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Three ex-Nazis get life for WWII massacre

184 Italian civilians died in 1944 atrocity

26 May, 13:37
Three ex-Nazis get life for WWII massacre (ANSA) - Rome, May 4 - Three German former soldiers have received life sentences for killing 184 Italian civilians in a WWII reprisal in Tuscany, one of Italy's worst wartime atrocities.

Former Wermacht captain Ernst Pinstor, 91, ex-warrant officer Fritz Jauss, 94, and former sergeant Johan Robert Riss were sentenced in absentia for murdering 94 mostly elderly men, 63 women and 27 children including some newborn babies "in cold blood, looking the innocent in the eyes," as a prosecutor put it.

The court also set a new record compensation package of almost 13 million euros for the relatives of the victims, which the Federal Republic of Germany was asked to pay.

"After 67 years we have obtained justice," said local mayor Rinaldo Vanni.

Vanni however expressed regret that the case had taken so long to come to court because key documents were only unearthed, in a so-called "cupboard of shame", in 1994.

Rome military prosecutor Marco De Paolis voiced the hope that if the verdict is confirmed at the high court of Cassation "the terms will actually be served, if only in Germany".

During the trial, a WWII historian, Paolo Pezzino, told the court that the house-to-house sweep in the village of Padule di Fucecchio between Florence and Pistoia was "not a reprisal but an operation of total desertification".

The three ex-soldiers, who live in Germany, have "never expressed remorse", De Paolis said.

A fourth defendant, ex-lieutenant Gherard Deissmann, died during the trial.

The massacre on August 23, 1944 took place a day after an SS division killed 560 people including 116 children in nearby Sant'Anna di Stazzema, the backdrop to Spike Lee's 2008 film Miracle at St Anna.

Three former SS officers were sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia for that atrocity in 2007.

Only three former Nazis have ever been jailed in Italy for war crimes.

Erich Priebke, 97, was extradited from Argentina in 1995 and sentenced to life for his part in a 1944 reprisal outside Rome that killed 335 men and boys including many Jews; his ex-commander Karl Hass, arrested after coming from Switzerland to Priebke's trial with witness immunity, died in prison aged 92 in 2004; and 'Butcher of Bolzano' Michael Seifert, found guilty of 18 murders, was extradited from Canada to serve life in 2008 and died in jail aged 86 last November.

Priebke is now under house arrest in Rome. He had a work permit revoked in 2007 after an outcry from the city's Jewish community Italian prosecutors have issued European arrest warrants for 15 other German former soldiers without success.

Under the terms of a postwar settlement, Germany is not required to extradite alleged war criminals to Italy.

The two countries agreed in 2008 to review outstanding wartime issues including the compensation for victims.

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