90-year-old charged for Nazi massacre
German prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 90-year-old former SS soldier with 58 counts of murder for the cold-blooded killings of Jewish forced labourers in the final weeks of World War II.
With Allied forces fast overrunning Germany, the man, named in the media as Adolf Storms, was accused of hatching a plot on March 28, 1945 with other SS and members of the Hitler Youth, to slaughter Jewish prisoners in their charge.
The next day, the accused and other SS took at least 57 labourers in several groups into woods near the small town of Deutsch Schützen in Hitler's native Austria near the present-day border with Hungary, prosecutors alleged.
There, the Jews, who were Hungarian, were stripped of their valuables before being made to kneel down in a ditch. Storms and his accomplices then dispatched them with bullets from behind, prosecutors said in a statement.
The same day or the day after, he gunned down a 58th labourer who was too exhausted to continue a forced march. Shooting him in the same "cowardly" manner in the back, prosecutors said. The 90-year-old, a former member of the fifth SS Tank Division "Viking," now lives in the west German industrial city of Duisburg near Cologne. Police raided his residence in December, seizing documents.
Der Spiegel magazine reported last October that investigators were put onto Storms thanks to research into the massacre by a 28-year-old Austrian student, Andreas Forster.
Forster travelled to Duisburg and filmed hours of interviews over several days, finding the elderly man to be "sprightly" but unable to recollect the day of the massacre.
"We informed prosecutors in July," Forster told the magazine, since which time Storms has refused all contact with him.
At the time of the massacre, the Nazis were desperately evacuating concentration camps, forcing emaciated prisoners on exhausting marches and killing those too weak to carry on.
Just a month later, with the Third Reich in ruins, Hitler shot himself in his bunker as the Red Army swept into Berlin, and the war in Europe, and the Holocaust, were over.
A court in Duisburg now has to decide whether the trial of the man can go ahead. The defendant has two weeks to present evidence or to appeal against the case proceeding.
Prosecutors allege that he was driven by National Socialist ideology according to which his victims were considered to be "of low value," a spokesman said in the statement.
News of the charges raised the prospect of another Nazi trial, more than six decades after the end of the fighting and the Nuremberg trials of Hitler's top henchmen.
On November 30, alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 89, was due to stand trial in the southern city of Munich, charged with assisting in the murder of 27,900 people in 1943.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, deported from the United States in May, is number three on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's list of most wanted war criminals, behind two others believed to be dead.
Prosecutors have charged Demjanjuk with being a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943 where hundreds of thousands of Jews were herded to the gas chambers. His family insists he is innocent and that he is too ill to stand trial.
Last month, 88-year-old former SS soldier Heinrich Boere went on trial in the western city of Aachen for gunning down three Dutch resistance fighters in 1944. He has said he was following orders.
And in August, a court jailed a 90-year-old former German army commander for life for ordering a massacre of Italian civilians in 1944. His troops gunned down a 74-year-old woman and three men in the street before forcing 11 males aged between 15 and 66 into the ground floor of a farmhouse which they then blew up. Only the youngest one survived.