German court drops probe of 89-year-old for French massacre

by Reuters
Tuesday, 9 December 2014 14:16 GMT

* Court says not enough evidence to convict pensioner

* Man says took no part in 1944 killings in French village

* Time running out to try suspected Nazi war criminals

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A German state court dropped all murder and other charges against an 89-year-old former Waffen SS soldier on Tuesday for any role in the slaughter of 642 people in a French village during World War Two due to a lack of evidence.

The state court in Cologne said the man, identified by German media as Werner Christukat, acknowledged being a 19-year-old soldier in the village at the time of the 1944 atrocity, in which 254 women and 207 children were among those killed.

But the court said it was dropping all 25 charges of murder and hundreds of accessory-to-murder charges because it would probably not be possible to disprove the man's testimony that he had not fired any shots or carried out surveillance duties.

"The name of the accused was not mentioned in any of the 5,000 pages of testimony of any of the eyewitnesses questioned about what happened," said court spokesman Achim Hengstenberg.

"The contention of the accused that he was present but did not shoot or carry out any security or transport duties would not likely be refutable with the available evidence," he added.

Hengstenberg quoted the accused as saying he had been stationed on the edge of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and had not been informed about what would happen.

Prosecutors began their investigation of the Cologne resident in January.

Germany, which has a patchy record on prosecuting Nazi war criminals, is running out of time to charge individuals, many of whom are too old to stand trial or have already died.

A landmark conviction in 2011 of John Demjanjuk, a guard at the Sobibor death camp, encouraged a new wave of investigations. Demjanjuk was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany for being a guard at a death camp without evidence of a specific crime or a victim.

In the June 1944 massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, SS soldiers herded the men into barns and shot them dead while the woman and children were burned alive in the village church.

"(The accused) said 'I heard shots, I saw people shouting, I saw the village burning. It was terrible ... But I was not myself involved in any of the action'," lawyer Rainer Pohlen has quoted his client as saying.

The SS unit decided to wipe Oradour-sur-Glane from the map as an example to French Resistance fighters after a vehicle carrying an SS doctor was ambushed in the area and its occupants abducted. (Editing by Gareth Jones)

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