British failed to spot Nazi mass killer

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The Independent Online
A 78-YEAR OLD convicted war criminal who had been living quietly in the south German city of Stuttgart, was arrested yesterday and charged with the murders of 70,000 people during the Second World War. He had previously been questioned by Scotland Yard.

Alfons Gotzfried, who prosecutors say has admitted to shooting 500 men, women and children with his own hands at a Polish concentration camp, was a low-ranking officer in the Nazi security police, and had previously worked for the Gestapo.

Even by the standards of mass-murderers, his alleged crimes seem extraordinary. The prosecutors believe he was a key player in the notorious "Operation Harvest Festival", a blood-bath that went on for two days at the Majdanek concentration camp, in eastern Poland, in November 1943. It was here that Gotzfried credited himself with the 500 shootings. Altogether, he is said to have played a role in the murder of 70,000 civilians in Poland and Ukraine in 1942 and 43. An estimated 360,000 people, mostly Jews, perished at Majdanek.

According to German records of war criminals, Gotzfried had served in the SS, and was a member of staff on the Galician Security Police Command in Lublin. "He was no leading light," commented Willi Dressen, head of Germany's central archives.

Details of Gotzfried's life after the war are sketchy. In the 1950s, he is reported to have been investigated for war crimes by the British authorities. The Soviet authorities put him on trial and imprisoned him. He served part of his sentence in a forced labour camp in Siberia.

He was given German nationality in 1991. Last year he was called as a witness to the national war crimes centre in Dortmund. It was while being questioned there that Gotzfried is said to have confessed to the "Harvest Festival" massacre and other killings. He applied for bail after his arrest. "Where am I supposed to run?" he is reported to have asked.