VIENNA (Oct. 13)
An Israeli doctor will testify at hearings here next week into the wartime activities in Yugoslavia of a wealthy 74-year-old Austrian dentist.
Egon Sabukoschek was arrested last week at his elegant villa in Graz, southern Austria, on suspicion of rounding up 100 Belgrade Jews for execution in the summer of 1941.
He faces charges of murder and being an accessory to murder.
Dr. Elizabeth Podkaminer, of Jerusalem, told Austrian Television last Friday she knew the accused socially 51 years ago as a medical student in Belgrade. On July 27, 1941, she was shocked to see the man, whip in hand, directing a “selection” of Jews in the main city square.
She said she knew one of the men who had been rounded up and had pleaded for his life and for that of his son. Sabukoschek told Podkaminer she would have to choose between the two.
Fighting back tears, Podkaminer said: “I decided in favor of the 17-year-old son.”
Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said the accused probably held the title of “Juden kommissar” of Belgrade as a member of the Wehrmacht counterintelligence. He said the suspect had been instructed to penetrate Jewish circles in the city and pretend he was an opponent of Adolf Hitler.
Wiesenthal told reporters last week that he submitted documentation on the suspect to the Department of Public Prosecution.
Sabukoscheck was ordered detained Oct. 9 by investigative magistrate Karl Buchgraber to prevent his flight, against the background of “dramatically clear testimony.”
Podkaminer is one of 10 witnesses from Israel and areas of the former Yugoslavia who will testify at the hearings in Graz.
Alexander Lebel, an eyewitness to the roundup who is now living in Belgrade, said Sabukoschek and a Gestapo officer named Strake ordered more than 1,000 Jews to assemble in the main city square and line up by profession: laborers, doctors, lawyers, craftsmen, businessmen.
“Out of this group, every fifth or 10th man was chosen and ordered to step aside. When they had their 100 Jews, the others were allowed to go home,” said Lebel, a journalist and economist.
The 10 were executed the following morning.
Sabukoschek has admitted that at that time he was indeed in Belgrade, where he had studied medicine. But he said his military rank was the lowly one of private and he served merely as a Serbo-Croatian interpreter to the Gestapo.
He told the investigating magistrate the roundup was ordered after a 16-year- old Serbian girl tried to set fire to a German military car and “named a Jew as her instigator.”
He said he thought the 100 Jews were going to be sent to forced labor and “only much later” learned they had been shot.
Most Austrian media praised the Austrian authorities for acting quickly to block off any possibility of escape for the suspect.
But one Viennese daily quoted the doubts raised by a Conservative politician in the suspect’s hometown of Graz, who said Sabukoschek held too low a rank to run such an operation. “He was only 23 at the time,” said Alfred Gerstl, according to the tabloid Kronenzeitung.
Responding, Wiesenthal said low ranks were not unusual in German counterintelligence.