MONTREAL, April 10 (JTA) A former member of the SS is partially responsible for bringing a Nazi murderer to justice.
Adalbert Lallier, born in Hungary, was drafted as a radio operator when he was a young man. He soon found himself a member of the Waffen SS’s 7th Division, where he witnessed something he would never forget the shooting of seven Jewish prisoners.
The site was an anti-tank ditch between the Czech villages of Theresienstadt and Leitmeritz. The killer was his commanding officer, 2nd Lt. Julius Viel, a man Lallier said he had respected until that moment in the spring of 1945. Without warning, Viel picked up a rifle and shot to death seven men who had been digging ditches.
Now Viel, 83 and sick with cancer, faces 12 years in a German prison thanks in no small part to Lallier, a key witness for the prosecution during Viel’s recent trial in Germany. Viel was convicted April 3, but his attorney is appealing.
For Lallier, the conviction helps him conclude a period of his life that has haunted him for the past 56 years.
“I witnessed seven Jews murdered and did nothing about it,” Lallier told JTA. “I decided to spend the rest of my life doing everything possible to undo the terrible shame of having seen this and not acting.”
Lallier, a former university professor, lives in Quebec, two hours from Montreal. He was born in Banat, in the southern part of Hungary. His mother was Hungarian and his father a member of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.
After his mother died, Lallier was raised by his grandmother in a community with three nationalities Germans, Hungarians and Serbs. When the Hungarians were finally allowed their own high schools, Lallier attended one and graduated in 1941.
“We then heard that a German draft list had been created. Suddenly, a German colonel showed up at our home, looked at me and my brother Andre was 20 and I was 17 and warned us not to try to run away or we would be caught and shot.
“My brother had a beautiful Jewish girlfriend I remember her lovely, long black hair not long after, all the Jews in our village were rounded up, including this girl and her family,” Lallier said. “We never saw her again. Eventually, Andre did run away from the army. We never saw him again, either.”
Immediately after the war ended, Lallier had an opportunity to give something back to the Jewish people, he recalled. He was sent to a POW camp in Vienna, where he helped out as a case worker handling Jewish refugees.
“Canada didn’t want textile workers or jewelers, but I falsified statements about their occupations to allow these people into Canada,” he said.
Lallier described how he helped one man immigrate to Canada, where he opened a popular Hungarian restaurant.
“When I went there decades later, he remembered exactly who I was and it was a happy reunion,” Lallier said.
Lallier came to Canada in November 1951 and quickly established himself in academia. He contributed to the creation of a Jewish studies program at Montreal’s Loyola College, a Jesuit institution.
Lallier’s decision to come forward with information on Viel’s murders was a serendipitous one. In the mid-1990s he was a member of the Canadian Executive Service Organization. He was assigned to the Czech Republic, where he would help Czech bankers understand the workings of the capitalist financial system.
“I took a bus to Theresienstadt,” the former Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of the Czech town of Terezin, Lallier said. “I wanted to touch the soil near that ditch, where those seven men were murdered. It was then that I swore I would find out, once and for all, what became of Viel. I knew I had to pursue this issue.”
In 1997, a friend and former student, lawyer Stephen Korda, arranged a meeting between Lallier and American Nazi hunter Steve Rambam.
“I revealed the name of my superior officer, breaking the Waffen SS oath that had been a curse all my life, and lifted myself out of the blackness in my soul,” Lallier said. “Rambam called me a while later to say he had found Viel and the circle was complete.”
Lallier was called to Germany to testify against Viel four times, twice in Stuttgart and twice in Ravensburg.
“He didn’t speak to me, just glanced at me and claimed he didn’t remember me,” Lallier said of Viel’s reaction upon seeing him. “I knew he was lying. He knew I was his accuser and I knew I was looking at a killer.”
During the trial, he was attacked by defense attorney, Ingo Pfliegner.
“This attorney attempted to portray the charges against Viel as nothing more than a conspiracy by the Canadian government, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Stephen Korda and Steve Rambam,” Lallier said.
Lallier was the only man from his unit who testified that he witnessed the shootings.
“We were all in a state of shock when it happened, as most of us were young, inexperienced men,” he said. “It happened right in front of our eyes and yet, when questioned, the others said they could not recall them. I could not believe it when I heard that.”
The worst incident was a report in Reuters that Lallier was under investigation himself and might have his Canadian citizenship revoked.
The report turned out to be false. Nevertheless, Lallier was forced to retire prematurely after several academic colleagues who learned of his past complained to the administration.
Lallier has no regrets about coming forward with his information, however.
“The most important thing is that I did my best to help the Jewish people, in my own little way,” he said.
He hopes to speak to groups of people, non-Jewish students perhaps, to tell them what he experienced during the war, he said.
Following his experiences during the trial, he is also convinced that “the German people have changed. They understand now that a strong democracy is essential to keep the right in check.”
And he wants the world to know how seven Jewish men, aged 24 to 46, changed his life forever and deserve to be properly remembered as people and not just numbers in a Nazi registry. They were Josua Baruch, Robert Friedmann, Wilhelm Kaufmann, Ladisslav Kras, Victor Schutz, Klastimil Severin and Victor Stern.