Updated at: 10/18/2013 12:05 PM
By COLLEEN BARRY
(AP) MILAN - Rome’s military tribunal on Friday convicted a 90-year-old ex-Nazi in absentia for his role in the 1943 execution of 120 Italian officers on the Greek island of Kefalonia and sentenced him to life in prison.
Alfred Stork’s conviction was the first in Italy for the Kefalonia massacres in which thousands of Italian soldiers were killed in September 1943. Previous attempts at prosecution were closed because the defendants had died or those responsible could not be properly identified, said military prosecutor Marco De Paolis.
Stork, who now lives in Germany, was tried as a member of an execution squad that killed the 120 Italian officers, including division commander Gen. Antonio Gardin, on Sept 23, 1943, De Paolis said.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Italian soldiers were killed in the weeklong massacre in September 1943. Italian troops occupying Greece with their German allies suddenly found themselves in enemy territory when Italy signed an armistice with the Allies following the fall of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
`’There were numerous massacres in those five or seven days, all over the island. Some were killed fighting, others were shot down, some were arrested and killed after being held for a day," De Paolis said.
Two German officers were convicted at the Nuremberg trials of the Kefalonia massacres, along with other war crimes, and sentenced from 12 to 20 years. Other prosecution attempts in Germany and Italy in the 1950s and 1960s failed.
De Paolis said he launched this investigation in 2009 at the request of two victims’ children, identifying Stork after receiving files from another failed attempt at prosecuting 80 suspects in the early 2000s.
De Paolis said he felt it was `’useless’ to petition for Stork’s extradition for trial since Germany has refused in the past to turn over its citizens even when convicted of Nazi-era crimes.
Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, noted that Italian military courts have in recent years convicted many Germans for wartime massacres but always in absentia due to Germany’s refusal to extradite its citizens. Italy as a result has requested in previous cases for those convicted and sentenced to life to serve their time in Germany.
"The Italians have made a very admirable effort in the past decade to find and bring to court, not in a literal sense, individuals responsible for some terrible atrocities," he said in a phone call from Jerusalem. "It’s unfortunate that only one of them has been convicted in Germany."
Dave Rising in Berlin contributed.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)