An elderly Italian man has told a German court that Wehrmacht soldiers went on a killing rampage in his town during the Second World War. That could lead to the conviction of former soldier Josef S.
The witness, now aged 80, gave his testimony via video link.
He told the court in Munich that in 1944, as a teenager, he had witnessed German Wehrmacht soldiers killing residents of his village, Falzano di Cortona. He said that eleven people, for example, were herded inside a farmhouse.
"The house was then blown up with dynamite," the witness told the court. "Only one person survived."
He also said the soldiers had killed three other villagers and had set numerous buildings, including his family's home, on fire.
"My father tried to save what he could," the witness testified. "There was smoke everywhere. That's the story."
Wehrmacht soldiers have been accused of committed a number of atrocities as the German army was forced to withdraw from their former ally Italy in the latter stages of World War II.
For many years, the Wehrmacht sought to portray itself as a normal army with no direct connection to Nazi crimes against humanity.
The defendant in the trial is a 90-year-old Wehrmacht company commander identified, due to restrictions imposed by German law, only as Josef S. He is accused of murder.
In 2006, an Italian court found S. guilty of atrocities and sentenced him in absentia to life in prison.
German law does not permit the country to extradite its own citizens so the Italian verdict cannot be enforced, prompting the need for a new trial.
The prosecution claims that the massacre was carried out as revenge for the killings of two Wehrmacht soldiers. The defense maintains that Josef S. is innocent.
The trial is expected to be one of the last of its kind because World War II happened so long ago and the generation of Wehrmacht soldiers is rapidly dying out.
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