German denies World War II atrocity in Italy
The accused says he was elsewhere.
Munich -- A 90-year-old man who was a lieutenant in Nazi Germany's forces denied that he led an atrocity in which 14 Italians were killed, his lawyer said Monday.
On the opening day of the trial, the lawyer said the accused had not been in the Tuscan hamlet of Falzano during the June 27, 1944 violence but had been elsewhere repairing a bridge.
Another defense lawyer said he would seek to show that the Falzano massacre was possibly the work of troops loyal to deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, not the Germans.
The defendant, whose name has been withheld by German media because of defamation rules, commanded a company of battalion 818 of army mountain combat engineers in Italy.
Lawyer Christian Stuenkel said the defendant denied planning or ordering the reprisal, which followed an ambush in which two of the combat engineers were killed.
"Such an act would surely have been investigated and punished by a German armed forces court martial," said the lawyer, to jeers from part of the public in the courtroom.
Italian military judges tried the case two years ago at La Spezia and sentenced the defendant in absentia to life imprisonment. But Germany does not extradite its own citizens, so that verdict has no effect.
Prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz said outside the courtroom that German justice officials only realized there was a case against the man in 2004 when Italy requested assistance in mounting the La Spezia prosecution.
A German group which demands that Germany follow all foreign convictions through with war-crimes trials of its own said it would monitor the trial.
At Falzano, three men and a woman were shot in revenge. Village men were locked inside a house, and it was dynamited, killing 10. A teenager who survived that blast is now 80. He is to testify Oct. 7 by video link.
Stuenkel told the court his client denied any knowledge of the "incident" and had not been in Falzano but had at the time been in command of repairs to a bridge that had been blown up.
At the time, the Germans were fighting the northward advance of US-led Allied troops through Italy.
There was no eyewitness evidence the accused had been present at the blasted house in Falzano or had issued the order to blow it up, said the lawyer, who also questioned whether the defendant was in sufficient health to stand trial.
Another defense lawyer, Rainer Thesen, said he would call a German war historian, Klaus Hammel, to testify that pro-Mussolini forces had been in the Tuscany area at the time and might have been the culprits.
The next hearing in Munich has been set down for Sept. 29.
The case could potentially become the last war-crimes trial from the Second World War.
Several other inquiries are still open but prosecutors may not be able to marshal enough evidence before the other defendants die or become too infirm to stand trial.