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Oskar Gröning: ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ dies at 96

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Image caption The former Nazi guard said he felt "moral guilt" for his actions at Auschwitz – but never served a day of his sentence

A former Nazi SS guard who was known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" has died aged 96, German media report.

In 2015 Oskar Gröning was sentenced to four years' imprisonment, but never began his prison sentence due to a series of appeals.

He died in a hospital on Friday, according to Spiegel Online.

The pensioner was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

His job at Auschwitz was to itemise money and valuables taken from new arrivals, who were then killed or subjected to slave labour.

Though a court doctor found that he was fit for prison with appropriate medical supervision, his jail term was repeatedly delayed by ill-health and requests for clemency.

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The former Nazi officer began work at Auschwitz at the age of 21. During his trial, he said he had witnessed mass killings, but denied any direct role in the genocide.

Addressing the judges, he said: "I ask for forgiveness. I share morally in the guilt – but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide."

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Media captionAuschwitz: Drone footage from Nazi concentration camp

He was convicted although there was no evidence linking him to specific killings.

Presiding Judge Franz Kompisch said Gröning was part of the "machinery of death" that helped the camp function smoothly.

Gröning's trial was considered a landmark case for Germany, where many former SS officers have walked free because there was no evidence linking them to individual deaths.

German broadcaster DW says Gröning will probably prove the last Nazi war criminal to have faced trial.

Fewer than 50 of the estimated 6,500 Auschwitz guards who survived the war were ever convicted.

Dr Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center – a Holocaust research group – said Gröning's death was "unfortunate, at least on a symbolic level".

"Without at least symbolic justice, these trials – as important as they are – lose an important part of their significance," he said.

"Their victims never had any appeals, nor did their tormentors have any mercy. Consequently these perpetrators don't deserve either."

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From bank clerk to Nazi

Gröning was born in 1921 in Lower Saxony in Germany, and his mother died when he was four.

His father was a proud nationalist, angry about the way Germany was treated under the peace settlement signed after World War One. That resentment increased when his textile business went bankrupt in 1929.

Gröning joined the Hitler Youth, and at 17 began training as a bank clerk. When war broke out, he wanted to follow in his grandfathers' footsteps and join an "elite" German army unit.

He signed up to the Waffen SS and arrived in Auschwitz in 1942.

Image copyright AFP/
Image caption It is estimated that 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, died at Auschwitz

When the war was over, Gröning slipped into a quiet life in Lüneburg Heath, Lower Saxony, where he worked in a glass-making factory.

Decades later, when he heard people denying the Holocaust had ever happened, he was moved to break his silence. He was one of very few former concentration camp guards to do so.

"I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria," he told the BBC in the 2005 documentary Auschwitz: the Nazis and the "Final Solution".

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Six Nations 2018: Ireland beat England to win Grand Slam – highlights

Watch highlights as Ireland beat England on St Patrick's Day to win only the third Grand Slam in their history in thrilling fashion.

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Duchess meets wolfhound – and other St Patrick’s Day celebrations

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Ireland beat England to win Grand Slam

Ireland thump England on St Patrick's Day to win only the third Grand Slam in their history in thrilling fashion.

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Robot Wars has been axed by the BBC again

Robot Wars has been axed by the BBC for a second time.

The show featuring duelling robots was rebooted on BBC Two in 2016 and ran for three series.

Presented by Dara Ó Briain and Angela Scanlon since its return, it is to be scrapped to "make room for new shows", the BBC said.

Soon after the announcement the hashtag #BringBackRobotWars started trending on social media.

Skip Twitter post by @UKRobotWars

Sad to confirm the BBC’s decision to de-activate our House Robots. A huge thank you to Dara & Angela, our brilliant judges Noel, Lucy & Sethu, all of the amazing teams and most of all…you for joining us on this amazing robot smashing adventure. #BringBackRobotWars #RobotWars

— Robot Wars (@UKRobotWars) March 16, 2018


End of Twitter post by @UKRobotWars

Fans of the show were truly gutted, including BBC Radio 1's Chris Stark.

Skip Twitter post by @Chris_Stark

Noooooooooooooo 😢

— Chris Stark (@Chris_Stark) March 16, 2018


End of Twitter post by @Chris_Stark

A BBC spokesman said, "We are very proud of Robot Wars and would like to thank Mentorn Media, the presenters Dara Ó Briain and Angela Scanlon, and all those involved in the last three series.

