A Canadian professor who had long hidden his past as a member of the SS, and a private investigator who convinced him to testify against his former commander, were the key players in opening hearings of what could become the last Holocaust related murder trial held in Germany.
Officials close to the case, however, fear that accused Nazi
war criminal Julius Viel may never face justice unless additional
witnesses in the case come forward during the next few months.
That was also the appraisal of private investigator Steven Rambam, the Nazi hunter who was responsible for 'turning' a former SS inductee, "L", and bringing him to testify before a German judge. L's testimony lead directly to Viel's arrest last month for the murder of seven Jewish inmates at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Viel allegedly shot the seven during March, 1945, while they were engaged in forced labor digging anti-tank trenches near the town of Tereizn.
Sources report that German television's "Report Mainz" has identified the murdered Jews as Ladislav Kras (born: 2.9.17), Wilhelm Kaufmann(born: 9.9.15), Viktor Schulz (born: 1.7.02), Viktor Stern(born: 18.9.11), Josua Baruch(born: 25.11.21), Vlastimil Severin (born: 15.12.96) and Robert Friedmann (born: 5.11.99).
This is not the first time that Viel, now 81, has been accused
of war crimes. He had been tried in Germany in 1964, but charges
were dismissed when a key witness died shortly before the trial.
Suspicions about his murderous past did not stop Viel from becoming
a successful journalist for the 'Stuttgarter Zeitung'.
Veil's security began to unravel when an octogenarian former SS officer, "L", now a college professor in Montreal, came forward out of a deep sense of guilt, fully aware that he might be jeopardizing his own status in Canada by admitting to the deportable offense of having served in the Nazi SS.
The professor was shaken out of his long silence in 1997, following the massive publicity surrounding Rambam's exposure of Nazi War criminals living in Canada (first reported in the Jerusalem Post in December, 1996).
When Rambam and "L" met, the elderly professor was eager to admit that he was a former SS officer with a story to tell. The former SS man turned professor detailed how his former commanding officer had picked up a rifle and randomly shot "six or seven Jews" as they were digging an anti-tank ditch on the plains of Leitmeritz, near the Tereisenstadt concentration camp.
Rambam found Viel, alive and well and a respected member of the community in the German town of Wangen im Allgau.
Last month Rambam traveled to Germany to meet the German war
crimes prosecutor and to confront Julius Viel. When Rambam confronted
Viel regarding his activities at Theresienstadt, the suspected
SS commander denied any involvement. Yet, as he entered his car,
Viel said, "They tried before and failed. They will fail
Two days after confronting Viel, Rambam met with Kurt Schrimm, the war crimes prosecutor in Stuttgart. Viel was arrested and charged and is being held without bail. No trial date has been set. but due to Viel's advanced age, German prosecutors will try to schedule the trial within a few months.
Meanwhile, Prosecutor Schrimm has already interviewed more than 300 potential witnesses and has an additional 500 scheduled. He is hoping that he can produce an additional eyewitness, or survivor, who can corroborate all or part of L's story.
"If we don't find at least one more witness", says Rambam, " Julius Viel might walk away from the murders one last time."