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Ex-SS Soldier, 88, Charged Over Nazi Massacre
An 88-year-old former member of Hitler's SS has been charged with taking part in a massacre of hundreds of French villagers.
It is nearly 70 years since one of the most infamous Nazi atrocities, in which Waffen-SS men took the small French village of Oradour-sur-Glane by surprise and killed nearly all of its inhabitants.
The death toll from the methodical slaughter in 1944 was 642 men, women and children.
The men were herded into barns and shot dead, while the women and children were burned alive in the village church.
Achim Hengstenberg, court spokesman for Cologne, said: "The prosecution charges an 88-year-old pensioner from Cologne with (joining in) the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane in France.
"He and another shooter are said to have killed 25 men in a barn with his machine gun. He is also said to have aided the burning down of the village church."
The accused denies the charges, saying he did not fire a single shot in Oradour, according to his lawyer Rainer Pohlen.
He said he even tried to save the lives of some of the victims.
Mr Pohlen said: "He could have fired. He says, however, 'I had the great luck of being deployed for something else'.
"He said 'I heard shots, I saw people shouting, I saw the village burning. It was terrible. It was absolutely awful. But I was not myself involved in any of the action'."
Mr Hengstenberg said the charge lay with the young offenders chamber of the Cologne court because the suspect was only 19 years old at the time of the crime.
He was not named in the statement. The young offenders chamber will decide whether or not to open proceedings against the accused.
The SS massacre was meant to be an example to French Resistance guerrillas after a vehicle carrying an SS doctor was ambushed on a road leading to the village and its occupants abducted.
Among those killed were 207 children, the youngest eight weeks old. Only five men and a woman survived the massacre.
Robert Hebras, one of the survivors, said: "It's important that we find someone even if it's 70 years afterwards."
Oradour is an example of a post-war failure to punish the perpetrators.
Heinz Lammerding, the Waffen-SS general in command of the unit that committed the massacre, was captured by Allied forces, but never extradited to France and was sentenced to death in absentia by a Bordeaux military court in 1951. He died in his bed in Bavaria in 1971.
Mr Hengstenberg said the new charge resulted from a fresh look at a previous investigation into the events.
In 1953, 12 Alsatian soldiers who took part in the massacre while serving in the SS unit were sentenced to life in prison and one to death, but France's parliament immediately pardoned them in the name of "national reconciliation".
Their province of Alsace had been annexed by Germany in 1940 and Alsatians were deemed to have been forced to join the German forces, even though some clearly enlisted voluntarily.
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