Ladislav 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 girl.
A Czechoslovakian 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.
Prosecutors 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.
The case 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.
The judges 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.
Prosecutors said they would appeal.
Source: Reuters, (December 20, 2005)