A 90-year-old former member of the Nazi SS has been charged with 58 counts of murder over the killings of Jewish forced labourers in Austria, officials said today
The man is suspected of killing his victims near the village of Deutsch Schützen in 1945, a statement from a German state court said.
"On 29 March 1945, the accused and his accomplices brought at least 57 Jewish forced labourers in several groups to a nearby forest area, where they had to give up their valuables and kneel by a grave," the statement said. "The accused and other SS members then cruelly shot the Jewish forced labourers from behind."
The court described the suspect as a "retiree from Duisburg", but German media reports have named him as Adolf Storms, a former member of the 5th SS Panzer Division, known as Wiking. The suspect is accused of shooting another Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march from Deutsch Schützen to Hartberg on the day after the massacre. The remains of the victims of Deutsch Schützen were found in a mass grave by the Austrian Jewish association in 1995. A plaque now marks the site.
Prosecutors opened an investigation of Storms at the end of 2008 after being alerted to his presence by an Austrian university student who had been researching the killings.
The chief prosecutor, Andreas Brendel, said it was still ongoing. So far, three former members of the Hitler Youth, who were helping the SS to oversee the march, have provided witness statements in Austria. A fourth former Hitler Youth member, now living in Canada, will be interviewed this week, Brendel told the Associated Press.
"There are two who witnessed the shooting of the individual Jewish victim, but there are no people still alive who were part of the other shootings themselves," he said. He added that statements had been made during an Austrian trial of others involved which could be used as evidence against the suspect.
When German authorities raided the suspect's home last December, they said he had invoked his right not to make a statement. He had denied involvement in the shootings to others.
He was interned in a US prisoner of war camp following the war, but was released in 1946. In the chaotic aftermath of the conflict, it was not uncommon for possible war criminals to slip through the cracks. The Austrian press has reported the man changed the spelling of his name after the second world war – a possible explanation of why he went undetected for so long.