German Charged in Infamous World War II Massacre

88-year-old man may face trial for participating in one of the worst Nazi massacres on French soil.

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An 88 year-old man in Germany was charged for his role in the World War II massacre of 643 men, women and children in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, a court spokesman said Wednesday.

The man, identified in court only as Werner C. due to German privacy laws, is charged with 25 counts of murder and hundreds of counts of accessory to murder in connection with one of the worst Nazi atrocities in France, the Associated Press reports.

Werner C’s lawyer said his client was in the village in the southwest of France but did not participate in the slaughter. He has until March 31 to respond to the charges before the court decides whether to move forward with a trial, the AP reports.

Authorities say the suspect, who was 19 at the time, was part of an SS armored division known as “Das Reich” that massacred nearly the entire population of the town of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944, just four days after the Allies landed in Normandy. The assault was said to be a retaliation for the kidnapping of a German soldier by French resistance forces, though the resistance is not known to have been active in Oradour-sur-Glane.

German troops rounded up residents and barred them in a barn and a church before setting fire to the town and shooting into the crowd. In a report a month after the attack, TIME wrote

“Terrified women, clutching their children, and sullen, bewildered men hurried to obey the harsh-faced Germans, who had tommy guns at their hips. Old people and invalids were rooted out, sent hobbling after the others.

They did not have to wait long. A German officer ordered all men to stand forward. A helmeted detachment of SS men led them away to a nearby barn. There they were shot, in batches of 20.”

About 60 former soldiers were later tried for the massacre and around twenty convicted, but they were all later released, according to the BBC. The French newspaper Le Monde reports that German authorities are not planning to bring any other charges.

The town of Oradour-sur-Glane has been deliberately preserved, including abandoned buildings and burned out vehicles, as a reminder of the war’s horrors. Leaders of both France and Germany came together in the town in September, along with a survivor of the attack, in a symbol of reconciliation.