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August 12, 2009

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German guilty of WWII crimes

A 90-YEAR-OLD former German army officer was convicted yesterday of murdering 10 Italian civilians who were herded into a barn that was blown up.

The Munich state court convicted World War II veteran Josef Scheungraber on 10 counts of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Scheungraber was a 25-year-old Wehrmacht lieutenant during the June 1944 killings in Falzano di Cortona, near the Tuscan town of Arezzo.

The court found that, after partisans had killed two German soldiers, Scheungraber ordered 11 civilians to be herded into a barn that was then destroyed. One teenage boy survived the blast.

Scheungraber was acquitted of ordering soldiers to shoot dead three Italians before the barn massacre.

Scheungraber, who commanded a company of engineers, maintains he was not in Falzano di Cortona when the killings happened, but was overseeing reconstruction of a nearby bridge.

Prosecutors acknowledged they could provide no living witnesses who heard Scheungraber give orders to kill the civilians. But they said he had been pictured at the burial of the two German soldiers whose killings triggered the reprisals.

A former work colleague also testified that Scheungraber told him in the 1970s that he couldn't visit Italy because of what had happened during the war, which involved "shooting a dozen men and blowing them into the air."

Perhaps the most dramatic testimony in the trial came from the sole survivor of the massacre, Gino Massetti, who was 15 when Germans herded him and 10 others into the barn before it was destroyed.

"I heard a scream, and that was it then," he said. "They were all dead."


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