Karl Hass, an SS officer and spy who was convicted for his participation in one of Italy’s worst World War II massacres, died on April 21 from a heart attack. He was 92.
Born in Kiel, Germany, Hass joined the Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi Party’s intelligence service, in 1934. He was sent to Rome to set up a network of Italian radio operators and saboteurs behind enemy lines.
While stationed in Italy, Hass invited Princess Mafalda of Savoy, the daughter of King Victor Emanuel III, to the Germany embassy with claims that she could telephone her husband, who was in Berlin. The princess was arrested when she arrived, and later died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Italian resistance fighters killed 33 German soldiers during a 1944 bomb attack. The Nazis retaliated by rounding up 335 Italian men and boys and transporting them to the Ardeatine caves outside of Rome. There Hass and his fellow officers executed them.
Three years later, Hass was captured by the Allies and recruited by the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps to spy on the Russians and train other German agents for espionage missions in eastern Europe.
In 1996, Hass returned to Italy to testify against SS Captain Erich Priebke, the German officer who led the Ardeatine massacre. Although Hass was originally offered immunity for his testimony, he allegedly experienced second thoughts about speaking out against his former comrade. On the night before his testimony, the 84-year-old was in the process of escaping from his hotel room when he fell from his balcony onto a row of flowerpots, breaking his pelvis and damaging his spine.
Testifying from his hospital bed, Hass admitted to shooting two civilians in the back of the head. But he also argued he was simply following orders. The military court didn’t buy it, and Hass was sentenced in 1998 to life in prison.
Because he was in poor health, Hass was detained in a retirement home instead of a prison. Priebke was also convicted for the wartime killings, and is currently serving a life sentence under house arrest in Rome.