19 January 2004
MUNICH – Germany remanded into custody Monday a former Radio Free Europe staffer, Ladislav Niznansky, 86, accusing him of massacring 164 Jews and Slovak villagers during a savage war between the Nazis and partisans in 1945.
Prosecutors in the southern city of Munich said he was detained at his city apartment on Friday.
Niznansky, who has held German citizenship since 1996, has long been alleged to have commanded a dreaded “Edelweiss” special-forces unit composed of both Germans and Slovaks which hunted down local guerrilla fighters trying to overthrow the Nazis.
He has been accused of ordering the January 1945 killings of 146 people, among them 70 women and 51 children, in two villages, Ostry Grun and Klak, in reprisal for attacks on the pro-Nazi government.
The following month, the unit is alleged to have shot dead 18 defenceless Jews after finding them hidden underground in a bunker in the village of Ksinna. Eight were women and six children. Prosecutors say he set up an execution detail to kill them on the spot.
Edelweiss, which reported to the Nazi Party military section, the SS, was created after a vain uprising against the Slovak regime in late 1944.
With the Nazi defeat, Niznansky moved to Austria and then to Germany, where he worked for the US-funded radio station.
At retirement, he was head of the Czechoslovak research department, which compiled a library of information not freely available from behind the Iron Curtain for the radio’s journalists to draw on.
In those days, the anti-communist radio station operated from Munich, but today it has its headquarters in Prague.
The Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia hated the station and often attacked it for employing the Slovak with a stained past.
“The Communist Czechoslovak media did all they could to publicize what they believed he did,” recalled Sonia Winter, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty director of media affairs, on Monday in Prague.
As a Slovak, he was convicted in absentia in 1962. A Slovak district court at Banska Bystrica sentenced him to death along with 13 other former members of Edelweiss, but he remained in Germany.
Munich prosecutors reopened the file on him at the start of 2001 after the Slovak Justice Ministry requested action be taken, pointing out that the 1962 verdict remained in force and justice had not been done. Slovakia and the Czech Republic are today separate nations.
Prosecutors said Monday after a Munich district court approved his detention that they aimed to produce an indictment by this spring so as to ensure the case would reach trial before the year is out. He is likely to be tried by Munich judges assisted by two jurors.
Despite the 59 years that have passed, European prosecutors are still compiling files from the Second World War and reviewing eyewitness evidence. Unlike normal crimes, there is no limitation on the prosecution of crimes against humanity.
The attack on the two villages in central Slovakia has been dubbed “Bloody Sunday”. After the killings, apparently a reprisal for the uprising, both villages were burned to the ground.
The online edition of the Slovak Spectator newspaper quoted Jozef Spetko, a historian who worked at the radio, saying he and his colleagues knew little about Niznansky during their workdays there.
“We knew he had been sentenced to death, but nobody knew any details,” he said.
Subject: German news