An 88-year-old German was charged Wednesday with participating in one of the most notorious massacres of civilians during World War II. Meanwhile, the murder charges against a 92-year-old former Nazi officer in the slaying of a Dutch resistance fighter were dropped because of lost evidence.
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The two cases, which are unrelated, mark the latest developments in a last-ditch effort on the part of German prosecutors to bring Nazi war criminals, most of whom are in their 90s, to justice.
The 88-year-old from Cologne was charged with participating in the June 1944 Nazi massacre in the French village Oradour-sur-Glane, in which 642 inhabitants, including about 400 women and children, were gunned down and burned alive. Only a handful of people in the town in the west-central region of Limousin survived.
Prosecutors in Cologne filed the charges, which include the jointly committed murder of 25 people as well as aiding and abetting the murder of several hundred other people.
The man, a former member of the Waffen-SS, was 19 at the time of the massacre, which means the criminal division of the Cologne court will have to decide whether the trial will take place at all.
The reasons for the massacre remain unclear although some historians state that the SS targeted the French town in error while trying to track down members of the French Resistance.
Separately, in the western city of Hagen, former SS officer Siert Bruins, 92, left the court a free man because too much evidence in the case had been lost in the 70 years since the killing in the Netherlands occurred.
The questioning and cross-examination of witnesses was also largely no longer possible, a court spokesman said.
Bruins, who was jailed in the 1980s for complicity in two murders, went on trial in September in the 1944 killing of Aldert Klaas Dijkema outside Groningen near the border with Germany.
The defense had argued that while Bruins had been present at the scene, the shots had been fired by his SS superior.
Although written testimony indicated that Bruins had taken part in the killing, a manslaughter verdict was not possible because of a statute of limitations.