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A Murderer on the Loose I

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Translation by:

Thomas McGuinn

An example of how Austria has dealt with Nazi war criminals following the Independence Treaty of 1955.

Franz Murer was born in Styria in 1912. He gained no­to­ri­ety under the nick­name “The Butcher of Vilnius”. He died in 1994, just a few miles away from his birth­place. 

His Crimes

He joined the Nazi Party and in 1941 was made re­spon­si­ble for “Jew­ish Af­fairs” in Vil­nius. Dur­ing his of­fice – which lasted until 1943 – the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion count fell from 80,000 to 600. He had a grue­some rep­u­ta­tion as a sadist. And a cor­rupt sadist at that: one’s sen­tence could be mit­i­gated with jew­ellery and gold.

Simon Wie­sen­thal re­ports how, under his com­mand, two groups were brought to­gether: A labour bat­tal­ion that was to ex­e­cute the mem­bers of the other group in the nearby for­est. The fa­ther of a 17 year-old boy was in the labour bat­tal­ion; his son was in the other group. The boy tried to sneak his way over to his fa­ther. Murer caught him and shot him dead be­fore his fa­ther's very eyes.

An­other wit­ness tells of the ban on hav­ing chil­dren in the Ghetto. Murer took one child away from its mother, poi­soned it and tossed it back to her in bed with a laugh. An­other one re­lates how a hunch­backed girl, walk­ing along the street in the Ghetto, passed by Murer. He is said to have re­marked to a Ger­man, "Just look at the filth in this Ghetto!", whipped out his pis­tol and shot down the girl of about ten.

The Con­se­quences

In 1947, Simon Wiesen­thal is stay­ing in Gaishorn, and whilst there he hap­pens to bump into Murer. He is handed over to the Al­lies and ends up in Graz Cen­tral Prison. In 1948, the British – who pre­vi­ously ac­cepted the re­spon­si­bil­ity – hand him on to the So­viet Union. Many tes­tify against his hor­rific crimes, and one year later he is sen­tenced to 25 years' penal labour. 

1955 – every Aus­trian knows the date: The Aus­trian State Treaty. Fol­low­ing Aus­tria's free­dom, the So­viet Union hands over all POWs and war crim­i­nals to the newly chris­tened Re­pub­lic. In its orig­i­nal sense, the han­dover was not tan­ta­mount to their re­lease. Nev­er­the­less, Wiesen­thal bumps into Murer again in 1960. So, over the course of the "Murer Files", he phones the po­lice sta­tion in Gaishorn to ask for de­tails of the ar­rest. The po­lice­man says that he doesn't ac­tu­ally know any­thing about it but is happy to help. He says that he will get in touch again at a later date and ques­tion Murer in the mean­time. Wiesen­thal is ap­palled. Murer was free, then. Once again he phones the Fed­eral Min­istry of Jus­tice. There they ex­plain that there's prob­a­bly been a bu­reau­cratic blun­der

Mean­while, thanks to the bu­reau­cratic blun­der, Murer had man­aged to be­come a mem­ber of the Aus­trian Peo­ple's Party (Ger­man: Öster­re­ichis­che Volkspartei, ÖVP) and had been elected as a mem­ber of the Dis­trict Cham­ber of Agri­cul­ture. When Wiesen­thal man­ages to co-or­di­nate a new ar­rest with in­ter­na­tional sup­port in 1962, Murer's col­leagues ob­ject his de­ten­tion. In the trial that en­sues, wit­nesses tes­tify once more, in­clud­ing even the fa­ther of the son who was gunned down. The ver­dict: "Not guilty." Murer is free for good. 

Translated from Mörder in Freiheit I