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WWII massacre: Case dropped against German

AFP/The Local · 9 Dec 2014, 10:05

Published: 09 Dec 2014 10:05 GMT+01:00

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A German court on Tuesday threw out the case against an 89-year-old former soldier over the Nazis' worst atrocity on French soil, the 1944 massacre in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The regional court in the western city of Cologne said in a statement it would not try the unnamed pensioner who was charged in January with the murder of 25 people committed by a group, and with aiding and abetting the murder of several hundred people.

The suspect, who was not identified, was believed to have belonged to an armoured division of the SS that attacked Oradour-sur-Glane and wiped out nearly all its inhabitants, an act of retribution ordered over the purported kidnapping of a commander.

The prosecutor's office in Dortmund had charged the pensioner from Cologne over the murder of 25 people committed by a group, and with aiding and abetting the murder of several hundred people.

However the German court threw out the case against the 88-year-old on Tuesday.

SS troops massacred 642 people in the tiny village in western France on June 10, 1944 during World War II, in an atrocity that deeply scarred the French nation.

The accused, who was 19 at the time of the slaughter had denied the charges.

"He acknowledged he was in Oradour-sur-Glane at the time and a member of the SS but disputes any involvement in the murders," his lawyer had told AFP.

The male victims were mowed down with machine guns in a barn, with any survivors shot at close range with pistols before the barn was set ablaze.

Prosecutors had claimed the accused then went to the village church where several hundred women and children were being held prisoner.

Members of the unit used explosives, automatic weapons and hand grenades to kill many of them, then set the church on fire. 

"The suspect was accused of abetting the murder by either assuming blockade and surveillance duties within sight of the church or carrying flammable material to the church," the initial court statement said.

Among the 642 victims in the village were 254 women and 207 children. The prosecutor's office recalled that the case had been reopened nearly 70 years later based on a review of earlier investigations by German prosecutors.

The presidents of Germany and France travelled to the village last September and joined hands with a survivor in a historic moment of reconciliation.

Germany's Joachim Gauck, who was accomanied by French President François Hollande, became the first German leader to the site

They accompanied by two of the three living survivors, including Robert Hebras, 88, pictured with the two leaders below.

The village has been a ghost town ever since the atrocity, deliberately preserved in its ravaged state as a memorial to those who died on one of the darkest days of World War II.

Story continues below…

During his visit, Gauck was at pains to reassure France, which bears deep scars from the Nazis' crimes, that Germany is a changed country.

"The Germany that I have the honour of representing is a different Germany from the one that haunts their memories," he said.

Germany in 2010 reopened a war crimes case into the attack when a historian discovered documents implicating six suspects in their 80s.

Prosecutors eventually identified 12 members of the regiment who were still alive after trawling through files of the Stasi secret police in the former communist east that came to light after German reunification in 1990.

Probes have been opened against seven of them. The other five have already served sentences in France.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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