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The vindictive and unfair sentencing of Oskar Groening

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Message Prakash Kona
Former Auschwitz bookkeeper, Oskar Groening
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Hypocrisy no doubt is as old as humankind and prevalent everywhere; but I often wonder if Western European and American establishments have taken hypocrisy to a whole new level of sophistication unparalleled in the 20th and 21st centuries.

If the ISIS were transplanted from the Middle East to Germany, it would be the very court that sentenced Oskar Groening, the so-called "book-keeper of Auschwitz" to four years in prison. A stupid, cruel and inhuman judgment like this one not only gives white youth, especially if they come from poor or lower-middle class backgrounds, one more reason to feel that the system is working against them, but also motivates them to join the extreme right.

In fact, judgments such as this increase the feeling of anti-semitism and xenophobia directed against immigrants by playing into the hands of paranoid white racist groups. Instead of isolating these groups through a politics of inclusiveness that will prevent them from getting new recruits, these self-righteous judgments that claim to respond to historically committed acts of violence are ensuring the long-term survival of these groups.

It is a blatantly unjust sentence for anyone with the slightest conscience and it is simply showcased to make it look like justice has been achieved for victims and that future such acts involving disregard for human life will not be tolerated. Oskar Groening is no doubt a "cog in the gears" as he himself said and if he supported the Nazi state machine it is a wrong that he has to come to terms with at a personal level within the heart of his hearts.

People work for a living. If I am a teacher and the state I work for is committing acts of violence (which it is doing while I am typing this article) I certainly am complicit in the violence for the tacit support I give the system. Alternatively, however, it does not mean I resign my job and do nothing to prove that I am a righteous person. How do you expect me to live -- is what I ask. If Oskar Groening was a bookkeeper in Nazi Germany it is because he was qualified to be that. That doesn't mean he gets punished for being around.

I would excuse Oskar Groening even if he were actively involved in the executions. Instead I would target the policy makers at the top who are really responsible for the genocide because they were aware of the meaning of their actions. How can you punish every small person who is walking around simply because he happened to be there?

If I were a Palestinian I would not be able to escape a feeling of wicked amusement reading judgments like this one. However, if someone actually believes that this is a rational judgment then let me ask a few not-so-innocent questions:

Why don't we put all the accountants to trial in the US who were bookkeeping between 1961 and the early 70s when the Vietnam War was taking place? After all they are morally guilty for supporting a deeply racist state involved in a brutal and meaningless war.

Why don't we bring all the "morally" guilty Israelis to trial that from June 1967 onward are involved in the occupation and persecution of Palestinians?

Why don't we put all the South African whites in jail who were alive and thriving during the Apartheid era in South Africa?

Why don't we put almost all men in jail for being guilty of misogyny and homophobia?

If we had to apply this bizarre logic that moral guilt is something that can be quantified and could be punished it means most of us would actually never leave prison because we are very much part of a patriarchal, neo-liberal capitalist machinery that brings suffering to millions on a daily basis.

A man who has lived for 94 years is already punished by the ravages of life. I cannot see any meaning in sending him to trial at the end of his life just to prove a point. I am still thinking as to what that famous point is all about because I see none.

This is just privileging Jewish suffering over that of others not because anyone really cares for the Jews murdered by the Nazis but simply because powerful interests and lobbies are involved in all of this privileging.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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