'Accountant of Auschwitz' reportedly dies in hospital

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"The death of Oskar Groening just before he was scheduled to begin to serve his sentence in a German jail following his conviction three years ago for accessory to murder is quite unfortunate, at least on a symbolic level", Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an expert in Nazi war criminals, said in a statement issued Monday.

A spokesman of the prosecutor's office in the northern city of Hanover told AFP that Oskar Groening's lawyer had informed him of his death but he was unable to confirm it officially. He was expected to start his four-year prison sentence, but died at a hospital, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing Germany's Der Spiegel.

Groening's role at Auschwitz rose to prominence when he gave interviews in 2005 about his work at the camp.

Groening was pursued through the courts following a landmark case that allowed prosecution for aiding and abetting the Nazis.

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Groening testified at his trial that he oversaw the collection of prisoners' belongings and ensured valuables and cash were separated to be sent to Berlin. Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rejected his appeal in a December 21, 2017, ruling and sentenced him to four years in prison, CBS News reported.

But while he admitted witnessing individual atrocities, he did not acknowledge participating in any crimes. Most recently, his lawyers made one final bid for clemency, a decision on which still was pending. He asked for forgiveness and spoke openly of his experiences at the death camp, saying his testimony would stand in opposition to Holocaust deniers.

In 2016, former SS sergeant Reinhold Hanning was convicted on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an Auschwitz guard.

He had been expected to enter prison at the end of January, but the continued wrangling over the state of his health kept him from beginning to serve his sentence.