I have no idea how many of you have been following the trial of 94 year old Oskar Groning, who was sentenced last week at a courthouse in Luneburg, Germany to four years in prison for his role as an accomplice in World War II Germany. I have no idea how many of you reacted to a 94 year old spending 4 years in prison, despite the fact that the state prosecutor had asked for 3 ½ years, jail time. Finally, I have no idea how many of you realize that Oskar Groning may not be doing any jail time at all, if his lawyers decide to appeal the case. Appeals can easily stretch into months and 94 year old people don’t always have months left in their lives. It’s entirely possible that Oskar Groning will die before any and all appeals are exhausted.
What really caught my attention about the entire case had nothing whatsoever to do with the defendant. What really caught my attention about the entire case were the remarks made by Franz Kompisch, the judge who presided over the case. Upon handing down sentence, the judge said… “to join the S.S. and take a safe desk job at Auschwitz was your decision… You had the freedom to think… yet you asked to join the S.S.”
For the life of me, I wish I knew the German equivalent of Kol HaKavod! Because Kol HaKavod is exactly what I would like to say to Judge Kompisch. Come to think of it, a big Yasher Koach would be very much in order as well for the Judge. In making those remarks, the Judge shed light on the following three areas:
You have the freedom to take responsibility! For decades now, we have been hearing the standard “I was just following orders”. Gott in Himmel! Such lame excuses have done nothing but insult the intelligence and arouse the anger for those of us who still have the ability to think for ourselves. Siegfried! Fritz! Reinhart! Were you “just following orders” when you joined the Nazi Party or became part of the S.S. or enrolled in Hitler Youth or do you take full responsibility for you actions?
You have the freedom to listen to a moral conscience, that is, if you have one, or work to develop a moral conscience, if you are lacking one. Those Germans who do not resort to the tried and true “I was just following orders” rely on another excuse that they can fall back on: “If I refused to fulfill my duty, there was any number of others that would have taken my place”.
No argument! There was no shortage of Germans willing and in some cases even eager to help make Germany and the rest of Europe, Judenrein. You had the freedom however, to decide whether your hands would remain clean, or be full of blood. Unfortunately, not nearly enough Germans chose the former.
You have the freedom to turn a blind eye each time you look at your face in the mirror. Remember however, that very same Gott in Himmel, mentioned earlier, does not turn a blind eye. He sees all. And because Gott in Himmel sees all, and because you chose to have selective vision which leads to temporary blindness each time you look into the mirror, Gott in Himmel becomes irate and says to you: You make me sick! Get out of my sight!
News reports say that judge Kompisch delivered a sweeping 75 minute speech. As far as I’m concerned, he said it all in just a couple of sentences.