NEW YORK (Aug. 20)
Accused Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger was indicted Monday in a court in Stuttgart, West Germany, on charges of murdering “at least 50 Jews” during World War II.
He also was charged as an accessory to the murder of at least 3,377 other people, according to the World Jewish Congress, which learned of the indictment from the Jewish community of West Berlin.
Schwammberger admitted to ordering the execution of one person under “special circumstances,” but other than that, “he has completely denied his crimes,” according to Helmut Kronbacher, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
Schwammberger, 78, who is being held at the Stammheim maximum security prison, was extradited from Argentina in May, after a long proceeding that included his hospitalization in an Argentine hospital for a mysterious coma.
The Stuttgart court found Schwammberger fit to stand trial. The prosecutor’s office said the trial would probably begin early next year.
That would likely make Schwammberger the first alleged Nazi war criminal to be tried in a unified Germany. A guilty verdict would bring a life sentence.
Schwammberger, a former lieutenant in the Waffen SS and commandant of several concentration camps in Poland, allegedly was known for his particularly cruel killings of Jews.
He has been accused by survivors of camps and Jewish areas in the Polish towns of Przemysl, Mielec, Rozwadow and Stalowa-Wola of smashing children’s heads against walls, throwing people alive into fires and shooting people point-black. Witnesses said they saw Schwammberger use pliers to remove gold teeth from prisoners.
He was known as the “butcher of Rozwadow.”
MATERIAL IN SS FILE MISSING
After the war, Schwammberger was arrested in Austria with bags of jewelry stolen from Jews, which he admitted under questioning. He escaped, probably in 1948, to Argentina with what is believed to have been help from Odessa, a Nazi fugitive network.
Before escaping detention in 1945, Schwammberger, an Austrian by birth, admitted having shot about 35 Jews, according to the Austrian police. The Austrian police files were obtained by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Material in his SS file covering the years 1940 to 1945 is missing, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“Not a single document exists” from the years of 1940 to 1945, Hier said Monday. “Obviously, somebody has been through his file. We don’t know what happened.”
The Wiesenthal Center was instrumental in locating Schwammberger by publicizing his case at a news conference in Jerusalem in October 1987. The center released Schwammberger’s SS file and photograph at the news conference, which were picked up by an Argentine wire service.
Argentine television had telephoned Hier for details of Schwammberger, and the West German government soon announced an increase in the reward money from $100,000 to $325,000.
The West German government gave the unprecedented reward to an unidentified party for leading investigators to Argentina. Hier said the recipients were Germans living in Argentina.
The indictment in Stuttgart stems from a warrant for Schwammberger’s arrest that West Germany issued in 1972. Additional charges against him were made in recent years.
The Wiesenthal Center expects to play a strong role at the trial, having representatives present and bringing new witnesses to testify, “including some whom we recently found and others who were frightened of going on their own,” Hier said.
“At this trial, there will be more witnesses to testify against Josef Schwammberger than there was at any Nazi war criminal trial of recent memory, including Adolf Eichmann,” he said.