A 96-year-old former SS member who was involved in the massacre of 86 French men and boys during the Second World War is facing a new investigation for hate speech.
Karl Münter was sentenced to death in absentia in France in 1949 – but he had long since returned home to Germany.
The verdict is now meaningless because the French statute of limitations – 20 years – has expired, and EU citizens cannot be prosecuted for crimes they have already been convicted of in another state.
This means that Münter has not served a single day in prison for his part in the brutal killings that took place in the village of Ascq, near Lille on the night of April 1 1944.
Karl Münter, 96, was sentenced to death in France in 1949 for his part in the massacre of 86 French men and boys – but the statue of limitations has run out and the sentence is now meaningless
But German prosecutors are now investigating him on suspicion of hate speech over comments he made in a television interview with NDR’s Panorama which aired in December 2018.
In his first interview about his time in the SS, Münter said that the victims of the horrific massacre deserved to be shot because they tried to ‘run away’ and disputed that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
‘If I arrest the men I’m responsible for them. And if they run away I have the right to shoot them,’ he said.
But he resolutely maintained that he did not fire his own weapon, but was ‘Nur dabei’ (merely present) at the massacre.
Münter also confessed he was not sorry for his participation in the war crimes. Asked if he regretted it at all, he replied: ‘No, not at all!’
‘Why should I regret it?,’ he said. ‘I didn’t fire a shot’.
After admitting that he was nostalgic for the Third Reich, Münter added: ‘And the matter of the Jews that is attributed to (Hitler)… be careful.’
Münter, pictured in his SS uniform around the time of the Ascq massacre, has not served a single day in prison and has resided quietly in Lower Saxony ever since. The photograph is part of a photo album sent to him by neo-Nazis who worship him as an icon
‘There weren’t millions of Jews (in Germany) at the time, that’s already been disproved.
‘This number – six million – is not correct.’
His comments which amount to Holocaust denial caused outrage in Germany and prosecutors are investigating them as an incitement to hatred.
The country’s Volksverhetzung law, (‘incitement of the masses’/’incitement to hatred’), is often applied to, though not limited to, trials relating to Holocaust denial.
If found guilty of Volksverhetzung, Münter could face a prison sentence of up to five years.
German prosecutors are investigating Münter on suspicion of hate speech after he told told a TV programme last year he had the right to shoot the men because they ran away
A reproduction of a photograph showing coffins after the massacre of Ascq in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, northern France, in 1944 during WWII. 96-year-old former SS member Karl Münter who was involved in the killings could now be prosecuted under a German hate speech law
Münter was part of the notorious SS 12th Panzer Division ‘Hitler Youth’ which was responsible for a number of war crimes.
Just months before the allied invasion in northern France, members of the resistance set off an explosive on a railway near Lille.
It derailed a train carrying Münter’s battalion. Goods cars came off the track but no one was injured.
However Lt Walter Hauck, who was in charge of the transport, ordered a late night reprisal attack on the nearby village of Ascq.
On the night of April 1, 1944, men and boys ranging from 15 to 75 were dragged to the railway tracks, lined up and shot dead.
Members of the SS on trial for the Ascq Massacre in France in August 1949. (Left to right) Rasmussen, Jung, Zinsmeister, Wronna And Lt Walter Hauck – who was in charge of transport
A commemorative plaque in Villeneuve-d’Ascq for the April 2, 1944 WWII massacre of 86 civilians by a Nazi Germany regiment
Nazi authorities claimed the killing was justified because the victims were ‘terrorists’.
In his Panorama interview, Münter also said the SS ‘did nothing criminal’ during the war. He maintained that some Ascq residents were ‘happy that we had arrived’.
But in reality, his SS regiment took advantage of the removal of the men to loot villagers’ homes.
Items they stole included linen, food, wine, soap, bicycles, the contents of merchants’ cash drawers and cigarettes.
They also did not hesitate to rob the dead of their jewels, going as far as pulling the gold teeth out of at least one corpse.
It could have escalated even further; some witnesses heard the SS claim that they were going to burn the village to the ground.
The horrific event was later dubbed the Oradour of the North – after an SS massacre two months afterwards at Oradour-sur-Glane, where 642 people died.
Some 60,000 workers went on strike in Lille following the massacre – making it one of the largest French demonstrations of the war under occupation – and an estimated crowd of at least 20,000 attended a funeral for the victims in the village.
In the years following, several suspects of the massacre were identified including Münter, who had been 21 at the time.
Many of the suspects, including were tried or sentenced to death in absentia like Münter – and escaped punishment because they lived in Germany.
Münter has lived a quiet life in Lower Saxony and worked in his local post office for many years. But he appeared at many far right events after becoming an icon and a hero for German neo-Nazi groups.
One extreme-right Nazi group even sent him an album, emblazoned with a swastika and the words: ‘We thank you for you service and commitment to your people and land. The German youth.’