Ex-Nazi, 80, receives life sentence Other major trials unlikely to follow

May 19, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- The Nazi hordes, fanatics who believed themselves supermen and spattered World War II Europe with blood like drenching rain, came down once again to a tired and fearful old man, alone in a German court.

In what may be the last Nazi trial in Germany, Josef Schwammberger, once an SS-Oberscharfuehrer called "god over life and death" in a forced labor camp, was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing at least 34 people personally and participating in the murder of hundreds more.

A bald man with full arching brows and frightened eyes, Schwammberger, 80, sat almost mute at his trial in Stuttgart as survivors of his camps described him as a cruel, strutting, racist killer.

Most of his victims were Jews imprisoned at three forced labor camps in Poland -- Przemyl, Rozvadov and Mielec -- which he admitted commanding.

He killed a rabbi, remembered only as Fraenkel, who refused to work on Yom Kippur, the most holy of Jewish holy days, witnesses said.

A woman said Schwammberger shot her husband as he stood beside her. He threw children to their deaths from the windows of an orphanage, another witness said.

An orgy at Schwammberger's house was described by a woman who survived. She said young women from the Przemyl ghetto were sexually abused by drunken SS men and then killed.

Schwammberger barely grunted a defense when the 11-month trial ended and the judge said: "You have the last word."

The dead, he said, were "victims of the German occupation."

Prosecutor Alfred Streim reported that at the jail processing yesterday Schwammberger said he was sorry.

"I don't believe him," he said.

German right-wing nationalists demonstrated on Schwammberger's behalf in front of the Stuttgart court house yesterday. But inside, most of the courtroom seats were filled by students for whom the trial was depicted as a history lesson.

It is unlikely that any other big Nazi trial will ever be held. No major Nazi is in custody now, and known fugitives are either protected by friendly countries, such as Syria, or are deep underground.

Many witnesses have died, and many are old and sometimes unable to testify. Schwammberger was originally charged with participating in 3,377 murders, including 43 by his own hand, but the number had to be reduced to those for whom witnesses were available to testify.

"Why did these people meet with such a terrible fate?" said Chief Judge Herbert Luippold "Only because they were Jews."

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