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Argentine Court Upholds Extradition of Nazi War Criminal to West Germany

The Argentine federal Court of Appeals last week upheld the extradition of accused Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger to West Germany, which wants to try him for crimes against humanity.

Schwammberger, who is believed responsible for the deaths of at least 5,000 Jews, would be the first Nazi war criminal to be extradited from Argentina.

But he is expected to appeal the decision in the Argentine Supreme Court, which could delay extradition four months to two years.

In Bonn, West German Justice Minister Hans Engelhard welcomed the Argentine court’s decision. He said West German prosecutors would seek the maximum sentence, life imprisonment, if Schwammberger stands trial.

Officials of American Jewish groups, however, are worried that such proceedings may be a long time away. It has been 16 years since West Germany issued a warrant for Schwammberger’s arrest and more than two years since the former Austrian Nazi was arrested by Argentine police.

“We are very concerned,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Schwammberger was apprehended in 1987. It is now 1989, and he still has not been brought to justice.”

“We are thrilled with the court finding, but not with the delay,” he said.

Schwammberger was sixth on the Wiesenthal Center’s list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals.

‘A VERY NASTY GUY’

The Austrian-born Nazi, referred to by Holocaust survivors as the mass murderer of Rozwadow and Przemysl, is suspected of killing hundreds of Jews in labor camps during the Nazi occupation of Polish Galicia. He is also thought to be one of the organizers of the mass deportations to the Auschwitz death camp.

“He was a very nasty guy,” said Morton Rosenthal, director of Latin American affairs for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “He is known for tactics like setting vicious dogs on camp prisoners, personally smashing heads of children against walls and throwing people live into bonfires.”

Schwammberger was arrested in Austria after World War II, but escaped to South America in 1949, with the help of the Nazi Odessa network. Now 77 years old, the former Nazi had been living outside Buenos Aires under his actual name, with an Argentine passport.

In October 1987, the Wiesenthal Center announced it believed Schwammberger, among other war criminals, to be hiding in Argentina. In November, extradition was requested by a Stuttgart court and a reward of $250,000 was offered by the West German government for Schwammberger’s capture.

Two weeks later, Schwammberger was arrested by Argentine police in the province of Cordoba. He has been awaiting extradition for over 20 months in a prison hospital, where he is being treated for what has been termed a “heart condition.”

“Justice is being delayed, and it may be politically motivated,” said Hier.

(JTA correspondent David Kantor in Bonn contributed to this report.)

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