William Glied was only thirteen years old when he was deported, alongside his parents and sister, from his home in Subotica, Serbia to Auschwitz-Birkenau in April, 1944. A year later, after being transferred to Dachau to work as a slave labourer, he was liberated by the U.S. army.
He was the only member of his family to survive.
Glied, who came to Canada as an orphan in 1947, was in the German town of Detmold for the trial of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former SS Nazi guard, last week. Hanning, who served in Auschwitz from January, 1943 to June, 1944 is accused of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.
Glied is one of three Canadian Holocaust survivors who testified as civil parties on the context of Hanning’s crimes at his trial Friday, alongside Max Eisen, also of Toronto, and Judith Kalman of Montreal. Approximately forty survivors or their relatives have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.
Glied, Kalman and Eisen also testified at the April 2015 trial of the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” Oskar Groening, convicted of being an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews.
Before the trial of former Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, trying former Nazi guards was an arduous task for German prosecutors, as they had to prove that he or she were directly responsible for a victim’s death. Demjanjuk’s trial set a new precedent in 2011, however, allowing members of staff who worked in the concentration camps to be tried as accessories to murder, even if they did not directly kill their victims.
For Glied, 85, the precedent is significant as it demands that those who contributed to the mass genocide of Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust will finally be held accountable, some 70 years later.
“I feel that there can be no time limit in prosecuting those who committed such horrible crimes during the Holocaust,” Glied tells The CJN from Detmold. “While I feel some compassion for Hanning because of his age and health, the world must know about these unspeakable crimes, not only from the few survivors who remain, but from the monsters who committed them. It will forever remain a black mark on the post-war German government that only some fifty SS guards were convicted from the 8,600 who served in Auschwitz-Birkenau.”
Efraim Zuroff, head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, told the Associated Press that there’s no question there were “some serious failures by the German judicial system in the past,” but “that doesn’t in any way change the validity of what’s happening now.”
“In a certain sense, you could say these people had the bad luck to live a long life,” he said from Jerusalem. “If they had died five years ago they would never have been going to trial.”
Hanning allegedly guarded Jews during the “selection process” at Auschwitz, jurors were told, where some were sent for labour and others to the gas chambers. During the period in which he served, the bloodiest in the camp’s history, less than 25 per cent of its inmates were chosen for work. Hanning’s attorney, Johannes Salmen, says that his client admits to serving at the Auschwitz I section of the camp, but denies serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where the majority of the camp’s victims were murdered.
According to ‘Nazi hunter’ Thomas Walther, who serves as both Eisen and Glied’s attorney, the trial is the first time “in history” that an indictment is speaking about being involved in the organized mass genocide at Auschwitz as a crime of murder.
“I hope to prove that everybody who worked at Auschwitz, this place of real hell on earth, is guilty of being an accessory to murder,” he tells The CJN. “No special duty was necessary. Working at Auschwitz is the absolute border that nobody should pass. Auschwitz was the one place on earth where even participation was enough. Participation in anything there means ‘guilty.'”
Even despite Hanning’s age and the time lapse between his crimes and now, Glied adds that his trial is important as it teaches a younger generation about the Shoah. “There are a lot of people in this world who still claim that the Holocaust never happened,” he says. “The conviction of as many of the perpetrators as possible will surely disprove these terrible lies.”
For Glied, the path to atonement is through education. “We must never forget the six million of us lost in the Shoah,” he says. “We must be vigilant and stamp out falsehoods such as those proclaimed by the Iranian government, and we must work towards having Holocaust studies included in every Canadian school’s curriculum.”
Hanning’s case is one of approximately thirty involving former Auschwitz guards currently under investigation by German prosecutors. Two other cases are also likely to go to trial this year: a 93-year-old woman charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder, and a 94-year-old man who reportedly served as a guard.
“All members of the SS were assigned the task to make mass murder possible,” says Walther. “All together, Auschwitz was a place with only this one specific purpose in mind.”