Hitler Youth nabbed: German police swoop on 90-something ex-SS Panzer war crimes suspects

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Germany’s criminal police searched homes belonging to former soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division, including those of three suspects said to have taken part in a 1944 massacre in France that killed 86 men in a reprisal against the Resistance.

The searches took place all across Germany with the law enforcement officers going after former members of 12th SS Panzer Division Hitler Youth, including three main suspects living in Saxony and Lower Saxony, German media report.

The three men – all in their 90s – were charged with taking part in the so-called Ascq massacre that occurred on 1 April 1944 in the northern French village, several kilometers off the Belgian border. On that day, a train carrying SS soldiers from the 12th Panzer Division derailed after an explosion at the railroad.

The convoy commander, SS officer Walter Hauck, ordered his soldiers to search and arrest all male Frenchmen living in the houses on both sides of the track. Seventy men were shot on the spot and another 16 murdered in the Ascq village itself. Six other men were arrested and executed by Gestapo firing squad.

Police said “important documents” were found in the suspects’ homes in Dresden and Hannover, with the evidence being evaluated by an investigative team in charge of Nazi war crimes, according to Bild.

In an interview to the magazine, chief prosecutor Andreas Brendel said: “All the suspects admit to have belonged to the unit but deny active participation in the crimes. […] What roles they really played in the war crimes, is now to be investigated.” Over the past days, several other searches also took place in states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg, involving former Waffen SS members.

The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitler Youth was a Waffen-SS armored unit during the World War II. It was formed in 1943 after a proposal by SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and later approved by Hitler. The majority of the division’s junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth aged 17-18, while senior officers came from the ‘Adolf Hitler’ 1st SS Panzer Division responsible for guarding the Nazi leader.

At the end of WWII, some SS men who took park in Ascq executions stood trial in the French Military Court at Lille. They were sentenced to death, but later their sentences were commuted to imprisonment. The infamous SS officer Hauck was judged by the Lille court in 1949 in sentenced to death. However, following unusual requests from widows of the Ascq massacre, his sentence was converted to life imprisonment. In 1957, he was released after a further penalty reduction and went to Germany, where he lived until his death in 2006.

Many Nazi war criminals are believed to be at large in Germany and beyond, while international law sets no time frame for persecution of the crimes against humanity, including reprisals, execution of civilians and genocide.