Werner C. is 88 years old, but his fate now rests with the young offenders chamber of the Cologne court. That's because the man was just 19 during the 1944 massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane in France, in which 642 people were killed, Reuters reports. Men were herded into barns and shot, while the women and children were burned alive in the town church, all in retaliation for the kidnapping of a single German soldier by the French resistance. Prosecutors say Werner, a member of the elite Waffen SS, shot 25 people with his machine gun, and helped burn the church.
The pensioner doesn't deny being there, but says he never fired. "I had the great luck of being deployed for something else," his lawyer quotes him as saying. "He said, 'I heard shots, I saw people shouting, I saw the village burning. It was terrible.'" Oradour-sur-Glane is a touchy subject not just because of the scale of the atrocity, but because no one was ever punished—the unit's commander was captured by Allied forces, but never extradited to France. Prosecutors found Werner thanks to a poster campaign from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urging Germans to report elderly neighbors they suspected of Nazi war crimes, the New York Times reports. "It's important that we find someone, even if it's 70 years afterward," said one of the six people who survived the massacre.