In December 2005, after having been on trail in Germany for over a year facing charges of 164 counts of murder for his alleged involvement in the killing of Slovak civilians at the end of World War II, 88-year old Nazi commander Ladislav Niznansky was acquitted of his crimes.
A former Slovak army captain who at first supported the revolt, Niznansky changed sides after his capture and took charge of the Slovak section of a Nazi unit code-named Edelweiss that hunted resistance fighters and Jews. In one attack, Edelweiss, working with a unit of the elite SS and another unit that included German soldiers and ethnic German irregulars, surrounded the village of Klak to prevent anyone escaping alive, according to the prosecutor. No effort was even made to determine whether resistance fighters were in the village, he said, adding that men, women and small children were massacred.
Niznansky was convicted of the shootings and other killings in a 1962 Czechoslovak trial and was sentenced to death in absentia. Several elderly witnesses invited to testify in the German trial, however, denied their 1962 testimony and said there was no firm evidence that Niznansky himself shot any of the victims. The court released Niznansky from custody in October 2004, citing contradictory testimony from a former Edelweiss member whose evidence helped secure his 1962 conviction.
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.
Sources: Jerusalem Post (November 29, 2005); Reuters (December 20, 2005)