German prosecutor probes WWII massacre in French village

A German prosecutor arrived in the town of Maillé in eastern France Tuesday to shed light on a World War II massacre and possibly find the perpetrators.

German prosecutor probes WWII massacre in French village
German prosecutor Ulrich Maas seems to love massacres. Photo: DPA

On the day that Paris was liberated, August 25, 1944, German forces shot and stabbed to death 124 residents, including 42 women and 44 children, in Maillé and left the town in ruins after a bombing campaign. The killings were in reprisal for an attack the previous day by a small group of resistance fighters on German troops north of the village, near a strategic railway crossing.

While France and Germany have cooperated in the past to track down wanted war criminals, the mission by Dortmund state prosecutor Ulrich Maas marks a rare attempt to collect evidence in a probe that could lead to indictments.

“I am ashamed by what the Germans did here and I apologize to everyone,” Maas said after his arrival, accompanied by police commissioner Bernard Schneider and an interpreter. “I am surprised and touched by the welcome that I received.”

The German team will spend three days in Maillé, which has some 500 residents, interviewing witnesses to try to determine which unit took part in the massacre and perhaps even obtain names of individuals who could be tried in Germany.

There is no statute of limitations on war crimes in Germany, contrary to France which has set a limit of 30 years.

Prosecutor Philippe Varin from the Tours region said it was “an extraordinary event” for German investigators to come to France to probe World War II atrocities.

After laying flowers at a memorial for the victims of the massacre, the team toured the town and was to consult archives at a local museum dedicated to the memory of the 124 residents.

Sebastien Chevereau, who heads the museum, has welcomed the investigation as an effort to honour the memory of those killed in the massacre, which he says is rarely mentioned in history books.

Another village, Oradour-sur-Glane, is known to all French schoolchildren, evoking one of the darkest chapters of World War II when 642 civilians were massacred, including 200 women and as many children on June 10, 1944.

The Maillé investigation first opened in 1988 after information was uncovered in just-released UN archives, but the case was closed in 1990 after not enough evidence was found to file charges. It was re-opened in 2004 after university research into the massacre yielded new leads, prompting German police to take a second look. A former Wehrmacht lieutenant, Gustav Schlueter, was convicted in absentia for war crimes in Bordeaux in 1952 for the massacre, but he remained at large in Germany until his death in 1965.

“We have a petty clear idea of what happened,” said Maas. “Young soldiers were ordered to carry out reprisals and everything leads us to believe that this massacre was of their own initiative.”

Despite the passage of 64 years since the massacre, the prosecutor said he had not given up hope of finding those responsible.

“We would like to know which troops did this and and why. We would like to be able to tell the truth to our youth,” said Maillé resident Serge Martin, 74, who lost his parents, brother and sister in the massacre. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about August 25, 1944 and the massacre of my family,” said Martin, one of the 28 children who became orphans that day.


Germany busts far-right cell planning attack on parliament

German police launched nationwide raids on Wednesday and made 25 arrests against members of a far-right "terror group" suspected of planning an attack on parliament, federal prosecutors said.

Germany busts far-right cell planning attack on parliament

More than 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the largest police actions the country has ever seen.

The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbürger) movement suspected of “having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group”, prosecutors said in a statement.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s extremist Reichsbürger movement?

Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state”, they said.

Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.

The Reichsbürger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.

Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbürger have become increasingly radical in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.

Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group, federal prosecutors said.

“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.

The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realised by using military means and violence against state representatives,” they added.

The investigation gave “a look into the abyss” of far-right terror from the movement, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the “suspected terror cell” on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.

Russian contacts

Reichsbürger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.

They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.

According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbürger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.

They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany’s new leader after the coup.

He had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.

Police before a raid on Wednesday morning in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request.”

A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.

As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organised shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbürger scene consists of around 20,000 people.

Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.

Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.

In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.

The group was affiliated with the Reichsbürger movement and the so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns.