Helen Martin: No justice for a casualty of war

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THERE would be a certain moral simplicity in declaring everyone who had anything to do with the horrors perpetrated against the Jewish people at Auschwitz should be deemed guilty. But it would be very wrong.

The trial of 93-year-old Oskar Groening, the clerk who, with the hallmark precision of the Third Reich carefully logged the money and possessions taken from prisoners most of whom were then exterminated, is a test case for the argument that any guard can be charged as an accessory to murder even without any evidence of involvement in a death. To me that seems like pointless vengeance.

Bank clerk Groening was brought up in a strict, disciplinarian, German nationalist family at a time not only of anti-semitism, but when the whole country was dysfunctional and paranoiac about how it was treated after losing the First World War. He believed in a National Socialist future like many other Germans but his biggest mistake was joining the Waffen SS, taking an oath of loyalty and accepting a “secret mission”.

Only once he’d arrived in Auschwitz as a clerk, having first been told he was simply documenting the prisoners’ assets which would be returned to them when they were released, did he discover what really went on. He told his boss he was unable to continue working there as a clerk, a discussion he repeated again later as he learned more and more about the killing and gas chambers . . only to be reminded of his pledge and the secrecy to which he had signed up.

Bear in mind, Oskar was only 21. No hero for sure, but certainly of an age where his mother would have begged him to keep his head down and his mouth shut in order to survive himself and avoid a bullet between the eyes. Oskar, however, had no mother. She died when he was four.

He joined a fighting unit in 1944, was taken prisoner, sent to a labour camp in the UK – which he actually enjoyed – and eventually returned to Germany in 1947. As his middle-class life continued, though, he couldn’t tolerate his countrymen’s Holocaust denials and began to speak and write openly about Auschwitz and what he knew had really happened there, finally admitting to guilt and shame by association, though not personal responsibility.

It was just about ten years before I was born that Oskar was hiding in woods when he saw a fellow SS officer gas a group of Jews who had been herded into a farm cottage having escaped from the queue to the gas chamber. He wasn’t starved or gassed himself, but he was still a casualty, in the same way that many young soldiers both allied and enemy who joined or were conscripted barely above school age, returned as damaged men having witnessed or experienced acts of war far less horrific and diabolical than Hitler’s “final solution”. My generation knows that because these men were our fathers.

Most able-bodied men not in a reserved occupation fought on one side or the other. They shot and bayoneted each other. As a child I used to count the scars and bullet holes on my escaped POW father’s back.

Nothing can make amends for the Holocaust, certainly not putting a 93-year-old man who spend a large part of his life arguing with those who denied it ever happened through a pointless trial.

Gym or no gym, you are what you eat

AT last the myth that physical inactivity leads to obesity has been busted. We’ve all been conned by slick marketing campaigns from sugary drinks firms suggesting exercise will counteract the calories in the can, and equally slick marketing from gyms and health clubs.

It would take hours and hours of exercise to work off one doughnut. Sure, sitting around in a chair all day isn’t exactly healthy but it’s what you eat that will dictate whether you get fat or not.

The real cruncher in the report from doctors in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is that poor diet is responsible for more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.

Just shows how government can get it so wrong with anti-smoking and alcohol measures and pro-exercise policies, yet drag its feet over junk food and refuse to tax out of existence the fizzy juice, convenience foods and fried chicken that is actually killing us.

Competition was Tesco’s downfall

AS the analysts pore over the collapse of Tesco, a number of alleged experts solemnly announce it has lost its way. It never had a way. It was unpopular, never great on price or quality, flourishing only because it was the nearest supermarket to lots of people who had no other choice. The more Tesco spread, the less popular it became

What really wounded it was simple competition, particularly from Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose and even Sainsbury’s. I do hope it survives if only for its employees’ sake. But it has to rip up everything it ever did and start again from scratch if it’s going to have any chance.

Blond leads the blind Cameron

BORIS Johnson says he’s not nervous about Nicola Sturgeon at all and adds that she seems like an attractive and compelling personality and politician. Suddenly Bozza in N0.10 seems a much calmer, more diplomatic option than headless chicken, panic-merchant Cameron, convinced Nicola has no reflection and 666 on her forehead!