BERLIN -- Former SS sergeant Adolf Storms lived in Germany unnoticed for more than six decades after World War II until an Austrian university student last year came across his name while researching a 1945 massacre of Jewish forced laborers.
The student gave the information to state prosecutors near Storms' hometown of Duisburg, and they have now filed charges against the 90-year-old on 58 counts of murder for the killings near the Austrian village of Deutsch Schuetzen, a German court said.
"On March 29, 1945, the accused and his accomplices brought at least 57 Jewish forced laborers in several groups to a nearby forest area, where they had to give up their valuables and kneel by a grave," the court said in a statement. "The accused and other SS members then cruelly shot the Jewish forced-laborers from behind."
The day following the massacre, Storms is accused of personally shooting another Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march in Austria from Deutsch Schuetzen to the village of Hartberg, the court said.
Though the court described the suspect simply as a "retiree from Duisburg," media reports have identified him by name as Adolf Storms, a former member of the 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking."
Authorities refused to give Storms' attorney's name, and the phone at Storms' house in Duisburg went unanswered.
He does not appear on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals, but the organization's top Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff said he was "very encouraged by the indictment."
"He wasn't on our radar - he wasn't on anyone's radar - and this is a case that clearly shows it is possible, even at this point, to identify perpetrators who bear responsibility for serious crimes committed during World War II and bring them to justice," he said in a telephone interview from Miami, Florida, where he is promoting his new book "Operation: Last Chance."
The remains of the victims of the Deutsch Schuetzen massacre were found in 1995 in a mass grave by the Austrian Jewish association. A plaque now marks the site.
University of Vienna student Andreas Forster came across the suspect while investigating the massacre, and then obtained archival files from Germany that confirmed his involvement, his professor, Walter Manoschek, told The Associated Press. He refused to refer to the suspect by name, citing privacy concerns.
After alerting German authorities, Manoschek said he visited Storms at his home in Germany several times between July and September 2008, conducting about 12 hours of interviews during which Storms stressed repeatedly that he has no recollection of the killings for which he has now been charged.
He described Storms as "fully there" mentally but in poor physical health.
"Now we'll see if it will come to a trial - it will likely depend on his health," Manoschek wrote following the news of the charges.
The Duisburg court still has to decide whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
Prosecutor Andreas Brendel said his investigation is ongoing, but so far three former members of the Hitler Youth, who were helping the SS guard the prisoners on the march, have provided witness statements in Austria. A fourth former Hitler Youth member, now living in Canada, is being interviewed this week, Brendel told the AP.
"There are two who witnessed the shooting of the individual Jewish victim, but there are no people still alive who were part of the other shootings themselves," Brendel said. There are, however, statements made during an Austrian trial of others involved that can be used as evidence against the suspect, he said.
According to Manoschek, several of the former Hitler Youth were tried in 1946 and convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for their involvement.
Storms was interned in an American prisoner of war camp following the war, but was released in 1946. In the chaotic aftermath of the war, however, it was not uncommon for possible war criminals to slip through the cracks.
The Austrian press has reported the man changed the spelling of his name after World War II, perhaps helping him go undetected for so long.