BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court sentenced a 90-year-old former Nazi army commander to life in prison on Tuesday for murdering 10 Italian civilians and attempting to kill another in Tuscany in 1944.
After an 11-month trial, the Munich court found German Josef Scheungraber guilty of ordering the murder of the civilians in Falzano di Cortona, near the Tuscan town of Arezzo, as a reprisal for attacks by Italian partisans.
“As the only officer present, the accused led and supervised the execution of the reprisal orders,” said the court in a statement.
“The act of revenge, directed exclusively at civilians, was driven first and foremost by revenge but also by anger and hatred,” the court added.
Four Italian civilians, including a 74-year-old woman, were shot dead in the street before German soldiers rounded up a further 11 people and herded them into a house and blew it up.
Ten of the 11 died but a 15-year-old boy, Gino Massetti, survived with serious injuries. He gave evidence at the trial.
The court had insufficient evidence to convict Scheungraber, who looked fit as he entered the court room on one crutch and was dressed in a traditional Bavarian cloth jacket, for the four shootings, said a spokeswoman.
Prosecutors said the past had caught up with Scheungraber.
“At last we are satisfied that the guilt amassed by the accused during the war is being and will be atoned for,” state prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz told Reuters TV.
Scheungraber, who spent decades after World War Two as a free man in his home state of Bavaria running a furniture shop, had denied the charges and said he had handed over the individuals in question to the military police.
German media have reported that he regularly took part in marches for fallen Nazi soldiers.
The case is one of Germany’s last Nazi trials, alongside the forthcoming case of John Demjanjuk, a suspected death camp guard who was deported from the United States in May to face charges he helped murder nearly 28,000 people during World War Two.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which hunts suspected Nazi war criminals, welcomed the verdict and praised recent efforts by German authorities to bring Nazi criminals to justice.
“The verdict strengthens the view that the long time gap in no ways diminishes the perpetrator’s guilt and that age offers no legal protection for the murders,” said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Center’s Jerusalem office in a statement.
Scheungraber was convicted in absentia to life in prison on Sept 28, 2006 by a military tribunal in La Spezia for his part in the Falzano di Cortona massacre.
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