Ethics & Morality

Justice for Greville Janner and the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz


Labour peer Greville Janner (left), aged 86, will apparently not be prosecuted over allegations of historic child abuse because the Crown Prosecution Service says his evidence could not be relied on in court. Lord Janner is suffering from a degenerative dementia which is increasing in severity, and, according to the CPS, “he could not have any meaningful engagement with the court process”. Since there is no prospect of recovery and no risk of future offending, the dozen-or-so children he allegedly groomed, buggered and otherwise abused will not have their day in court.

The ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ Oskar Gröning (right), aged 93, is charged with being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews, who were sent to the gas chambers in 1944. Mr Groening does not deny that he was present at Auschwitz, but maintains that his role as a guard and bookkeeper was not a crime. His task was to count money confiscated from new arrivals. “If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent,” he told Der Spiegel in 2005. Charges brought against him in the 1980s were dropped because of a lack of evidence of his personal involvement. But jurisprudence develops, and today the court in Lueneburg, Germany, hears that even a small cog in the Nazi killing machine is culpable.

At what great age and in what state of poor health is one let off the hook? While Greville Janner is not fit to enter a plea and must be presumed innocent, the evidence against him of systematic sexual abuse is damning. Oskar Gröning pleads innocence, and yet he was involuntarily participant in mass murder and systematic genocide. Neither Janner nor Gröning present a risk to public safety, but Gröning is apparently capable of discerning moral truth and so must be tried in a court of law.

There are, of course, many different kinds of law governing different kinds of institution: states, churches, international relations, etc. But their end is the common virtue of justice and punitive satisfaction. Abel still speaks even though he is dead (Heb 11:4), and the blood of six million Jews cries from the ground. Raped boys still bear the mark of Janner, and no judgment of guilt or innocence can wash the filth from their minds. Society’s justice can never be true justice because the offended will cry out for greater degrees of satisfaction, and the offender plead for more mercy. Judgments of guilt and innocence are tied to an ever-spinning wheel of injury and restitution, and civilisation can never perfectly satisfy the universal demand for justice.

What is gained by imprisoning Oskar Gröning for 15 years? Is the petty incarceration any kind of just satisfaction for the 300,000 Jews who were gassed to death while he was busy counting their pengős? And what is to be gained by prosecuting Greville Janner, who, by all medical and expert accounts, has no mental competence to understand the significance of his moral culpability?

The outrage is inescapable: justice cannot be done and the innocent will not be vindicated. Only in the afterlife may judgment now be made and satisfaction found. The CPS sees in mirrors darkly: the eyes of God perceive in perfect light. He determines guilt and weighs the punishment, and His justice reconciles a world which cannot fulfil natural justice. Oskar Gröning and Greville Janner may have participated in or perpetrated great evil, and both may escape the duty of the moral institution to determine and convict. But the resurrection of Christ was an eschatological act of justice (Rom 5:18) which accounts for all crimes, reconciles all debts and supersedes our partial notions of jurisprudence. What satisfaction of justice can there be for the eyes and ears of the atheist? What fulfilment of law may be found by those who deny the perfection of divine judgment and retribution?