By RUTH SCHWEITZER
A CBC documentary about the prosecution of a German SS officer who counted and sorted money confiscated at the Auschwitz concentration camp, won four 2020 Canadian Screen Awards during a recent virtual ceremony held by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
The Accountant of Auschwitz, directed by Matthew Shoychet, written by Ricki Gurwitz, edited by Ted Husband and produced by Ric Bienstock and Ricki Gurwitz, won awards for best history documentary program, best editorial research, best visual research and best original music.
It will be screened on CBC on June 11.
In the early 1930s, barely into his teens, Groening joined a group that was to become the forerunner of the Hitler Youth. He participated in burning books written by Jews and other authors the Nazis considered degenerate.
After enlisting in the German army in 1940, he was assigned a desk job as a bookkeeper, and in 1942 he was transferred to Auschwitz.
Groening’s responsibilities at Auschwitz included sorting and counting the multitude of currencies taken from arriving deportees, sending it to Berlin and guarding the belongings of arrivals until they were sorted.
On at least two occasions, Groening witnessed horrific Nazi crimes. During his first day at Auschwitz, he said he noticed children hidden on a train and he heard a baby crying. In May 2005, Groening told Der Spiegel magazine that “the child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew that women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately. I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying had bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”
In 1985, Groening gave an interview about his activities during the war as a response to Holocaust deniers, believing he was immune from prosecution.
It took German prosecutors 29 years, until September 2014, to charge Groening as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases, for his role at Auschwitz.
His trial began in April 2015 and he was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison three months later. After his lawyer filed two unsuccessful appeals, Groening applied for a pardon. He died in hospital on March 9, 2018, at 96, before beginning his sentence.
Besides covering Groening’s trial, The Accountant of Auschwitz also looks at the complicity of other lower-level SS guards and the debates surrounding their prosecution.
“The reason why he was on trial is because they could prove that he was on the ramp where the selections took place: this person goes to the gas chamber, this person goes to work,” Shoychet told the Toronto Star.
“He was right there when the genocide was taking place, so just him being there makes him complicit.”
The Accountant of Auschwitz will be shown on CBC at 8 p.m. on June 11. It’s streaming on CBC Gem and Netflix.