"However, in order to create room for new shows it won't be returning to BBC Two."

Skip Twitter post by @bbcpress

We are very proud of #RobotWars and would like to thank @MentornMedia, the presenters @DaraOBriain and @AngelaScanlon, and all those involved in the last three series. However, in order to create room for new shows it won't be returning to @BBCTwo.

— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) March 16, 2018


End of Twitter post by @bbcpress

Robot Wars was originally broadcast on the BBC from 1998 until 2003, then on Channel 5 until 2004.

It had a peak audience of six million viewers in the UK during the late 1990s and became a worldwide success, showing in 45 countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, China, India, Germany and Italy.

After being axed, it came back to the BBC in 2016.

The series sees teams of roboteers, both amateur and professional, battle their home-constructed robots against each other in an arena.

Earlier series included assault and trial courses for competing robots.

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National Geographic apology: ‘We were anticipated to be a dying race’

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Image caption National Geographic has made an apology over its past coverage

Last Tuesday, US magazine National Geographic apologised for what it called decades of past racist coverage.

Among some examples, editor Susan Goldberg cited a photo caption from 1916 that left her "speechless".

Beneath photos of Aboriginal Australians, it read: "South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings."

Such a statement reflected entrenched views of the era, indigenous Australian leaders told the BBC this week.

"This was a time when our people were denied access to lands, denied culture, language and were anticipated to be a dying race," said Romlie Mokak, head of the national Lowitja Institute for indigenous health research.

"So the language is not surprising at all – it is completely within the context of that period, as wrong as it is."

Rampant discrimination and denial of rights existed: Aboriginal Australians could not vote until 1962, and they were not counted in the national Census until after 1967. An infamous assimilation policy of removing children from their families persisted until 1970, creating what is now known as the Stolen Generations.

Image caption Romlie Mokak is head of the Lowitja Institute for indigenous health research

"For us as a nation, 1916 was not very long ago," said Rod Little, co-chair of National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

"It's just unbelievable that people could treat other human beings like that – this indoctrinated belief of one race being superior to another."

The National Geographic example reflected a prevailing ideology, according to Karen Mundine, director of Reconciliation Australia.

"We were seen as somehow less than human, or at least less than European people," she said.

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She welcomed the magazine's acknowledgement of its past wrongdoing, and the role it had had in reinforcing prejudice.

"It's positive that National Geographic has recognised there are problems with their previous depictions, and they are starting to address how they've spoken about people of colour," she said.

How about now?

While emphasising a clear distinction between the language of past and present eras, the leaders agreed that forms of racism persisted in contemporary media reporting and political discourse.

"It has been so wrong for such a long time that there are still elements of that [racism] which are very strong in our society," Mr Little said.

He cited recent attempts by conservative legislators to water down racial discrimination laws as an example. According to Mr Little, mainstream media can also paint a simplistic picture of Australia – one that sometimes ignores the hardships of minorities, or sensationalises their difference.

The government's annual Closing the Gap report has found that indigenous Australians continue to experience greater inequality than non-indigenous Australians.

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Media captionOne man's cross-country march for indigenous rights

A 2016 survey by Reconciliation Australia found that more than a third of Australians said their main source of information about indigenous peoples came from the media.

However, according to Ms Mundine, public discussion about disadvantage often lacks sufficient complexity and context.

"There is still a particular tone within reporting, particularly news reporting, that is constantly gauged in the language of disadvantage," Ms Mundine said.

Mr Mokak said Aboriginal Australians continue to be "framed, judged and defined by others" with a main media narrative that revolves around "'the five Ds': disparity, deprivation, disadvantage, dysfunction and difference".

"We're always seen as over-represented on some things like the incarceration rate, or being behind in others like life expectancy and education," he said.

Ms Mundine says the blanket negative coverage can have a disempowering effect.

"If someone constantly tells you [that] you're to die of diabetes and health problems, or that you're ugly, then at some point it's on your own psyche," she said.

"And then you might think, why try? What's the point of coming up against barrier after barrier?"

She added: "If we think back to what was happening in 1916, opinions have definitely changed, perceptions and attitudes have changed, but we definitely can do more and better."

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