Alleged Nazi War Criminal Returns to Face Charges of Mass Murders
FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ Four decades after fleeing to Argentina, alleged Nazi war criminal Joseph Schwammberger returned to Germany as a feeble old man Thursday to face charges in the deaths of thousands of Jews.
Schwammberger, a former Nazi SS lieutenant accused of commanding two labor camps in Poland, was extradited from Argentina after losing a 30-month fight against being returned to Germany.
Schwammberger, 78, had to be supported by a plainclothes security man as he walked down the steps from the Lufthansa plane, which flew him from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt. He was accompanied on the flight by a doctor, his attorney and West German officials of Interpol, the international police organization.
Schwammberger, wearing a tan sweater and checkered shirt, glanced briefly toward news photographers waiting on the airport tarmac, but made no comments.
He was led away to a police van and taken to the southern city of Stuttgart, which is the site of the Baden-Wuerttemberg state court that asked for his extradition.
Officials said he could face trial by the end of the year. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. West German has no death penalty.
Argentina’s Supreme Court last month upheld the extradition of Schwammberger, who fled to South America after escaping from Allied authorities following World War II.
The Stuttgart court ordered Schwammberger’s arrest in 1973. At the time, he was believed to be in Argentina, where there is a sizable population of German-speaking immigrants. Many Nazis fled to South America following the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Argentine officials captured Schwammberger without incident in November 1987 at a ranch about 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Schwammberger variously claim heart and health ailments during his incarceration in Argentina.
As a naturalized Argentine citizen, he fought his extradition to the Supreme Court, which finally revoked his citizenship. The high court upheld a lower court ruling that the crimes Schwammberger is accused of committing occurred before he became an Argentine citizen.
A native of Austria, Schwammberger is accused of commanding forced labor camps from 1942 to 1944 at Przemysl and Mielec in Nazi-occupied Poland at which an estimated 5,000 inmates, mostly Jews, were executed or deported to death camps.
Survivors testified he starved prisoners, used dogs to tear them apart, and threw people alive into fires.
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which gathered evidence against Schwammberger, said in a telephone interview: ″Here we are not dealing with an administrator, but with a man who participated directly; a man who rolled up his sleeves and bloodied his hands every day.″
Hier said the center has 73 witnesses who plan to testify against Schwammberger.
Hier said Schwammberger was arrested by the French army in 1945, but escaped three years later from a train taking him to U.S. military authorities in Austria for trial.
He fled to Argentina in 1949, where he lived under his own name and obtained citizenship in 1965. For years he worked at a petrochemical plant in La Plata, 30 miles south of Buenos Aires.
In October 1987, the Wiesenthal Center placed Schwammberger on its list of most wanted Nazi war criminals. Argentine newspapers published the list, and police received information of Schwammberger’s whereabouts.
In an interview Thursday with West Germany’s Saarland state radio, Simon Wiesenthal said Schwammberger’s extradition after so many years ″is a warning to future murderers, who perhaps are being born today.″
Wiesenthal runs a Nazi-hunting center in Vienna, Austria, that is still tracking hundreds of suspected Nazi war criminals in the United States, Canada, South America and elsewhere.