Nazi killer gets life in jail — 65 years late

By Toby Axelrod, Berlin, August 13, 2009
Josef Scheungraber waves to a spectator during his trial for murder

Josef Scheungraber waves to a spectator during his trial for murder

A Munich court has sentenced a former German Wehrmacht lieutenant to spend the rest of his life in jail for ordering the killings of Italian villagers in June 1944. Josef Scheungraber, 90, was found guilty of ten of the 14 murders with which he had been charged.

He had been living for decades in a town outside Munich, where he served on the town council.

The trial was one of the last World War Two war-crimes cases to be heard. Preparations are under way in Germany to try alleged war criminals John Demjanjuk and Heinrich Boere, part of a last-ditch effort to prosecute suspected Nazis who have lived normal lives for decades.

The court found that Scheungraber had ordered that the villagers from Falzano, Tuscany, be murdered after partisans killed two of his men. Three civilians, including an elderly woman, were shot in the street, and all but one of the others were burned alive when explosives were set off in a barn.

Scheungraber had already been sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court in 2006 but, since Germany does not extradite citizens, his trial started in Munich in September 2008.

The sole survivor of the fire, Gino Massetti, testified that he “panicked like a little puppy” when he and his fellow villagers were rounded up and locked into the barn. Mr Massetti was 15 at the time.

Meanwhile, last month, the regional high court in Cologne ruled that former Waffen-SS member Heinrich Boere, 88, was fit to stand trial.

Boere is charged with the murders of three Dutch resistance fighters. Like Scheungraber, Boere also was found guilty in the country where the crime was committed, but German law prevented extradition. Boere told Focus magazine in April 2009 that he had been following orders when he shot the three resistance fighters.

“It was not difficult,” he said in the interview. “You just had to bend a finger.”

The announcement that Boere would stand trial in Germany came shortly after a Supreme Court decision that John Demjanjuk, 89, is fit to face charges of assisting in the murder of more than 27,900 Jews at Sobibor. His trial is expected to open this autumn.

Boere and Demjanjuk — who was deported from the USA last spring — are to have doctors present during their trials, and there will be frequent breaks.

Last updated: 10:38am, August 13 2009