Former Nazi SS major dies at 97

Friedrich Engel, a former Nazi SS officer involved in the massacre of Italian prisoners in the Second World War, has died. He was 97.

Engel died overnight on February 4 or 5, said his wife, Else.

She did not give a cause of death.

She said his remains have already been buried, and did not say where he had died.

In 2002, a German court convicted Engel of 59 counts of murder and handed him a suspended seven-year jail term for the 1944 shootings in a mountain pass near the Italian city of Genoa.

A federal appeals court said in 2004 that it believed Engel was responsible for the massacre. But it quashed the conviction, saying the lower court had failed to legally prove murder and ruled out a retrial because of the Engel’s age.

Engel, known in Italy as the “Butcher of Genoa,” acknowledged helping organise the May 19, 1944, shootings in reprisal for an attack on a movie theatre in the city four days earlier in which five German sailors died.

However, he denied the murder charge, insisting that the shootings were ordered by Nazi naval officers and that his unit was responsible only for selecting the victims from Genoa’s Marassi jail.

After the war, Engel worked as a lumber salesman, travelling the world until his retirement in the 1970s.

He had not been jailed at any time, though Hamburg authorities investigated Engel in 1969 for his role in Nazi executions in Italy.

The case was dropped the same year for reasons that are not known because the files were lost.

An Italian military court convicted Engel in absentia only in 1999 and sentenced him to life for war crimes connected to a total of 246 deaths.

German prosecutors examined the possibility of extraditing Engel to Italy under a new EU-wide arrest warrant, but received no formal application from Italian authorities, said Ruediger Bagger, a spokesman for prosecutors in Hamburg.

German law previously prohibited the extradition of its citizens to stand trial abroad.

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