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Heinz Barth, 86; convicted in Nazi massacre of village

FRANKFURT -- Heinz Barth, a former SS officer convicted for his role in the massacre of a village in Nazi-occupied France, has died, a priest in the town where he lived said yesterday. He was 86.

Mr. Barth died of cancer in the past few days, said Heinz-Dieter Schmidtke, the parish priest in Gransee, north of Berlin. He could not provide the exact date of Mr. Barth's death and did not say where he died.

In 1983, a court in East Berlin convicted Mr. Barth and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in the slaughter of villagers in Oradour-sur-Glane in 1944, widely considered the worst atrocity in Nazi-occupied France.

On June 10, 1944, as they headed toward Normandy to combat D-day invasion forces that had landed four days earlier, German troops of the armored SS Division Das Reich slaughtered 642 men, women, and children in the village.

The Germans rounded up the men, forced them into barns and slaughtered them with machine guns. The 241 women and 209 children were herded into the church, which was set afire with grenades and then riddled with machine gun fire.

"There are some events that can never be forgiven or forgotten," Alain Marleix, the top French official for veterans affairs, said in a statement. "The death of this sinister person, more than a half-century after the victims of his own crimes, draws no tear or regret from me."

In addition to his involvement in the massacre, East German judges also found that Mr. Barth volunteered to participate in an execution of 92 Czech civilians in 1942.

Mr. Barth, the SS equivalent of a lieutenant, was sentenced to death in absentia in France in 1953.

Mr. Barth lived under a false name in communist East Germany, working as a decorator in Gransee and running a grocery store until his identity emerged in 1981 and he was imprisoned.

In 1997, a state court freed Mr. Barth because of his poor health, commuting his sentence to probation.

Mr. Barth, who lost a leg in the war, suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments.

"I feel guilty about the terrible crimes in Oradour," Mr. Barth was quoted as telling the Berlin tabloid B.Z. at the time of his release. "But I have paid long enough."

Schmidtke said Mr. Barth had lived a secluded life in Gransee and will be buried in September.

Mr. Barth's death "reminds France of one of the most tragic episodes of its history," President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement.

Sarkozy "pays tribute to the victims and to the pain of his descendants," it added.