A German court has thrown out the case of a former SS soldier accused of involvement in a 1944 massacre in Nazi-occupied France. The evidence was not sufficient, the court ruled.
The court in the western German city of Cologne announced on Tuesday the decision not to pursue the case further.
Werner C., an 89-year-old pensioner, was charged in January with the murder of 25 people and aiding and abetting the murder of several hundred people in the Nazis' worst atrocity on French soil. On June 10, 1944, 642 civilians were murdered during a brutal attack in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in southwestern France.
Prosecutors had alleged that the suspect, who was 19 at the time, had shot 25 men as part of a firing squad, before abetting the murder of several hundred men, women and children who were being held in the village church. Werner C. was accused of either helping to blockade the villagers in the church, or carrying flammable material to the church, which was set on fire causing the deaths of those imprisoned inside.
The accused had acknowledged that he was in Oradour-sur-Glane at the time and that he was a member of the SS, but denied any involvement in the murders.
The Cologne court ruled that there was no reliable documentary evidence that could verify that Werner C. was part of the massacre, and that no witness statements could disprove his contention that he had not been involved.
"In a trial it could probably only be proved the suspect was in the area during the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane, as he has consistently maintained," the court ruled. "This mere presence is not enough to prove accessory to murder without the proof of other circumstances."
The charges were part of new efforts by the German justice system to prosecute crimes committed under the Nazis. However, seven decades after the end of the second World War, the age of the accused and the difficulty of establishing proof has meant that few of the suspects have been sent to prison.
The court's ruling to throw out the case can be appealed.
lvw/mkg (AP, AFP)