Nazi Convicts: A Visit With Two Germans Just Sentenced For 1944 Tuscany Massacre

Convicted last month for their involvement in a massacre of civilians during World War II, two former Nazi soldiers lead a peaceful life in Germany. And they don’t want to be disturbed.

Niccolo Zancaninviato

KAUFBEUREN - The former Nazi sergeant Johann Riss has a good life, living in a tidy detached house in the residential area of this town 60 miles southwest of Munich. On an average day, this 90-year old man wakes up early, and drives his wife Irene to Kaufbeuren's grocery store. Then he will typically spend the afternoon in his garden, watering the flowers, removing weeds, and picking the vegetables that he will later cook for dinner.

He seems to be in good shape physically, even if he recently claimed poor health in order to avoid attending the trial against him in Italy. Last month, a military tribunal in Rome sentenced Riss, and two other former soldiers of the 26th division of the German Army, to life imprisonment for the August 1944 massacre of 184 civilians, including children, elderly, women and farmers in the small Tuscan town of Padule di Fucecchio.

When approached, he said he does not want to speak about his part in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the World War II. He looks at the legal documents with his name on them, and photos of the victims, as if they pertained to someone else. "I've never been a Nazi. I don't have anything to say in Rome," he says. Riss gets angry in front of a photographer. "We went to speak in Munich," his wife Irene says. "They told us not to tell anything to the Italians."

The couple has been living in this farming area for the last 57 years, without legal troubles of any kind. Before he retired, Riss was a manager at the local Olympia typewriter firm. He has two sons, a doctor and a chemist, who live far away.

For decades, Riss has been hiding from his own history. "He has never spoken about his past. He is a silent fellow, spends all his time in the garden," says a neighbor who gave her name as Ms. Haible. " Once, he told me what his biggest regret was: no longer being able to go skiing in Saint Moritz."

Petra Reichl, another neighbor, says that in Kaufbeuren everyone knows everyone, so news about Riss's dark past is met with skepticism. "For 30 years, Mr. Riss was my mother's boss at Olympia. Everyone thought very highly of him. But my father told me rumors about Mr. Reiss's past," says Reichel. Mrs. Skarke asked: "Was he a Nazi? That's impossible, I can't believe it. He is the perfect neighbor," says Mrs. Skarke, another local resident.

In Rome, the military prosecutor Marco De Paolis explained to the court the precise role that the former sergeant played during the war. "He was a very experienced soldier. For five years, until 1944, he fought in various battles. Ever since he was young, he was a member of Nazi associations. In the army, he was the leader of an explorers' unit."

On May 26, the military tribunal in Rome recognized Riss as one of the perpetrators of the slaughter in the small Tuscan village. But Johann Riss continues to deny everything. "It wasn't me. I have nothing to say about this story," he repeats.

According to the doctors at the local hospital in Kaufbeuren (this is no ordinary hospital, but the place where the Nazis created the so-called T4 project, whose aim was to eliminate all "imperfect" children). "Riss came here last February for a routine check up," a doctor says. So it was not his poor health that prevented him from attending the trial, an absence that the prosecutor called a "shameful silence."

The former warrant officer Fritz Jauss – who was convicted for the slaughter too – shares this silence. He lives 120 miles away from Kaufbeuren, close to Stuttgart. "I do not have anything to say about this story," he says. Mr. Jauss is now 93 years old. A former mechanic for Bosch, he has three children. "He is a churchgoer and a former town councilor. He has never spoken about his past," says one neighbor. Four years ago, Jauss and his wife Johanna moved to a nursing home. When asked about the trial he looks puzzled: "The war is a closed topic for me," he says.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - Zeitfixierer

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