Former Auschwitz guard sentenced to five years in prison

A former Auschwitz guard has been convicted of being an accessory to the deaths of 170,000 people, and sentenced to five years in prison.

Reinhold Hanning, 94, was a former SS Unterscharfuehrer (sergeant) who served as a guard at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland between January 1943 to June 1944.

During the four month trial he apologised for serving as part of a "criminal organisation", despite knowing that people were being killed and did nothing to try and stop it.

The court heard Hanning met mostly Jewish prisoners as they arrived at the camp, with prosecutors saying he may have even escorted some of the doomed inmates to the gas chambers.

1.1 million people died at Auschwitz. Credit: PA

Around a dozen Holocaust survivors provided testimony against Hanning, many of whom are extremely elderly.

They detailed their horrific experiences at Auschwitz, recalling piles of bodies and the smell of burnt flesh in the death camp.

Hanning's defence said he should be acquitted as the former SS officer had never personally killed, beaten or abused anyone.

Hanning was not charged with direct involvement in any killings, but prosecutors and dozens of joint plaintiffs from Germany, Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain and the US said he had helped Auschwitz function.

Auschwitz survivors William E. Glied and Hedy Bohm attended court on Friday. Credit: BERND THISSEN/dpa

Germany is holding what are likely to be the last trials linked to the Holocaust, in which Nazi's killed more than six million people, mostly Jews.

Besides Hanning, one man and another woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the mass murder at Auschwitz.

A third man, who was a member of the Nazi SS guard, died at the age of 93 in April just days before his trial was about to start.