A former Nazi SS officer known as the "Butcher of Genoa" for his role in the mass murder of innocent Italian civilians appeared before a Hamburg court yesterday, having escaped justice in Germany for 58 years because of a catalogue of legal blunders and apparent indifference by the authorities.
Friedrich Engel, 93, an SS commander in Nazi-occupied Italy, is charged with organising the execution of 59 Italian civilians by firing squad in the Turchino pass near Genoa in 1944 to avenge an attack by Italian partisans on a cinema frequented by German troops. In court, he denied the murder charges, saying: "I reject the charges because I did not order the shooting."
Mr Engel has until now never been brought before a German court. Since the end of the war he has lived quietly in a Hamburg suburb, despite having being sentenced in absentia by the Italian justice authorities to life imprisonment for his part in the killing of 246 civilians in Liguria during the last two years of the war.
He is accused of organising the execution on 19 May 1944, when a troop of German marines got drunk on a case of cognac before lining up Genoese civilians on a plank over a pit and shooting them.
"I did not dare to disobey the orders of my superiors," Mr Engel said in an interview before his prosecution. "However, I do feel a responsibility for the tragic event which weighs on my conscience."
But in a letter to a newspaper last year, he wrote that he had never killed anyone and had never given an order to kill. Yesterday, he blamed the navy.
The prosecution maintains that Mr Engel was probably acting on his own initiative and that orders were never issued for the civilians' execution.
Mr Engel was employed as an import agent for a Hamburg timber company after the war but retired almost 30 years ago and has been a pensioner since. His case aroused the interest of the German justice authorities on five occasions, but each time inquires were dropped without him ever being questioned.
He has escaped serving the Italian sentence because German law bars the extradition of citizens facing charges for crimes committed abroad.
The Hamburg state prosecutor's office was pressed into taking action last year after the office of the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, intervened.Reuse content