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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK

World: Europe

Ex-Gestapo officer on trial

Mr Goetzfried is accused of taking part in a mass execution of Jews

By Caroline Wyatt in Berlin

A 79-year-old former Gestapo officer is due to go on trial in Stuttgart on Tuesday charged with murdering 500 Jews during a massacre at a Nazi death camp during World War II.

Alfons Goetzfried, an ethnic German born in the Ukraine, is also charged with helping kill 17,000 others at concentration camps in Poland and the Ukraine.

[ image: Majdanek's gas chambers are still stained blue from lethal Zyclon B gas]
Majdanek's gas chambers are still stained blue from lethal Zyclon B gas
German police say that under questioning, Alfons Goetzfried admitted having shot dead at least 500 people, including women and children, at the Nazi death camp of Majdanek in Poland.

The former Gestapo officer later changed his testimony, but German prosecutors say his involvement in the murders in November 1943 was corroborated by archive material.

The Nazis codenamed the two-day massacre Operation Harvest Festival.

[ image: The camp's crematorium processed thousands of corpses]
The camp's crematorium processed thousands of corpses
It happened after Adolf Hitler ordered more than 40,000 Jewish prisoners to be shot to make room for more, after the gas chambers at Majdanek broke down.

The elderly defendant was first questioned in July 1997 at the request of the Metropolitan Police in London as a witness to other Nazi war-crimes, before implicating himself in the killings.

German prosecutors say that Goetzfried was not a high-ranking official and that his case might never have come to light had it not been for his original confession.

Germany is still pursuing dozens of alleged Nazi war criminals who hid in eastern Europe after the war. But the age and ill-health of many of the suspects means trials such as this one are becoming increasingly rare.

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