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Ex-SS soldiers face massacre charges

Six former members of an SS division responsible for the largest massacre in Nazi-occupied France are under investigation over possible charges of murder or being accessories to murder.

The Dortmund prosecutor, Andreas Brendel, said yesterday he had opened the inquiry earlier this year based on a precedent set by the trial of John Demjanjuk, 91, a Ukrainian-American car worker from Ohio, who served as a guard in the Nazi death camp at Sobibor in Poland. He was convicted in May of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder – the first time someone has been found guilty in Germany of being only a guard, without evidence of a specific killing.

Mr Brendel said the six former SS soldiers, all aged 85 or 86, served with the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment of the SS's Das Reich Division. The company massacred 642 men, women and children at Oradour-sur-Glane in central France, on 10 June 1944 – four days after the D-Day landings.

The troops herded the civilians into barns and into a church, blocked the doors and set fire to the entire town. Those not killed in the blazes were shot as they tried to flee, but a few managed to escape.

The killings are thought to have been ordered by the battalion commander, Sturmbannführer [Major] Adolf Diekmann, in retaliation for the kidnapping of a German soldier by the French Resistance, Mr Brendel said. The six men being investigated now were all low-ranking. Officials are trying to determine exactly what role the men played that day, with evidence of direct participation in, or knowledge of, the planned massacre being necessary to bring charges of murder or accessory to murder. AP