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German court says ex-SS officer unfit for trial

Prosecutors in the northern German city of Hamburg have dropped their probe into a 93-year-old former Nazi SS officer. Gerhard Sommer, who suffers from dementia, allegedly took part in a World War II massacre in Italy.

Gauck gedenkt der Opfer des SS-Massakers in Sant'Anna di Stazzema

German President Joachim Gauck pays his respects at a memorial in Tuscany

Gerhard Sommer, a former company commander of a mechanized infantry division, had been accused of participating in the mass murder of 560 civilians by Nazi soldiers in a mountain village in Tuscany called Sant'Anna di Stazzema in 1944.

Prosecutors said that had Sommer been deemed fit to stand trial, he would "with high probability have been charged with 342 cases of murder, committed cruelly and on base motives."

On August 12, 1944, Nazi soldiers using machine guns and flamethrowers massacred nearly all residents and refugees in the town of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, including 107 children under the age of 14.

After languishing in the courts for decades in Italy and Germany, the case resurfaced in the 1990s due to research by several historians.

In 2005, an Italian military court found that Sommer and 10 members of the 16th SS "Reichsfuehrer" division were personally responsible for the massacre. They were sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

In 2012, when only eight of them were still alive, prosecutors in the city of Stuttgart found there was insufficient evidence to hold any of them personally responsible.

Eventually Hamburg prosecutors took on the case. On Thursday, however, they said that Sommer's advanced state of dementia, attested to by experts, meant he would not have the cognitive abilities required to address the court and would have been merely a passive "object of public prosecution."

av/bw (AP, AFP)

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