Case dismissed against German over WWII French massacre
A German court Tuesday threw out the case against an 89-year-old former soldier over the Nazis' worst atrocity on French soil, the 1944 massacre in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
In a move that met with anger and disappointment among survivors, the regional court in the western city of Cologne said it would not try the pensioner, citing a lack of evidence.
The man, who was identified in media reports as Werner Christukat, was charged in January with the murder of 25 people committed by a group, and with aiding and abetting the murder of several hundred people.
SS troops slaughtered 642 people in the tiny village in western France on June 10, 1944, in a horrific World War II crime that deeply scarred the French nation.
The tribunal said it had examined whether the available evidence would likely be sufficient to lead to a conviction.
"The court determined with today's decision that this was not the case," it said.
Both the prosecution and co-plaintiffs representing victims' families have the right to appeal the ruling within a week.
Christukat, who was 19 at the time, had acknowledged that he was in Oradour-sur-Glane and a member of the SS but disputed any involvement in the murders.
The male victims were mowed down with machine guns in a barn, with any survivors shot at close range with pistols before the barn was set ablaze.
Prosecutors had said that the suspect then went to the village church where several hundred women and children were being held prisoner.
Members of the unit used explosives, automatic weapons and hand grenades to kill many of them, then set the church on fire.
Christukat was accused of abetting the murder by either assuming blockade and surveillance duties within sight of the church or carrying flammable material to the church.
- Twilight bid for justice -
The charges were part of a twilight bid by the German justice system to prosecute crimes committed by the Nazis.
Germany in 2010 reopened a war crimes case into the Oradour-sur-Glane attack when a historian discovered documents implicating six suspects in their eighties.
Prosecutors eventually identified 12 members of the regiment who were still alive after trawling through files of the Stasi secret police in the former communist east that came to light after German reunification in 1990.
Probes were opened against seven of them but prosecutor Andreas Brendel, head of the central Nazi war crimes investigation unit in the western city of Dortmund, told AFP Tuesday that none of the other suspects had been charged.
The other five soldiers have already served sentences in France.
Brendel said he was "surprised" by the Cologne court's decision and that he would consider filing an appeal.
But he admitted the evidence in such cases was generally "extremely thin".
The court noted that the suspect's presence in the village alone was insufficient in war crimes cases to prove culpability.
In addition, it said, "none of the witnesses deposed during the investigation could establish a connection between the events in Oradour-sur-Glane and the accused, and his name was never mentioned in any hearing."
The killings came four days after the D-Day landing of Allied troops in Normandy and amid rumours that a Waffen-SS officer had been captured by a unit of the French resistance.
Christukat's company had recently been sent to France after heavy losses on the eastern front.
Last year the presidents of Germany and France visited Oradour-sur-Glane together and joined hands with survivor Robert Hebras in a historic moment of reconciliation.
The village has been a ghost town ever since the atrocity, deliberately preserved in its ravaged state as a memorial to those who died on one of the darkest days of World War II.
Hebras told AFP he was "disillusioned" by Tuesday's decision and said the people of the village wanted men such as Christukat to provide a thorough reckoning.
"The question is not whether he fired shots or not but at some point it becomes tiresome to hear for 70 years, 'I was there but I didn't do anything, I didn't see anything, I didn't hear anything'," he said.
"To me, that shows bad faith and a lack of courage. The people here want nothing more and nothing less than for these people to tell their stories."
© 2014 AFP