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Europe

Nazi Massacre Trial Reopens Old Wounds

A prosecutor on Thursday demanded life imprisonment for 10 former Nazi German soldiers, now in their 80s, who are on trial for the wartime Nazi massacre of 560 civilians in an Italian mountain village.

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Interior Minister Otto Schily (center) honored the victims in 2004

Marco De Paolis called for the military court in the northwestern Italian port city of La Spezia to jail the 10 for life, in a hearing followed emotionally by survivors.

None of the defendants were present in the courtroom. Their trial in absentia opened last year and has provoked strong emotions in Italy. The men, accused of aggravated homicide, are not even expected to attend the verdict, due on June 22, officials at the military tribunal said. But observers say they are unlikely to be extradited or to serve a sentence because of their advanced age.

They stand trial over the killing of 560 people in the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema on August 12, 1944, a few days after the liberation of the nearby city of Florence by British troops.

Deutscher Soldat überwacht die Französische Küste, Zweiter Weltkrieg

The shooting was one of many in the region that occurred as German troops retreated to the so-called "Gothic Line" of defence that cut across Italy from La Spezia to the Adriatic.

Buried evidence

Evidence about the massacre remained buried for nearly half a century, a victim of successive Rome governments' reluctance to pursue former Nazis for wartime atrocities -- mainly to avoid diplomatic repercussions with West Germany in the post-war period.

Many believe successive post-war governments wanted to avoid hunting Nazis for war crimes because they would also have to delve uncomfortably into the excesses of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, particularly his treatment of Italian Jews.

The case came to light only in 1994 after prosecutors stumbled across witness statements given to Allied soldiers investigating the massacre -- apparently stored in a filing cabinet found in a Rome basement.

Ever since the "cabinet of shame" was found, prosecutors in La Spezia have been fighting time to bring suspects to trial.

"Precise roles"

Prosecutor Marco De Paolis told the court in the port city of La Spezia that there were "numerous elements" to prove the men, now living in Germany, had "precise roles" in one of Italy's worst civilian massacres during World War II.

According to recent studies, the Allied forces had initially wanted to try the Nazi soldiers after the war, but the plans were shelved in 1947. By the late 1940s only a dozen court martial proceedings were closed.

Some of the few people who survived the massacre, most of whom were young children at the time, were present in the court on Thursday.

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