Convicted Nazi who escaped justice dies in Germany at 96

Karl Muenter, who was part of SS unit that massacred 86 Frenchmen in Ascq, denied killing anyone, but defended the shooting; was charged earlier this year for disputing Holocaust

Former Nazi SS soldier Karl Muenter, convicted of killing 86 civilians in France during World War II, is interviewed by the German broadcaster ARD. (YouTube screenshot)
Former Nazi SS soldier Karl Muenter, convicted of killing 86 civilians in France during World War II, is interviewed by the German broadcaster ARD. (YouTube screenshot)

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Karl Muenter, a former SS soldier who was convicted in France of a wartime massacre but who never served any time for his crimes, has died in northwestern Germany. He was 96.

Marcus Tischbier, a representative of the district mayor’s office in Nordstemmen, the village where Muenter lived, confirmed Monday that the man had died on Friday. He had no further details.

Muenter was a sergeant with the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth,” which was responsible for the massacre of 86 men in Ascq, France in April 1944, about two months before the Allied D-Day landings.

After partisans blew up a railroad line being used to shuttle German troops to Normandy, Muenter and other members of the division were ordered to arrest all males in the town. The victims, ranging from teenagers to the elderly, were lined up and shot.

The sergeant was convicted in absentia of war crimes and sentenced to death by a French court after the war, along with other participants in the massacre.

But by the time he was tracked down in 2013 in the Lower Saxony village where he lived at the home of one of the great-grandson of one of the Ascq victims, the statute of limitations had passed.

German prosecutors opened a new investigation of Muenter on suspicion of his being an accessory to murder, but had to shelve the case after determining they couldn’t charge him again for the same crime.

A commemorative plaque in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, northern France, commemorating the April 2, 1944, World War II massacre of 86 civilians by a Nazi Germany regiment, as seen on November 13, 2017. (Denis Charlet/AFP)

In a strange twist, prosecutors in Hildesheim charged Muenter earlier this year with incitement, after he appeared on a television documentary in which he defended the shooting of the prisoners in Ascq and disputed the Nazi Holocaust.

Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and prosecutors opened their investigation after Muenter appeared on the ARD public television show in 2018.

In the documentary, he said he had not shot anyone personally in Ascq, but maintained that the killings were justified because the prisoners had tried to escape.

“If I arrest the men, then I have the responsibility for them and if they run away, I have a right to shoot them,” he said.

He also disputed the fact that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, saying “we didn’t have that many Jews here at that time, that’s already been disproved.”

ARD also reported that Muenter had close ties to neo-Nazi groups in recent years, talking to them about his experiences in the SS.

His incitement case was still pending trial when he died.

Upon learning of his death, today’s mayor of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Gerard Caudron, told the local La Voix Du Nord newspaper: “there’s another reason for me not to end up in hell, so I don’t meet him there.”

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