Fugitive Alleged Nazi Charged in World War II Deaths of 3,400
Alleged Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger, who hid in Argentina for 40 years, has been charged in connection with the deaths of more than 3,400 Jews, a state prosecutor’s office announced Friday.
The trial of Schwammberger, 79, could be the last major Nazi war crimes hearing of its type, prosecutors said. Like many elderly former Nazis tried in recent years, Schwammberger is in frail health and has complained of heart problems.
The Baden-Wuerttemberg state prosecutor’s office in Stuttgart issued a statement saying that charges against Schwammberger had been filed and that his trial could begin “possibly in June.” It did not specify when the charges were filed.
Schwammberger is being held in Stuttgart’s high-security Stammheim prison, where the trial is expected to take place.
During World War II, Schwammberger was a Nazi SS lieutenant who commanded forced labor camps in Poland, including concentration camps at Przemysl and Mielec where thousands of inmates, mostly Jews, were interned and died, the prosecutor charges.
The prosecutor’s statement said Schwammberger is suspected of personally killing at least 50 Jewish inmates and assisting in the murders of at least 3,377 others from 1941 to 1944.
Charges against him include murder and accessory to murder. The statement said he “carried out some of the murders in a cruel fashion out of a feeling of self-superiority and racist hate.”
According to the prosecutor’s office, Schwammberger has admitted shooting one labor camp inmate, “because of special circumstances,” but has denied responsibility in the deaths of the others. It did not elaborate.
Survivors of the camps have claimed that he starved prisoners to death and personally shot at least one Jew. They also say he let attack dogs tear prisoners apart and threw inmates into fires to watch them die.
Schwammberger was arrested after the war by the French army. He escaped in 1948 from a train that was taking him to U.S. military authorities in Austria for trial.
He entered Argentina within months, living under his own name, and obtained citizenship in 1965. For years he worked at a petrochemical plant in La Plata, 30 miles south of Buenos Aires.
West German authorities had sought Schwammberger’s extradition since 1973, when they notified Argentina that he might be living there. Argentine officials found him in 1987 in Huerta Grande, a village 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
After two years of appeals to fight extradition, Schwammberger was returned against his will to Germany on May 3. For years he had been on the list of 10 most wanted Nazis compiled by famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said it has found 73 witnesses and conclusive evidence against Schwammberger.