A former SS sergeant who worked unnoticed for decades as a train-station manager was charged with 58 counts of murder Tuesday after a student doing undergraduate research uncovered his alleged involvement in a massacre of Jewish forced laborers.
University of Vienna student Andreas Forster was working on a project about the slaying in a forest near the Austrian village of Deutsch Schuetzen when he stumbled across Adolf Storms' name in witness testimony.
Forster then obtained files from federal archives in Berlin that enabled him to link the former sergeant to the massacre, his professor, Walter Manoschek, told The Associated Press.
Manoschek visited Storms, 90, at his home in the city of Duisburg several times last year after finding him in the phone book. The professor conducted about 12 hours of interviews during which Storms stressed repeatedly that he has no recollection of the killings on March 29, 1945.
Forster and Manoschek notified authorities and state prosecutors near Storms' hometown in the industrial Ruhrgebiet region of western Germany filed charges against Storms Tuesday accusing him and unidentified accomplices of forcing at least 57 of the Jewish laborers to hand over their valuables and kneel by a grave, then fatally shooting them from behind.
The Duisburg court where the charges were filed still must decide whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
Storms does not appear on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals, but the organization's top Nazi-hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said he was "very encouraged by the indictment."
"He wasn't on our radar - he wasn't on anyone's radar - and this is a case that clearly shows it is possible, even at this point, to identify perpetrators who bear responsibility for serious crimes committed during World War II and bring them to justice," he said.
The court described the suspect simply as a "retiree from Duisburg," but German authorities have previously identified him as Adolf S. His full name was given in previous trials in Austria related to other suspects in the massacre.
Storms has been identified as a former member of the 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking."
A day after the forest massacre, Storms is accused of personally shooting another Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march in Austria from Deutsch Schuetzen to the village of Hartberg, according to the court.
The remains of the victims of the Deutsch Schuetzen massacre were found in 1995 in a mass grave by the Austrian Jewish association. A plaque now marks the site.
Storms was interned in an American prisoner of war camp following the war, but was released in 1946. It was not uncommon for possible war criminals to go undetected in the chaotic aftermath of the war.
Storms worked as a train-station manager after the war until his retirement. The Austrian press has reported he changed the spelling of his name after the war.
Manoschek described Storms as "fully there" mentally but in poor physical health.
Authorities did not disclose his attorney's name and the phone at his home in Duisburg went unanswered.
Prosecutor Andreas Brendel said there are no living witnesses to the forest massacre but statements made during an Austrian trial of others involved can be used as evidence against the suspect.
Brendel said three former members of the Hitler Youth who were helping the SS guard the prisoners on the march have provided witness statements in Austria. A fourth former Hitler Youth member, now living in Canada, is being interviewed this week, he told the AP.
According to Manoschek, several of the former Hitler Youth were tried in 1946 and convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for their involvement.