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Second SS officer to face trial for role in 1944 Rome massacre

ROME, March 9 (JTA) — A military court has ordered former SS Maj. Karl Hass to stand trial April 14 for his role in Italy’s worst World War II atrocity. It remains to be seen whether Hass, 84, will be tried with former Nazi SS Capt. Erich Priebke, who faces a retrial for his complicity in the March 24, 1944, massacre of 335 men and boys at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome. About 75 of the victims were Jews. Both trials will be before military courts. Judicial sources said the two men probably would be tried together. In August, a military court found the 83-year-old Priebke guilty of involvement in the massacre. But the court freed him, ruling that he could not be punished because the statute of limitations had run out and because of other extenuating circumstances. That verdict triggered protests by family members of the victims, who barricaded the courthouse for eight hours until Priebke was rearrested, pending an extradition request from Germany. Three months later, the verdict was annulled by an appeals court, which ruled that the judges had been openly biased in Priebke’s favor. Priebke has admitted to killing two of the victims, but says he was following orders. Hass, who was a prosecution witness at the first Priebke trial, tried to avoid testifying by jumping out of his hotel balcony, breaking his hip during the escape attempt. He has been held under house arrest ever since in a private clinic near Rome. The military court set the trial date last Friday for Hass, who also was charged after he admitted taking part in the massacre during his testimony in the first Priebke trial. In a related development, Italy’s national pension office has revealed that Hass, who has lived in Italy for decades, receives state pensions from both Italy and Germany. The office confirmed Saturday that Hass draws nearly $120 a month from Italy and about $530 a month from Germany. The pension office said in a statement that Hass’s pension came from “10 years of contributions paid in for work carried out in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.” Italy, it said, had no law against paying pensions to people accused of war crimes.