An 83-year-old former SS prison guard, known as the "Beast of Bolzano" for his cruelty to inmates in a northern Italian camp, was being extradited Friday from Canada to Italy to begin serving a life sentence for war crimes, officials said.
The return of Michael Seifert — who, witnesses testified, gouged out eyes and starved and beat prisoners — adds to Italy's successes in its campaign to see that justice is done for Nazi war crimes suffered by its people in the final years of World War II.
The former Nazi lieutenant was being flown from Vancouver to Toronto and was then set to board a special military flight due to arrive Saturday morning in Rome. He will be transferred to a military prison near Naples to begin serving his sentence, said Bartolomeo Costantini, the military prosecutor who pursued the case.
Seifert was convicted in absentia in 2000 by a military tribunal in Verona on nine counts of murder, committed while he was an SS guard at a prison transit camp in Bolzano, a city in the South Tyrol area.
Atrocities recounted at trial
At his Italian trial, people testified that the so-called "Beast of Bolzano" starved to death a 15-year-old prisoner, gouged out a person's eyes, beat inmates before shooting them and tortured a woman before killing her and her daughter.
In 1944 and 1945, the Bolzano facility served as a transit point for Jews, Italian resistance fighters, Italians drafted for factory work and German army deserters who were being shipped north.
Seifert, a Canadian citizen of Ukrainian origin, has acknowledged being a guard at the SS-run camp but denies being involved in atrocities.
Seifert, who has lived in Canada since 1951, had unsuccessfully fought efforts by the Canadian government to strip him of his citizenship based on allegations that he hid his past when he entered the country.
Canada bars former members of the SS and related units, such as the Nazi SD, because of their involvement in concentration camps and with other war crimes.
Last month, Seifert lost a bid to have the Supreme Court of Canada consider his appeal seeking to stop his extradition to Italy.
Phone call to wife
His lawyer, Doug Christie, said Seifert called his wife Thursday night to say he was being escorted from a detention center in Vancouver.
"He called her and said he was being taken away," Christie said.
Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Canada, said Seifert needs to face justice in Italy.
"It's critical that this happens," Benlolo said. "It sets an example for other war criminals, not only Nazi war criminals, but war criminals related to Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur or any other genocide, that there's no time limit to justice."
The Italian prosecutor, Costantini, said he planned to question Seifert as a witness to atrocities committed by other guards at the camp.
Seifert could eventually be allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest because of his age, Costantini said.
Home detention possible
"Given his age, he could ask to be detained at home, if there is someone willing to host him," the prosecutor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
House arrest was granted to another top Nazi criminal convicted in Italy, former SS Capt. Erich Priebke, who was sentenced to life for his role in the massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves on the outskirts of Rome.
Priebke, who is in his '90s, was extradited from Argentina to Rome in 1995. An uproar was sparked last year when a judge allowed him to leave house arrest to work as a translator for his lawyer. Photos of Priebke riding to work on his lawyer's mo-ped enraged politicians, Jewish groups and the victims' families, prompting the permit to be canceled.
Italian authorities are also seeking the extradition from Germany of several former SS members sentenced to life for their roles in two of the worst atrocities committed by Nazis in northern Italy — the 1944 massacres of hundreds of civilians in the villages of Sant'Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto.