HAMBURG, Germany, AP
A witness in the murder trial of a 93-year-old former Nazi SS officer charged with ordering a 1944 massacre of Italian prisoners told a court Friday that the accused personally supervised the killings.
Defendant Friedrich Engel shook his head during the testimony on his alleged role in the World War II shooting of 59 Italian captives at the Turchino Pass outside Genoa. The shootings were in retaliation for an attack on a cinema that killed five German soldiers and injured 15.
Walter Emig said he witnessed the massacre and that “Engel clearly had the job of supervising the shootings.”
“He was standing right by the pit with the bodies,” said Emig, 79, who recently described Engel as “an ice-cold dog” in a newspaper interview.
Hamburg prosecutors have called the massacre particularly grisly, saying the prisoners were bound in pairs and forced to walk onto a plank laid over the open grave, where they were shot. The victims then fell into the pit, bodies piling on top of bodies.
Engel has said he believed at the time that the reprisal killings were covered under the rules of war.
He maintains the shootings were ordered by Nazi naval officers and that his department was responsible only for selecting the victims. He has said he was standing well back from the pit, behind the shooting squad.
Emig, however, said Engel ordered a lieutenant to shoot one of the captives who had only been injured by the firing squad.
When the man hesitated, “Engel climbed down to him in the pit with the bodies, gave the lieutenant hell and told him how to aim the shot,” Emig said. He couldn’t say whether the lieutenant or Engel himself finally shot the prisoner.
Emig said he took one of the victims to face the firing squad but did not shoot himself.
Most of the prisoners remained silent as they were taken to be shot, Emig told the court.
“Only two of them turned around shortly before (they were shot) and shouted ‘Viva Italia!”’ he said.
The trial follows pressure from Italy after a German television documentary last year drew attention to the case and to Engel, who lives in Hamburg.
An Italian military court in Turin tried and convicted Engel in absentia in 1999, sentencing him to life in prison.
Germany does not extradite citizens for crimes committed abroad. A verdict in Engel’s case is expected in early July.