Ottawa extradites 'Beast of Bolzano'

83-year-old to serve out sentence in Italy; Wiesenthal Center: "Several dozen" Nazis remain in Canada.

seifert 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
seifert 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Extradited from Canada, an 83-year-old former SS prison guard, who witnesses said laughed when he tortured inmates in an Italian detention camp, was imprisoned Saturday near Naples to start serving a life sentence for war crimes. Michael Seifert used a cane and leaned on the arm of a policeman as he walked with shuffling steps upon arrival early Saturday at Rome's Ciampino Airport. He was whisked away to Santa Maria Capua Vetere Prison. Following the announcement of Seifert's deportation, Simon Wiesenthal Center Israel Director Ephraim Zuroff called on Ottawa to deport at least eight other suspected Nazis whom Canada has stripped of their citizenship following investigations into their pasts. Canadian courts found all eight men guilty of lying on their immigration papers as to where they had come from and what they had done during World War II. Last year, the Wiesenthal Center gave Canada a failing grade on the prosecution and deportation of suspected Nazi war criminals, saying there was "no political will" in Ottawa to deport the suspects. Reacting to the news of Seifert's extradition, Zuroff said, "Ultimately justice won out, but Seifert is only the second person extradited from Canada for Nazi war crimes. It sends out a very important message that even at this point in time, it is possible to bring Nazi war criminals to trial," Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post, adding that there were "at least several dozen" Nazi war criminals currently residing in Canada. Zuroff revealed that legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had for years refused to set foot in Canada, believing that there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of Eastern European Nazi war criminals who had made their way to Canada after the war and were spread across the country. "There are hundreds of investigations still going on in Canada," Zuroff said. Canadian courts, up until the early nineties, still accepted the "superior orders" defense of Nazi war criminals, whereby the person on trial said he was only following orders and was thus not responsible for his actions. In 1994, Canada switched to the American model and convicted Nazi war criminals for lying on their immigration papers. A military tribunal in Verona had put the Ukrainian-born Seifert on trial in absentia and convicted him in 2000 of nine counts of murder committed while serving as an SS guard at a prison transit camp in Bolzano, in the Alpine area of South Tyrol. Seifert has acknowledged being a guard at the SS-run camp but denies being involved in atrocities. Seifert, who has lived in Canada since 1951, had unsuccessfully fought efforts by the Canadian government to strip him of his citizenship based on allegations that he hid his past when he entered the country. "Justice has been done," said Marisa Scala, who was a key witness at the trial of Seifert, whose notoriety for cruelty earned him the nickname "Beast of Bolzano." Prosecutor Bartolomeo Costantini said a medical exam would help determine if the elderly Seifert was well enough to serve out his sentence in a prison cell. "His legs were a little wobbly after he got off the flight," likely due to the stress and the long journey, Costantini said. Seifert has a pacemaker but otherwise is apparently healthy, he said. If doctors deem it necessary, Seifert could be incarcerated in a hospital ward in the prison, or put under house arrest. Italy rarely keeps very elderly inmates in prison, and Italian state TV reported that supporters were already trying to find someone willing to host him in their home. Scala, who was held for two months in the Bolzano camp, told Italian state radio that her memories were still strong of the convicted criminal: "chubby, with ruddy cheeks," and known as "Misha," the Ukrainian diminutive of his first name. "I saw him kill a young man of 18 who was in the cell across from me," Scala recalled. "I saw Misha begin to torture this poor young man, sticking his fingers in his eyes. They tortured him for three nights. "The third night, I heard [the inmate] gasping, calling out, 'Mama! Enough! I'm dying.' And the next morning they took his body away," Scala said. Seifert "was always laughing. When they did those things they laughed," Scala said. At his trial, witnesses testified that Seifert starved a 15-year-old prisoner to death and tortured a woman before killing her and her daughter. In 1944 and 1945, the Bolzano camp served as a transit point for Jews, Italian resistance fighters, Italians drafted for factory work and German army deserters who were being shipped north. Last month, Seifert lost a bid to have the Supreme Court of Canada consider his appeal seeking to stop his extradition to Italy.