Scandal of Nazi massacre cover-up

Click to follow
Perhaps the German judges who tried and failed to track down the war criminal Erich Priebke were too highly qualified for the job. What other conclusion can one draw from the revelation that the three Nazi-hunters employed by the prosecutor's office in Dortmund were Nazis themselves?

Some poachers make good gamekeepers, but not the three senior officials who were in charge of Priebke's file between 1947 and 1973. Evidence of Priebke's guilt in the murder of more than 300 Italian civilians was established at the trial in Italy of SS Commander Herbert Kappler in 1948. Our three diligent public servants, now dead, filed them away in the original Italian. Case closed.

The Justice Ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia confirmed yesterday that the oversight might not have been entirely unconnected with its Nazi-hunters' brown history. Eight senior officials in the Dortmund prosecutor's office had belonged to the Nazi party before the war. Of the three who were directly involved with Priebke's case, one had joined the National Socialists even before Hitler came to power in 1933; the other two joined soon afterwards. Two of the three held a rank in Hitler's storm-troops, the SA. "From today's point of view, their employment seems scarcely understandable," conceded the then Land Justice Minister, Rolf Krumsiek, last year.

The documents and the political controversy have again come to light following Priebke's trial in Italy. He was found guilty of murder, but his crime was deemed unpunishable under the 30-year statute of limitations. Hermann Weissing, the official now in charge of the Dortmund war-crimes unit, said last week that prosecutors had all the documents they needed to indict Priebke, but that the case had been inexplicably bungled.

After Italy's failure to send Priebke to jail, Germany now wants him extradited.