German court acquitted an 88-year-old Slovak
oof a 1945 massacre after what
may be Europe's last major trial for Nazi atrocities during World
Niznansky was charged with ordering the
shooting of 146 civilians in Slovakia in
January 1945 and the execution of 18 Jews
found hiding a month later, as a member
of a Slovak division of Nazi collaborators.
The mass shootings of mainly women and children were
to punish villagers for assisting partisans. The
oldest victim was 72, the youngest a three-month-old
court found Niznansky guilty in 1962 and
sentenced him to death in absentia. By
this point Niznansky was already living
in West Germany. German authorities at
the time thought there was a lack of evidence,
but reopened the case almost 40 years later.
said Niznansky was a leading figure in
the so-called “Edelweiss” unit
that fought Slovak partisans and had urged
judges to give him a life sentence.
Niznansky had said he was innocent. He told the
court he had been ordered to join the Edelweiss
unit and fight against Slovak partisans, but said
that harming civilians was taboo.
hinged on evidence from another former
member of the unit, who said at one point
he saw Niznansky shoot 20 civilians. The witness
repeatedly contradicted himself, however,
and appeared confused over dates and places.
Many other potential witnesses had died
since the 1962 trial.
sided with the defendant at the end of
the 15-month trial. “The
accused did not carry out any shootings.
It also could not be proven that the shootings
happened according to his wishes or were
ordered by him,” presiding judge
Manfred Goetzl told the court.
said they would appeal.