Between January 1942 and June 1944, Reinhold Hanning, now 94 years old, served as an SS guard in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. During WWII, Auschwitz was the scene of more than 1 million deaths, mostly Jewish. Hanning was a guard at this camp for 170,000 of these murders. This number was determined by carefully reviewing prisoner logs recorded during his tenure at the camp.
During his time at Auschwitz, Hanning was responsible to handling incoming Hungarian Jews, and had the authority to decide which of these Jews would be sent to die, or would remain at the camp as prisoners.
At the trial in Detmold Germany, survivors took the stand, testifying and recounting their experiences at Auschwitz, and despite the decades that have elapsed since their ordeals, the survivors were still visibly shaken. One witness shook and trembled and called his experience akin to "Dante's Inferno," and said he still has nightmares about his time at this camp despite being 95 years old.
Witnesses made an emotional plea to Hanning, asking him to be truthful in the trial, citing that he was reaching his journey here on earth given his advanced age. Hanning resisted talking for much of the trial but finally, near the end, he did speak. He told the court that he regretted being a part of the death camp, and assisting with murders. He felt sorry and ashamed, not just in having taken part in the organized crime, but also being witness to it all. He felt sorry for having witnessed it and never spoke up about the injustice, nor took any action to stop what was happening at Auschwitz.
His defense team tried to get Hanning acquitted, saying that he did not commit this crime to any human directly, but justice prevailed. Even though this verdict was handed down decades after the crime, the plaintiffs felt that it was a step in the right direction toward justice.
The judge during this trial was Anke Grudda. "This trial is the very least that society can do to give ... at least a semblance of justice, even 70 years after and even with a 94-year-old defendant." She went on to say, "The entire complex Auschwitz was like a factory designed to kill people at an industrial level. You [Hanning] were one of those cogs."