'Assassin of Oradour' dies

Heinz Barth was jailed by a W. German court for committing war crimes at the end of WWII and was sentenced to death in absentia by a French court.

Barth 88 (photo credit: )
Barth 88
(photo credit: )
Nazi war criminal Heinz Barth, infamously known as the "Assassin of Oradour" for his role in the 1944 massacre in the small French town of Oradour-sur-Glane, died last week of cancer at his home in Gransee, near Berlin, at the age of 86, the town's pastor Heinz-Dieter Schmiedkte announced Monday night. Barth, a former SS lieutenant, was convicted and subsequently jailed by a West German court in 1983 for committing war crimes toward the end of World War II. He was also tried in absentia by a French court on February 12, 1953, and was sentenced to death. "[Barth's] case is a classic one of someone who eluded justice for many years," Efraim Zuroff, Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal center, told The Jerusalem Post. According to the charges, Barth took part in the drowning, burning and shooting of 642 people, including 247 children, during the Oradour massacre on June 10, 1944. In his testimony, Barth took responsibility for rounding up villagers into a barn and ordering it to be burned down. He also admitted to personally shooting into the crowd. Barth was released from prison in July 1997 due to deteriorating health caused by diabetes. The courts also cited his public admission of remorse for his crimes as grounds for release. For Zuroff, these are not grounds for release, but simply help prisoners trim time off their sentences. Barth's remorse remarks caused a public outcry from Jewish communities in France and around the world. "The burial will be in September, and I have already declared myself ready to preside over it, as everyone has the right to a burial," Schmiedkte said. Zuroff said that Schmiedkte's prioritizing of Barth's burial rights and human dignity were not a matter for public scrutiny, and that the appropriate religious authorities had the right to proceed according to custom. However, he said that reducing the significance of Barth's crimes was regrettable. "The attempt to represent him as just a commoner who happened to die is reprehensible. He is not an ordinary person, but someone who did terrible things," Zuroff said. "The families of the victims will remember him forever."