THE TRIAL of an 86-year-old former Slovak citizen charged with leading the massacre of 164 Slovak civilians during the World War II began in Munich, Germany, September 9, the state-run news agency TASR reported. Ladislav Nižňanský, who now holds German citizenship, is said to have led a Nazi-backed anti-resistance unit named Edelweiss which killed 146 people in the central Slovak villages of Ostrý Grúň and Kľak in January 1945. The unit subsequently shot 18 Jews found hidden in a bunker in the village of Kšinná on February 7. What is likely be one of the last major trials for World War II war crimes is scheduled to end in early October with the verdict to be delivered October 19.
September 9, in the presence of substantial media interest from Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Nižňanský pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
"I am innocent and have done nothing wrong. I am in good health and will defend myself in both German and Slovak. I am Slovak," Nižňanský told journalists before the trial began.
Nižňanský fled to Germany after the 1948 communist coup in the former Czechoslovakia. He subsequently worked at Radio Free Europe and is said to have cooperated with both the Czechoslovak secret service (Štb) and the US's CIA.
In reaction to media reports that only two witnesses from Ostrý Grúň and Kľak villages will testify in person at most, the presiding judge Manfred Gotzl said it was crucial that as many witnesses as possible testify before the court.
20. Sep 2004 at 0:00 | From press reports