BERLIN (JTA) — Charges were filed in Germany against a Cologne man for his alleged involvement in the June 1944 massacre of hundreds of civilians in France.
Named only as Werner C., the 88-year-old defendant was charged by the prosecutor in the western German city of Dortmund with gunning down 25 civilians in Oradour-sur-Glane along with other members of his SS tank infantry unit called Der Fuhrer.
The defendant was 19 at the time, so the trial would be heard in a youth court, a spokesman for the Regional Court of Cologne told the Cologne Internet newspaper report-k.de.
Andreas Brendel, the Dortmund state prosecutor, developed the case against Werner C.
“We highly commend his proactive efforts,” Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA.
Survivors of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre allegedly were shot by other members of the commando unit; the barn in which they were held was then burned down. Reportedly the act was in retribution for the alleged kidnapping of an SS commander.
In all, 642 village residents were murdered. More than half were women and children locked into a church that was set ablaze. The defendant reportedly also was charged as an accessory in the church massacre by cordoning off and guarding the church or by bringing flammable material inside.
Werner C.’s attorney, Rainer Pohlen, told The Associated Press that his client was in the village but denied any role in the killings.
The Cologne court’s spokesman said the youth court must decide whether a trial will be held. The accused has until March 31 to present evidence that would influence the case or to protest the trial.
Meanwhile, a court in the western German city of Hagen suspended its case against former SS member Siert Bruins, saying there was not enough evidence to continue. The trial against Bruins, 92, a Holland native and now a citizen of Germany, began in September, 69 years after he allegedly killed Dutch resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema.
Zuroff, whose Operation Last Chance has led to hundreds of tips on possible war criminals, said he was disappointed by the suspension.
“But it is typical of the problems that can be encountered in prosecutions at this date,” he said. Still, Zuroff added, “a prosecution has value because it becomes a history lesson, even if it doesn’t result in punishment.”