In the obituary section of today’s L.A. Times can be found news of the death of one 86-year-old Heinz Barth. An SS Officer in World War II, Barth was tried and convicted in 39 years after his participation in the “Das Reich” armored division’s massacre of 642 men, women and children in the French village of Oradour-Sur-Glane on June 10, 1944.
Barth didn’t deny his role in the obliteration but defended himself by arguing that he was just following orders, which he testified were to “burn the whole place down and eliminate every person, from babies to old men” on their way toward Normandy to battle D-Day invasion forces that had landed on June 6.
From the article, which describes what is “widely considered to be the worst atrocity in Nazi-occupied France”:
“Men were herded into barns and shot. The women and 202 children were locked in the church, which was set on fire with grenades and then shot at with machine guns.”
Barth was promoted to lieutenant Colonel a few months after the massacre and after the war reportedly assumed a phony name and identity and lived in communist East Germany where he worked as a decorator and ran a grocery store until his base and wicked past finally caught up with him in 1981, a past that East German judges found included his volunteering to participate in the execution of 92 Czechoslovakian civilians in 1942.
For his crimes against humanity he was sentenced in 1983 to spend the rest of his life in prison, but having lost a leg in the war and suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure Barth was freed on grounds of poor health by a state court after serving 14 years.
“I feel guilty about the terrible crimes in Oradour,” he’s quoted as saying at the time of his 1997 release, “but I have paid enough.”
Sorry Heinz, but I’m thinking you’ve only just begun to pay.