German prosecutors call for life in Nazi war crime trial

19th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Josef Scheungraber has been on trial since September on charges of ordering killings in a Tuscan village during World War II in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans that killed two German soldiers.

Munich -- German prosecutors called on Thursday for a 90-year-old to spend the rest of his days in jail for atrocities committed in Italy in World War II, in one of the last cases of its kind.

Josef Scheungraber has been on trial since September on charges of ordering killings in the Tuscan village of Falzano on June 26, 1944 in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans that killed two German soldiers.

The court in Munich, southern Germany, where he is being tried said in a statement that Scheungraber has been charged with 14 counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

Scheungraber, at the time the 26-year-old commander of mountain infantry battalion, Gebirgspionierbataillon 818, was sentenced in absentia in September 2006 to life imprisonment by an Italian military tribunal in La Spezia.

A spokeswoman for the Munich court, Margerete Noetzel, told AFP that the 90-year-old, who lived as a free man in Bavaria after the war, was present on Thursday as prosecution lawyers delivered their final arguments.

Christian Stuenkel, one of three lawyers representing Scheungraber, told AFP that the defence team would make its final statement when the trial resumes next Wednesday.

"It depends on what happens with the defence arguments, but assuming everything runs to plan, there should be a verdict on July 3," the court spokeswoman said.

Wearing a traditional Bavarian suit with his thick white hair brushed back, Scheungraber pleaded innocent when the trial kicked off last September.

Back then he appeared sprightly and alert as he walked with a cane into the courtroom, although bad hearing meant he had to follow the proceedings with headphones.

Scheungraber's men are alleged to have shot dead a 74-year-old woman and three men in the street. They then crammed 11 males aged between 15 and 66 into the ground floor of a farmhouse which they then blew up.

Only the youngest, Gino Massetti, survived, but with serious injuries. Six decades later and an old man himself, Massetti testified during the Italian trial.

After the war, Scheungraber lived in Ottobrunn outside Munich, sitting on the town council and running a furniture shop.

He regularly attended marches with fellow wartime veterans and recently received an award for municipal service. He has not been in custody during the trial.

The military tribunal at La Spezia has tried several former Nazis for crimes committed in Italy during World War II but none of the defendants have been brought to justice.

In 2005 it handed life sentences to 10 elderly former SS soldiers for the massacre of 560 Italian civilians including 120 children in 1944 in the Tuscan town of Sant'Anna di Stazzema.

At least two of the Germans have died since then.

Another two were handed life imprisonment in September 2006 for the Falzano massacre and 10 others in January 2007 for a bloodbath in Marzabotto in September 1944 that left 955 dead.

Germany as a rule does not extradite its citizens without their consent and has not received a formal request from Italy to jail Scheungraber here.

One other case pending is that of John Demjanjuk, a former Nazi death camp guard deported in May from the United States to Germany for allegedly herding over 29,000 Jews to their death.

The 89-year-old, born Ivan Demjanjuk in Ukraine in 1920, is currently in a prison hospital in Munich where doctors are assessing whether he is fit to stand trial.


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