were killed at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland
  • Other victims included Roma (Gypsies), disabled people, homosexuals, dissidents, non-Jewish Poles and Soviet prisoners

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