BONN (Jun. 27)
A 79-year-old Nazi war criminal who allegedly tortured his victims before killing them went on trial in a Stuttgart court Wednesday while scores of neo-Nazi supporters created a disturbance and maligned Jews.
At one point, presiding Judge Herbert Luippold of the Schwurtericht Kammer threatened to send them “straight to Stammheim,” a maximum security prison in Stuttgart.
The defendant, former Waffen SS officer Josef Schwammberger, has been charged with at least 45 counts of murder and complicity in the murders of 3,377 individuals. Most were Jewish slave laborers at concentration camps in Poland where Schwammberger was commandant.
Arrested by French authorities in 1945 and later imprisoned in his native Austria, Schwammberger escaped to Argentina in 1948 and lived under an assumed name for 42 years, becoming a naturalized citizen.
Following considerable publicity by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center that Schwammberger was in Argentina, he was tracked down in November 1987 by an anonymous bounty-hunter, to whom the West German government paid nearly $300,000. He was finally extradited last year.
Schwammberger is the first major war criminal to stand trial since Germany’s unification and could be the last.
A prominent observer at the trial opening was Simon Wiesenthal, the 82-year-old Vienna-based Nazi-hunter, who was instrumental in bringing Schwammberger to justice.
“He killed without being ordered and for his own pleasure,” Wiesenthal said. “A man like that should not be allowed to die in peace.”
REFERRED TO JEWS AS ‘DOGS’
The prosecutor said Schwammberger shot camp inmates in the neck, hanged them and watched them slowly bleed to death after being savaged by his pet dog, an Alsatian called Prinz.
He called his dog “mensch,” or person, Elliot Welles, director of the Nazi Task Force of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a telephone call from Stuttgart.
“He referred to Jews as ‘dogs,’ ” said Welles, who said his organization helped find scores of witnesses by placing advertisements in Jewish newspapers all over the world.
Most of Schwammberger’s victims were Jews at the slave labor camps of Przemysl, Mielec and Rozwadow in Poland, which Schwammberger commanded with the rank of lieutenant.
But the neo-Nazis, many of them from Dresden in former East Germany, handed out propaganda leaflets outside the court and buttonholed visitors and reporters, telling them that “Jewish groups” were behind the trial.
They accused Jews of trying to spread the word that “Germans are guilty.”
When the judge said the trial would be fair, he was greeted with strident laughter by neo-Nazis in the spectators seats. The judge warned them that another outburst would send them to prison so fast “there won’t even be time to go home to get a toothbrush.”
The extremists quieted down after that.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)