BERLIN — An 88-year-old former member of an SS armored division that slaughtered 642 villagers in France in 1944 was charged with 25 counts of murder on Wednesday in Cologne, while a German court in another city dropped the case against a 92-year-old former SS member charged with killing a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II.
The state court in Cologne said that the 88-year-old, identified only as Werner C. — in keeping with German privacy laws — faced 25 charges of murder and hundreds of counts of accessory to murder in connection with the massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village about 15 miles northwest of Limoges, in June 1944. The killings, which took place four days after the D-Day landings that eventually led to the Nazis’ defeat, were in reprisal for the kidnapping of a single German soldier by the local French Resistance.
The case was apparently a result of a poster campaign in Germany last year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that encouraged Germans to come forward if they suspected that older people had links to Nazi crimes. The first wave of posters in Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg led to information about four people being passed to the German authorities, according to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli office of the center, which tracks Nazi war crimes and their perpetrators. One of those cases concerned the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, Mr. Zuroff said in November.
A second campaign, in eight more German cities, was introduced in late November.
Rainer Pohlen, a lawyer for the suspect charged in Cologne, maintained his client’s innocence but said in a telephone interview: “What the Simon Wiesenthal Center did certainly had an effect. I do believe that the German legal system looked the other way for decades after World War II. Much was swept under the rug.”
By contrast, Mr. Pohlen said, in the last six to eight years the authorities have taken a very broad view of Nazi crimes, “which means you don’t only have the decision makers or perpetrators or whatever, but they’re taking everyone they can get their hands on.”
He was skeptical of that approach. “I doubt that it is justified,” Mr. Pohlen said. “That people are being brought to justice who were still juvenile at the time, who were very young and probably not even mature and developed enough to stand up for themselves. There’s something weird about that. That’s not how you reconcile anything.”
Also on Wednesday, a court in Hagen, a city in northwest Germany, dropped the case against a Dutch-born man, Siert Bruins, 92, now a German citizen, because it said it could not prove the charge of murder. The court said there had been enough evidence to convict Mr. Bruins of manslaughter, The Associated Press reported, citing a court spokesman, Jan Schulte.
While there is no statute of limitation on the charge of murder, the witnesses who were needed to prove the case against Mr. Bruins are no longer alive, Mr. Schulte was quoted as saying