Graz, Austria (May. 26)
Ten members of Hitler’s last-ditch Volkssturm the civilian army with which he hoped to stave off the encircling Allied armies last year, are today awaiting their appeals from the death sentence for their part in the mass slaughter of between 200 and 250 Hungarian Jews, murdered in a death march to the Mauthausen extermination camp. The men were sentenced earlier this month in the first war crimes trial to be held in Austria.
Originally at the trial before a British Military Tribunal here, there were 18 defendants. Four were found innocent of the charges of murder by firing into the ranks of the stumbling and starving Hungarians. Three others were sentenced to ten years at hard labor, and one received only six months imprisonment because he was deemed mentally incompetent.
The trial which has been called locally “The Little Nuremberg,” began April 1 last and has only just concluded. Presiding over the court was Glyn Jones, K.C. The prosecutors were British army officers and the defendants’ counsel was drawn from the ranks of Austrian lawyers.
The Jews, whose bodies were dug out of a huge, shallow pit, were massacred at the Praebichel Pass, near Eisenerz, on the Hungarian frontier, at the orders of the Gestapo, according to witnesses. Originally a column of 7,000, the death-marchers had dwindled to 3,000 by the time they approached Mauthausen; the others had died of starvation or the effects of constant beatings.
Testimony of some of the survivors and of those who had turned State’s evidence showed that the night before the Volkssturm company took over command of the column from the Gestapo, on the last stage of its trek to the gas chambers, the commandant joined in a drinking orgy with his men, and announced, “Without exception, these men deserve to be shot. Doubtless tomorrow there will be attempts to flee–so use your own judgment.”
The convicted have just appealed to the British supreme commander in Austria, thus delaying the execution of the sentences. In any event, since new testimony has been unearthed, further implicating those who escaped the death sentence, a new trial may be ordered.