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German on trial for Nazi massacre

A former German soldier is on trial in Munich for Nazi-era atrocities.

Josef Scheungraber, now 90, is charged with having ordered the murders of 14 villagers in June 1944 as a reprisal for partisans killing two of his men. Scheungraber was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court in 2006, but since Germany does not extradite its citizens, a trial was initiated in Munich in September.

A witness in one of the last trials related to Nazi-era atrocities told the Munich court on Oct. 23 that his fellow German soldiers balked at massacring Italian villagers in Falzano, Tuscany, but followed orders. The next court date is Nov. 13.

Allegedly under Scheungraber’s command, four civilians were shot before Battalion 818 of the German Army mountain combat engineers was ordered to blow up a barn in which 11 other civilians had been confined. Only Gino Massetti, now 79, survived the explosion and fire, and he testified on Oct. 7 that former Wehrmacht officers called to testify have failed to recall details about the incident, according to news reports.

The latest witness, an 84-year-old former engineer with the battalion, said he did not know who had ordered the massacre. He only knew that he and his fellow soldiers were reluctant to carry out the orders.

In September, Scheungraber’s attorney told the court that the accused – who lives today in Ottobrunn, Bavaria – had not known about the massacre when it happened.

In other news, Germany has rejected the verdict of a court in Rome demanding payment of personal damages for Nazi-era crimes against humanity. According to the German Press Agency, the court  found on Oct. 21 that nine Italian families should receive $1.3 million in compensation for family members murdered in a Nazi massacre in June 1944 of 203 civilians in the northern Italian town of Civitella.

The German foreign ministry said the day after the ruling that financial compensation had been taken care of through a 1961 treaty.

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