Trial starts over WWII massacre in Italy

15th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

It could be the world's last war-crimes trial from the conflict.

Berlin -- A 90-year-old former lieutenant in Nazi Germany's forces goes on trial in Munich on Monday, accused of leading a murderous reprisal that killed 14 civilians in World War II Italy.

The former lieutenant has already been convicted once in absentia in La Spezia by an Italian military court of directing the June 26-27, 1944 atrocity at Falzano, a hamlet in Tuscany.

The September 2006 life-imprisonment sentence cannot be enforced because Germany does not extradite its own citizens.

German prosecutors in Munich are expected to present many of the same documents and witnesses who described at the Italy trial how the Germans shot three men and a woman on the first day of the reprisal.

The next day, 11 males were locked inside the ground floor of the home of a villager, Ferdinando Cannicci, and it was blown up.

Only a teenager, now 79, survived and he is one of the few eyewitnesses still alive today.

The name of the accused has been published in Italy and elsewhere but German media have not named him because of defamation rules.

He lived in Ottobrunn, a Munich suburb, after World War II and was a town councilor for two decades as well as honorary fire-brigade chief.

At Italy's request, German police interviewed him before the La Spezia trial.

He confirmed he had been an officer of Company 1, Battalion 818 of the Mountain Combat Engineers in Italy but denied the atrocity.

The indictment describes how Company 1 was near Falzano to hold up advancing Allied forces as the Germans withdrew from Italy in 1944.

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring had ordered brutal reprisals to be conducted on Italians if German troops were harmed.

On June 26, partisans ambushed a three-man German patrol as it was about to requisition a horse in Falzano.

Two Germans were killed without warning but the third man got away only slightly wounded and told his fellow engineers.

The company's lieutenant and his superior, a major in charge of the whole battalion, allegedly decided the engineers should mount a reprisal on the hamlet, which is in the hills making up the "backbone" of the Italian peninsula between Siena and Perugia.

Members of Company 1 shot up the area, with a German anti-aircraft unit firing over it to scare off partisans.

Four people, including a 74-year-old woman, were shot dead purely because they got in the way of the rampage.

Later, the Italians were forced to watch as charges were placed under their homes in the hamlet and they were blown up.

The men aged 16 to 66 were herded into one house and it was blown up.

In Munich, the accused is charged with 14 counts of murder with a base motive and the court has set down 11 hearing days up to Oct. 21.

It is likely to be a slow trial: The evidence is old, and hearing days are usually kept short in Germany when the accused are elderly.

In total, 22 witnesses and three experts have been summoned.

The first issue will be to decide if the former lieutenant is fit to stand trial. His former superior has already been ruled too frail to try.

Munich lawyers said that the accused's three-man defense team includes Klaus Goebel, who is reportedly linked to a charity, Stille Hilfe, that offered legal and other aid to Nazis after the War.

Trial lawyer Goebel's earlier clients have included Ernst Zuendel, who has been convicted of denying the Holocaust, and the late Anton Malloth, who was jailed for life in 2001 on two counts of murder committed in Nazi concentration camps.

It could be the world's last war-crimes trial from the conflict. Several other inquiries are still open but prosecutors may not be able to marshal enough evidence before the other defendants die.

Jean-Baptiste Piggin/DPA/Expatica

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