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Three SS Officers Indicted In Italy

First Publish: 1/13/2004, 7:03 PM / Last Update: 1/13/2004, 9:00 PM

Belated justice has led to the indictment of three Nazis who were all former members of the SS. The indictments were handed down by an Italian court on Monday on charges of massacring 560 people in 1944 in the Italian village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema.

The Italian ANSA news agency reported that indictments were issued against Gerhard Sommer, 83; Alfred Schonenberg, 83; and Ludwig Sonntag, 80 - all former members of the infamous SS Panzergrenadier Division now living in Germany. The La Spezia court in northwestern Italy decided not to go ahead with cases against two other SS members who were facing charges while requesting further information on a third.

German prosecutors who have also been carrying out investigations in the case recommended the prosecution of eight Nazis last year. Among those cited was a man referred to as Gerhard S. In 2002, German public television ARD interviewed a Gerhard Sommer from Hamburg who admitted being a company commander in the division, but he had little to say about the massacre in Italy. "I have an absolutely pure conscience, and I don't want now to know further about these things," Sommer said.

In August 1944, about 300 of Hitler's elite and most fanatical SS troops surrounded the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, which had been flooded with Jewish refugees, in what was ostensibly a hunt for partisans. Instead the villagers, almost all women, children and elderly were systematically executed. Many of the other
Jewish refugees were herded into basements and subsequently murdered when the Nazis threw hand grenades into their hiding places.

Italy has been reopening investigations into Nazi war crimes since former SS captain Erich Priebke was found guilty in 1996 of playing a major role in a separate 1944 massacre. He was given a life sentence in 1998 for his role in the slaughter of 335 men and boys at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome.

The current trial of the three Nazis is scheduled for April. It is not clear whether Italy will request the three men’s extradition from Germany.