Published February 16, 2008
ROME – Extradited from Canada, an 83-year-old former SS prison guard who witnesses say laughed as he tortured inmates in an Italian detention camp was jailed Saturday near Naples to start serving a life sentence for war crimes.
Michael Seifert used a cane and leaned on the arm of a policeman as he walked with shuffling steps upon arriving early Saturday at Rome's Ciampino airport. He was whisked away to Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison.
A military tribunal in Verona had put the Ukrainian-born Seifert on trial in absentia and convicted him in 2000 of nine counts of murder committed while he was an SS guard at a prison transit camp in Bolzano, in the Alpine area of South Tyrol.
He 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.
"Justice has been done," said Marisa Scala, who was a key witness at trial of Seifert, whose notoriety for cruelty earned him the nickname "Beast of Bolzano."
Prosecutor Bartolomeo Costantini said a medical exam will help determine if the elderly Seifert is well enough to serve out his sentence in a prison cell.
"His legs were a little wobbly after he got off the flight," likely due to the stress and the long journey, Costantini said by telephone. Seifert has a pacemaker but otherwise is apparently healthy, he said. If doctors deem it necessary, Seifert could be incarcerated in a hospital ward in the prison, or put under house arrest.
Italy rarely keeps very elderly inmates in prison, and Italian state TV reported that supporters were already trying to find someone willing to host him in their home.
Scala, who was held for two months in the Bolzano camp, told Italian state radio that her memories were still strong of the convicted criminal: "chubby, with ruddy cheeks," and known as "Misha," the Ukrainian diminutive of his first name.
"I saw him kill a young man of 18 who was in the cell across from me," Scala recalled. "I saw Misha begin to torture this poor young man, sticking his fingers in his eyes. They tortured him for three nights."
"The third night, I heard (the inmate) gasping, calling out, 'Mama! Enough! I'm dying.' And the next morning they took his body away," Scala said.
Seifert "was always laughing. When they did those things they laughed," Scala said.
At his trial, witnesses testified that Seifert starved a 15-year-old prisoner to death and tortured a woman before killing her and her daughter.
In 1944 and 1945, the Bolzano camp served as a transit point for Jews, Italian resistance fighters, Italians drafted for factory work and German army deserters who were being shipped north.
Last month, Seifert lost a bid to have the Supreme Court of Canada consider his appeal seeking to stop his extradition to Italy.