Justice has been served (Archive)
Photo: AP

Ex-Nazi officers convicted over massacre

Italian judge sentences 10 former Nazi officers to life in prison; all officers in 80's, so unlikely to serve prison terms

An Italian judge sentenced 10 former Nazi SS officers to life in prison on Wednesday for their roles in the murder of 560 Tuscan villagers in one of Italy's worst civilian massacres of World War Two.


The verdict for the 10 former German officers, all in their 80s, is largely symbolic, as they are unlikely to be extradited from their homeland and are too old to serve prison sentences in Italy.


None of the defendants travelled to Italy for the trial.


Spontaneous applause


However, the handful of survivors and the many relatives who packed out the military court in the port town of La Spezia burst into applause when the verdict was read, with many tearfully hugging one another.


"It is a huge success, an almost unexpected one. We have waited 60 years for this," Ennio Mancini said, who recalls being lined up before a firing squad though he was only six years old at the time.


"It is moral compensation," he said 


Premeditated and organized 


At dawn on August 12, 1944, SS soldiers surrounded the stone houses of Sant'Anna di Stazzema forcing people onto the street, where they were shot.


Most of the victims were women and children - the youngest was 20 days old.


Prosecutors had asked for all 10 men to be handed life sentences, arguing the men were experienced soldiers and that their actions were premeditated and organised.


"Obedience is not blind," Public Prosecutor Marco De Paolis told the court during his concluding remarks.


Defence lawyers had said the former officers were obliged to carry out orders, threatened with death, and had believed they were travelling to the hill town for regular anti-partisan search operations.


Opening "Cabinet of Shame"


The Sant'Anna massacre was one of many civilian shootings that occurred as German troops retreated to the so-called "Gothic Line" of defense that cut across Italy.


However, they came to light only a decade ago, when a filing cabinet full of witness statements was found in Rome.


Italy was spurred to reopen investigations into Nazi war crimes in 1996, when a military court found former SS captain Erich Priebke guilty of involvement in another 1944 massacre but released him under the statute of limitations.


Italy's highest court ordered a retrial and he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for his role in the slaughter of 335 men and boys at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome.


The Sant'Anna verdict could also pave the way for a parallel trial in Germany over the same killings, though the men would be obliged to attend the hearings there.


Some of the survivors and their relatives, backed by a group of German anti-Nazi activists, have already begun proceedings.


"German prosecutors have a duty to make this situation clear in Germany. They have been held back by fears so far that a trial could open the door to compensation claims," German lawyer working with Sant'Anna relatives Gabriele Heinecke said.  


"It is key for the future of our country to understand what the Nazis did," she said.  


פרסום ראשון: 06.23.05, 09:03
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