By Carol J. Williams
1:06 PM PST, January 8, 2014
German authorities have charged an 88-year-old man from Cologne with hundreds of counts of murder and accessory to murder in a 1944 Nazi massacre that killed more than 600 civilians in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The man, identified only as Werner C. because of German privacy laws, was 19 at the time a Nazi panzer division rolled into the town near Limoges, in west-central France, to exact revenge for the kidnapping of a German officer by the French Resistance.
Nazi troops ordered the entire population of the village to gather for a document check, then separated men from the women and children, France 24 television recounted in its report on the arrest. The men were herded into a barn and sprayed with machine-gun fire to the legs to prevent their fleeing, then the structure was set afire, and those still alive burned to death.
The rest of the population, 246 women and 207 children, were corralled in a church, doused with gasoline and burned alive, the news accounts said.
Previous efforts to bring perpetrators of the atrocity to justice failed because of a lack of evidence or surviving witnesses.
Presidents Francois Hollande of France and Joachim Gauck of Germany paid a highly symbolic visit to Oradour-sur-Glane in September, the first to the war crime site by a German leader and a rare acknowledgment by the French government of its collaborative role with the Nazis during World War II.
Investigation of the massacre was reopened last year after the presidents' visit and interviews with the few survivors from the village, which has been left in its devastated and unoccupied state for the last seven decades as a memorial to the victims and a reminder of the war's horrors.
German authorities said after reviewing the testimony and evidence gathered last year that as many as six surviving members of the panzer division were believed to be alive and residing in Germany, all of them now in their late 80s.
Further arrests may be forthcoming, authorities said.
Rainer Pohlen, a lawyer representing the Cologne retiree charged Wednesday, told German and French media that his client was in the village on the date of the massacre but had nothing to do with it. Werner C. was charged with 25 counts of murder in specific deaths and hundreds of counts of accessory to murder for the rest of the killings, the news reports said.
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