Former German officer denies killing Italian prisoners

30th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

In what may turn out to be the world's last war-crimes trial from WWII, the defendant faces 14 counts of murder.

Munich -- A former German Army lieutenant confirmed he rounded up 15 to 17 Italian men in the hamlet of Falzano during the Second World War but denied killing them, a German policeman said Monday at the former officer's trial in Munich.

In what may turn out to be the world's last war-crimes trial from the Second World War, the defendant faces 14 counts of murder.

The detective was describing an interview three years ago with the defendant, who is now 90, about the June 27, 1944 atrocity.

The interview was conducted at the request of an Italian military court which sentenced the defendant in absentia to life imprisonment.

The accused recalled "a particularly unpleasant matter" on the preceding day, June 26, for his combat engineering unit, which had been repairing a road as German forces were resisting a northwards Allied advance through Italy.

A non-commissioned officer and a private from the defendant's company had been found dead in a hamlet.

The lieutenant mustered all the hamlet's residents on a square and identified 15 to 17 young men as not belonging in the village.

He said he called German military police who arrested the young men.

"I don't know what happened to the group after that," he said, according to the 2005 notes.

He said his company had been at least 40 kilometers from Falzano the next day.

The prosecution says the combat engineers first shot dead three men and a woman in reprisal for the shootings of the two soldiers in the Tuscan hamlet.

Village men were then locked inside a Falzano house, and it was blown up, killing 10. A teenager who survived that blast is now 80. He is expected to testify Oct. 7 by video link.

Germany is trying the man anew because it does not extradite its own citizens, meaning Italy cannot enforce the verdict passed in 2006 at La Spezia.

While the man has been named in international media, German media have not generally published his name because of defamation rules.

On the second day of the trial, which began Sept. 15, a senior doctor from Bogenhausen Hospital near Munich testified Monday that the defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

He said the accused had a "well preserved autobiographical memory" and "above average alertness" for his age and was "definitely able to grasp and assess the accusations" in the trial.

The defendant commanded a company of battalion 818 of the German Army mountain combat engineers in Italy. After the war, he was for many years a town councilor of Ottobrunn, a suburb of Munich.

At the start of the trial, the accused's lawyer, Christian Stuenkel, said he denied planning, ordering or conducting the reprisal.


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