MONTREAL - Fifty-five years later, Adalbert
Lallier came face-to-face with the man he had witnessed cold-bloodedly
shooting to death seven Jewish prisoners as they dug a ditch
near the Theresienstadt concentration camp. It was March 1945
and the Soviet army was advancing. The Germans used the ready
supply of slave labour from the camp to build a tank trap.
(The original posting of this article can be found
Lallier was a 19-year-old Waffen SS officer-in-training with
the detail overseeing the work party in Leitmeritz, Czechoslovakia.
Suddenly and without provocation, his immediate superior, an
SS lieutenant, Julius Viel, raised his rifle and randomly shot
the seven Jews.
Last month, Lallier, now 75 and a retired Concordia University
professor, was in Stuttgart, Germany, to testify for the fourth
time in two years before the Nazi war crimes prosecutor about
what he saw.
Lallier is the principal witness in the case against Viel, 82,
who was arrested last October on the strength of Lallier's evidence.
As a result of Lallier's latest testimony, Viel was charged in
July with the killings of the seven men. No date has been set,
but the trial is expected to begin this fall.
An unusual step was taken in having Viel meet his accuser, Lallier,
before the case goes to court. Lallier said their meeting, in
the presence of the chief prosecutor and Viel's lawyer, lasted
about two hours.
"There was no mistaking this was the same man. Viel had
been my direct superior for 31/2 months [before the shooting]
at the officers' academy," Lallier said in an interview.
While he is not permitted to talk about specifics of what was
said, Lallier described the atmosphere as "incredibly tense,"
but "no one raised their voice." Both men were permitted
to directly ask questions of the other.
"Viel is not an old broken-down man. I instantly recognized
him. He is in good physical and mental shape. He is ram-rod straight
and has a very determined, stern face," Lallier said. "I
put him on the spot. He could not look at me. He only glanced
at me a couple of times." Viel showed no shame or remorse,
he said. Viel has denied he shot the Jews and that he was even
in Leitmeritz when the deaths occurred.
"I'm elated that the Germans have finally charged Viel.
I think at first they thought I was crazy: Who is this professor
from Montreal making accusations? Now they are convinced there
is proof," said Lallier, who has "agonized" for
decades about what happened and has borne a tremendous sense
of guilt for not having been able to stop it. "My nightmares
have ended and I am finally at peace with myself." (No action
was taken against Viel at the time, although the incident may
have been witnessed by hundreds. Germany brought charges against
Viel in 1964, but the case was dropped when the chief witness
died before the trial.)
Lallier made his latest trip to Germany with Steven Rambam,
the New York private investigator who in 1997 came to Canada
to expose suspected Nazi war criminals living with impunity here.
Rambam was also trying to gather evidence against Viel.
Lallier, who was still teaching at Concordia, came forward to
tell Rambam his story. Lallier had believed Viel had been killed
before the end of the war, and was surprised to learn from Rambam
that he was living as a respected citizen in the village of Wangen
im Allgau and had been a successful journalist with the Stuttgarter
Zeitung. In 1983, Viel received the Federal Service Cross, the
German government's highest civilian honour. His defence lawyer
is a former parliamentarian.
"Lallier's last testimony was absolutely critical in finally
getting Viel charged," Rambam said. "Four days afterward,
Viel was indicted." Rambam had been concerned that Viel
would be let go for lack of a corroboration, but one other person,
a former Theresienstadt inmate with relevant information, although
not an eye-witness, came forward recently. Additional documentary
evidence has also been gathered.
"Adalbert Lallier is a terrifically brave individual. He
had no legal obligation to come forward. He is not even remotely
suspected of any improper act. He has acted on the dictates of
his conscience and has continued to co-operate despite what he
has gone through.The Jewish community owes him a real debt of
gratitude," Rambam said.
Lallier says the price he has had to pay includes his unplanned
"retirement" from Concordia, loss of friends and living
under a cloud of suspicion for having an SS past. He is also
worried about his physical safety.
Hungarian-born Lallier, who is of French Huguenot origin, says
he was forcibly inducted into the SS at 17. Taken as a POW by
the British at war's end, he says he told a U.S. general named
Brown, who was with the counter-intelligence corps, about the
shootings. "He advised me that I could help more Jews by
working for the International Refugee Organization, which I did
for 11/2 years. During that time, I sent hundreds of Jews to
Canada." With his contacts at the Canadian consulate in
Vienna, Lallier secured a visa to study here and immigrated in
1951, having disclosed his SS affiliation. Lallier, who has two
children and two grandchildren, taught at Concordia from 1960
until last year. "I have no regrets about coming out. I
will spend the rest of my days as a living reminder of what happened
in the Holocaust." One tangible contribution he wants to
make is to erect a monument on his farm in the Eastern
Townships to the victims.
The seven dead and their birth years are: Ladislav Kras, 1917;
Wilhelm Kaufmann, 1915; Victor Shutz, 1902; Victor Stern, 1891;
Joshua Baruch, 1921; Severin Klastimel, 1896; and Robert Friedmann,