German court acquits ex-Nazi officer

Slovak rebel Niznansky who joined Nazis after capture cleared of murder charges.

niznansky 88.298 ap (photo credit: AP)
niznansky 88.298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
An 88-year-old man was acquitted of murder Monday in three Nazi massacres in Slovakia at the end of World War II. Ladislav Niznansky showed no reaction as the verdict was announced at the Munich state court. Presiding Judge Manfred Goetzl did not immediately detail reasons for the acquittal on charges related to massacres in early 1945 after a failed uprising against Slovakia's Nazi puppet government. Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence of life imprisonment in what was likely one of the last trials dealing with Nazi-era crimes. Defense lawyers said Niznansky was innocent and should be acquitted. A former Slovak army captain who at first supported the 1944 revolt, Niznansky changed sides after his capture and took charge of the Slovak section of a Nazi unit code-named Edelweiss that hunted resistance fighters and Jews. He was convicted of the shootings and other killings and sentenced to death in absentia in communist Czechoslovakia in 1962. By then, he had moved to Germany and worked for US-financed Radio Free Europe in Munich, which broadcast Western programming to the Soviet bloc. Now retired, he became a German citizen in 1996. German authorities began their investigation in 2001 after a Slovak request, and judges traveled to Slovakia to interview surviving witnesses. Niznansky was arrested in January 2004. The court released Niznansky from police custody in October 2004, citing contradictory testimony from a witness whose evidence helped secure his conviction in 1962. Still, prosecutors have said evidence presented in his 14-month trial show he was an active commander of some of the forces involved in the slaughter of 146 people in two Slovak villages and the later killing of 18 Jewish civilians. Niznansky says that he fought partisans after being forced to join the Nazi unit and that he took part in the operation against the villages. However, he insists that others ordered and carried out the killings, and the 1962 evidence was from a "communist show trial." He has told the court he regrets the deaths.