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4 Former Ss Officers Go on Trial for Killing Laborers Who Exhumed Babi Yar Bodies

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Four former SS officers went on trial in Stuttgart today for the 1943 murder of 530 Jewish slave laborers whom they had forced to exhume and burn the bodies of 33,000 Jews massacred by the Nazis in the Babi Yar ravine in the Ukraine two years earlier. The purpose of the exhumations was to destroy evidence that might be discovered by advancing Russian armies. The accused are Hans Sohns, 62, Fritz Zietlow, 66, Ernst Helsgott, 57, a former police commissar in Dusseldorf, and Fritz Kirstein, 60. Twenty-seven witnesses will be heard at the trial which is expected to last until the end of next month.

The prosecution charged that the defendants, members of the special SS task force IV-A, supervised the exhumations which were carried out on direct orders from Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler. The slave laborers removed the earth that the earlier executioners had dynamited over the mass graves, saturated the remains with gasoline and burned them. According to the indictment, the laborers, Jews and Russians, were subsequently murdered to prevent disclosure of their work. Several other former members of the exhumation squads have been tried over the years. Three were sentenced last February to life imprisonment at hard labor.

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