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German jailed for life over Nazi massacre in Italy

Former commander of a German mountain infantry battalion Josef Scheungraber (left) sits with his lawyer Rainer Thesen (right) in the regional court in the southern German city of Munich yesterday during the announcement of his verdict.

Former commander of a German mountain infantry battalion Josef Scheungraber (left) sits with his lawyer Rainer Thesen (right) in the regional court in the southern German city of Munich yesterday during the announcement of his verdict.

A court jailed a 90-year-old former German army commander for life yesterday for ordering a massacre of Italian civilians in 1944 in one of Germany's last major Nazi war crimes trials.

The court in the southern city of Munich convicted Josef Scheungraber for the murder of 10 people in a mass killing that ultimately claimed the lives of 14 residents of Falzano di Cortona in Tuscany.

The prosecution had demanded a life sentence for Mr Scheungraber, who had spent the decades since the war in the sleepy Bavarian town of Ottobrunn, running a woodworking shop and taking part in marches in memory of fallen Nazi soldiers.

His defence attorneys called for his acquittal, citing contradictions in witness testimony on the events 65 years on.

Mr Scheungraber, dressed in a traditional Bavarian jacket, is hard of hearing and walks with a cane but appeared alert and in good health as he listened to the judgment against him.

He went on trial in September accused of ordering the murders on June 26, 1944 in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans that killed two German soldiers.

A 74-year-old woman and three men were shot dead in the street. German soldiers then forced 11 males aged between 15 and 66 into the ground floor of a farmhouse which they then blew up.

Only the youngest, Gino Massetti, survived, but with serious injuries. Six decades later and an old man himself, Mr Massetti testified during the Italian trial.

A dozen people from Falzano di Cortona and descendants of the victims protested outside the courthouse before the verdict was read.

"For 65 years, we have been waiting for truth and justice," Falzano Mayor Andrea Vignini said.

"What we are asking for is to be able to believe in justice again and for war crimes to be prosecuted everywhere they are committed."

He said many of the victims' families had left the town because they could not bear the memories of the massacre.

Mr Scheungraber, at the time the commander of Gebirgs-Pionier-Bataillon 818, a mountain infantry battalion, had been charged with 14 counts of murder and one of attempted murder. He was only convicted of 10 murders due to a lack of evidence.

He had been sentenced in absentia in September 2006 to life imprisonment by an Italian military tribunal in La Spezia.

The La Spezia court has tried several former Nazis in absentia but none had been brought to justice, with Germany as a rule not extraditing its citizens without their consent.

Mr Scheungraber had told the Munich court that he handed the 11 males over to the military police, after which he "never heard what happened to them".

He is expected to be one of the last cases in Germany dealing with atrocities of the Nazi era.

One other case pending is that of John Demjanjuk, a 89-year-old Nazi death camp guard deported in May from the US who has been charged with accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews.

Last month he was declared fit to stand trial.

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