German trial of 88-year-old Nazi SS officer enters its final phase
Munich, Germany (AP) - An 88-year-old former Nazi SS commander was actively involved in wartime atrocities that included the massacre of civilians at the end of Second World War, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments at the man's trial.
Capt. Ladislav Niznansky, who has been on trial for 14 months, faces a possible life in prison if convicted of 164 counts of murder in three massacres in early 1945 after a failed uprising against Slovakia's Nazi puppet government.
A former Slovak army captain, Niznansky changed sides during the war to take charge of the Slovak section of an SS unit code-named Edelweiss that hunted resistance fighters and Jews, prosecutor Konstantin Kuchenbauer said.
Though Niznansky has said he was forced into the unit and he did not actively participate in its actions, Kuchenbauer pointed out to the court that the defendant earned an Iron Cross 1st Class medal for his work.
"You don't get that for doing nothing," Kuchenbauer said, as Niznansky watched him intently from across the courtroom.
In one of the last trials of surviving Nazi suspects, prosecutors were expected to recommend the maximum sentence for Niznansky.
Kuchenbauer said the trial was "the last chance for justice for the men and women, the old and the young" who were killed in the massacres.
"It's also about sending a signal to similar or comparable culprits," he said.
Niznansky was the commander of the Slovak unit of Edelweiss, which made up about half of the 300-man strong formation that also included Germans and Russians.
Kuchenbauer said the evidence shows Niznansky not only ordered executions, but also robbed victims and helped hold the unit together through to the end of the war.
"He wasn't passive, he prepared the operations and actively carried them out," Kuchenbauer said.
Niznansky's defence team was scheduled to tell their side Tuesday.
Slovak-born Niznansky was already convicted of the shootings and other killings and sentenced to death in absentia by what was communist Czechoslovakia in 1962.
By then, he had moved to Germany where he worked for U.S-financed Radio Free Europe, which broadcast Western programming to the Soviet bloc. Now retired, he became a German citizen in 1996.
German authorities began their investigation only in 2001 after a Slovak request and judges who travelled to Slovakia to interview surviving witnesses have complained about the complexity of the case.
The court released Niznansky from custody in Oct. 2004, citing contradictory testimony from a former Edelweiss member whose evidence helped secure his conviction in 1962.
During his trial, Niznansky has admitted he was present during the 1944 capture in Slovakia of U.S. agents and an American war correspondent who were later executed.
The captives included members of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, on the run during a secret mission to Slovak partisans fighting the Nazi occupation, and Associated Press correspondent Joseph Morton.
The 13 American intelligence officers and Morton were captured Dec. 26, 1944 in a Slovak mountain hut and deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria, where they were executed on Jan. 24, 1945.
Morton, 33, was the only war correspondent known to have been executed by any side during Second World War.
© The Canadian Press, 2005