By Calvin Palmer
A 90-year-old former member of the Waffen SS has been charged with 58 counts of murder in connection with the massacre of Jewish forced laborers in Austria during the closing stages of the Second World War.
The suspect, identified by German media as Adolf Storms, came to light following research by an Austrian university student into the massacre near the town of Deutsch-Schuetzen.
The student gave the information to state prosecutors near Storms’ hometown of Duisburg, Germany. An investigation began in 2008.
“On March 29, 1945, the accused and his accomplices brought at least 57 Jewish forced labourers in several groups to a nearby forest area, where they had to give up their valuables and kneel by a grave,” the state court said. “The accused and other SS members then cruelly shot the Jewish forced-labourers from behind.”
Storms was described as a former member of the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking”, which comprised soldiers recruited from Norway, Belgium and Holland under the command of German officers.
Court officials said they have two weeks to decide whether the evidence presented by prosecutors supports the charges sufficiently to bring the case to trial.
The day following the massacre, the suspect is also accused of shooting another Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march, the court said.
Three former members of the Hitler Youth, who were helping the SS oversee the march, have provided witness statements in Austria. A fourth former Hitler Youth member, now living in Canada, is being interviewed this week.
Storms does not appear on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals, but the organization’s top Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff said he was “very encouraged by the indictment.”
“He wasn’t on our radar — he wasn’t on anyone’s radar — and this is a case that clearly shows it is possible, even at this point, to identify perpetrators who bear responsibility for serious crimes committed during World War Two and bring them to justice,” Zuroff said.
The remains of the victims of the Deutsch Schuetzen massacre were found in 1995 in a mass grave by the Austrian Jewish association. A plaque now marks the site.
University of Vienna student Andreas Forster came across the suspect while investigating the massacre, and archival files from Germany tconfirmed his involvement, said Professor Walter Manoschek.
After alerting German authorities, Manoschek said he visited Storms at his home in Germany several times between July and September 2008, conducting about 12 hours of interviews during which Storms stressed repeatedly that he has no recollection of the killings for which he has now been charged.