Verdict due for ex-Nazi war criminal | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 10.08.2009
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Verdict due for ex-Nazi war criminal

A German court is expected to hand out a verdict against a Nazi war criminal 65 years after the end of World War Two as two more trials are set to start in the coming months. Will these be the final cases of this kind?

Josef Scheungraber

Josef Scheungraber is accused of ordering the murder of 14 people

A former Nazi commander accused of ordering the murder of 14 civilians in a Tuscan village back in 1944 is expected to receive his verdict on Tuesday, almost a year after the trial started in the southern Germany city of Munich.

Prosecutors allege that Josef Scheungraber ordered the attack as a retaliatory measure after an assault by Italian partisans resulted in the deaths of two German soldiers. Prosecutors are demanding the former commander receive a life sentence despite the fact that he is 91 years old.

With the war almost 70 years in the past, any potential criminals left are certain to be well into their 80s and 90s. But Wolfgang Benz, head of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University in Berlin, told Deutsche Welle that it's not up to the prosecutors to decide whether someone should be tried.

"It depends on the crime," he said. "And that has to be looked at according to the law and the criminal code. If the man is 89 years old, if he's sick and decrepit, then it's the court which must decide how much he can be expected to take."

New trials to start in October

John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany from the US to stand trial

Two other trials are coming up soon. One is that of the Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, charged with 27,900 counts of being an accessory to murder in World War Two. He's one of ten most wanted Nazi war criminals listed by the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation in Jerusalem.

In another case, late last week a court announced that the trial of 87 year old former SS soldier Heinrich Boere, who has confessed to killing three Dutch civilians during World War Two, will start on October 28 in the western city of Aachen.

Boere was arrested by US forces in the Netherlands after the war and confessed to the killings while he was a member of an SS hit squad which roamed the country hunting down anti-Nazi resistance fighters. He managed to escape custody, however, and fled back to Germany. He was tried in absentia by a court in the Netherlands and sentenced to death in 1949.

Back in 1980, the Netherlands asked Germany to extradite Boere back across the border, but that request was denied.

Following an indictment by a German court in 2008, it was ruled that he wouldn't have to stand trial due to health reasons. But last month an appellate court overturned that ruling, saying he was fit to stand trial.

Cases winding down

Black and white photo of Hermann Goering standing in a courtroom

173,000 people, including Hermann Goering, were accused of war crimes following World War Two

Following the end of the war some 173,000 people were accused of war crimes and while courts have been convened both by the original western occupying forces of Great Britain, the United States and France, as well as by the German government, only four percent, or 6,600 people, were ever convicted. Out of those around 1,100 were convicted of homicide.

Trials have also been held in other countries. The most famous of these was the case brought against Adolf Eichmann in Israel, who was convicted of 5 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed organization and was sentenced to death.

Black and white photo of Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann was tried in Israel and sentenced to death for the role he played in the Holocaust

And while it seems that fewer and fewer Nazi war criminals can still be alive, Joachim Riedel, deputy head of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes told Deutsche Welle that it is impossible to know how many criminals might still be found.

"Most of them, one has to admit, have departed this life without ever having been brought to justice," he said. "And probably among them are some of the big fish. It's something of which one can accuse the German justice system."

Many of those arrested after the war escaped and were never found again. The most famous example was Josef Mengele, a doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp, known as the "Angel of Death" to most of the inmates.

But Riedel insists passionately that, even though only those accused of murder – which has no statute of limitations – can be tried, the process of researching into the crimes is still completely necessary.

"War crimes take place elsewhere, even persecution of the Jews," he argues, "but the extent of the industrial 'disposal' of entire groups of the population, organised in factories of death - this is a discipline that only we Germans have managed to become World Champions in. To uncover this evil system, even if only in retrospect, and to describe its criminality, is the justification for continuing to pursue these disgusting crimes which cry out to heaven."

Author: Daphne Grathwohl/Mark Mattox
Editor: Michael Lawton

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