NEW YORK (Nov. 29)
An Argentine judge is investigating whether Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger was induced to take his own life or whether he was victim of attempted murder in his prison cell in Buenos Aires, according to news reports from Argentina.
Schwammberger lies comatose in a hospital in Buenos Aires, following a drug overdose he received while imprisoned, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Schwammberger, 77, charged with having executed thousands of Jews in at least four Polish towns, faces extradition to West Germany to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
An arrest warrant for Schwammberger, who was an SS officer during World War II, was issued by the federal court in Stuttgart, West Germany, following statements by Argentina’s attorney general last week that he favored extradition.
The Austrian-born Nazi was waiting the outcome of a Supreme Court appeal against extradition, when he lapsed into a coma Nov. 23 in the sick ward of the prison in La Plata, some 35 miles south of Buenos Aires, where he has been held for two years since his arrest.
He was admitted to a hospital in La Plata, following ingestion of a combination of tranquilizers. Last week, it was reported that he most probably had attempted suicide.
WOULD BE FIRST EXTRADITED
Federal Judge Manuel Blanco said the judiciary was “investigating the possibility that some one tried to help Schwammberger commit suicide. There are other possibilities, but that one now seems like the most probable one,” he told the Reuters news service.
Blanco reportedly increased security in the intensive-care unit, where Schwammberger is being tube-fed.
Schwammberger would be the first Nazi extradited from Argentina. Adolf Eichmann was spirited out of the country by Israeli agents in a clandestine operation in 1960.
The Wiesenthal Center believes that Schwammberger was aided in escaping Europe after the war by the Nazi “Odessa” network. He is thought to have arrived in Argentina in 1949, after escaping an Austrian prison two years earlier.
He was apprehended in November 1987, in the northern part of Argentina, where he apparently had attempted to flee. It was believed at the time of Schwammberger’s arrest that he had been tipped off that authorities sought him.
His arrest came a month after a news conference convened in Jerusalem by the Wiesenthal Center, which announced its “10 most wanted” Nazi War criminals. Schwammberger ranked No. 5.
The suspected Nazi lost an appeal against extradition in September, when Argentina’s Court of Appeals ruled against him. But the country’s highest court has not yet issued a decision.
The Wiesenthal Center has voiced concern over the two-year process of extradition and has speculated that the delay might have been politically motivated. Last Friday, upon learning of Schwammberger’s attempted suicide, the center called for a full investigation.
(JTA correspondent David Kantor in Bonn contributed to this report.)