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by Staff Journalists, The Daily Republican OnLine Newspaper

BERLIN DESK - Karl Hass, the 84-year-old former SS major, reportedly fell from a hotel balcony Friday while trying to escape rather than testify against a fellow ex-Nazi on trial for Italy's worst wartime atrocity.

Reuters says that Karl Hass was being taken to Antonio Intelisano, the trial's military prosecutor. En-route, the fall took place. After visiting Hass in a Rome military hospital the foremr SS Officer is said to have blamed his attempted getaway on "stress" but was willing to testify Wednesday. Judge Agostino Quistelli said Hass would testify Wednesday from his hospital bed in Rome's military hospital. "The prosecution cannot go without the testimony of Hass. He is in a perfect condition to answer questions," prosecutor Antonino Intelisano told the court.

Hass came to Italy voluntarily as a witness, but Intelisano said he is also being investigated as a suspect in the massacre. "He told me his decision to attempt escape was the result of great stress," Intelisano said after visiting Hass in the hospital. He said Hass promised to cooperate when he testifies Wednesday.

Hass jumped 15 feet from a second-floor terrace of the hotel, while police guarded the door outside. Hass was taken to a civilian hospital, where doctors said he was in a good condition. Priebke, 82, is on trial for his role in the March 24, 1944, massacre of civilians in caves near Rome. The killings were ordered in retaliation for a bombing by resistance fighters that killed 32 Nazi soldiers.

The victims were machine-gunned at the Ardeatine Caves, which were then dynamited in an attempt to hide the bodies. Hass was on the staff of the German Embassy in Rome during the war. In newspaper interviews, Hass has accused Priebke of a direct role in the massacre.

In 1962, Italian authorities investigated Hass for his suspected role in the massacre but had dropped the case because his whereabouts were unknown. Police tracked Hass down in Switzerland last week. Hass was ordered to testify in the trial of former Nazi Capt. Erich Priebke who is being on charges of organizing the 1944 Ardeatine Caves massacre of 335 men and boys,.

Hass was quite by Reuters as saying: "My attempted escape? A rush of blood to the head, a silly reaction brought on by heavy emotional pressure." The prosecutor said that, "had Hass not wanted to testify, he could have gone straight home through the front door . . . There are no restrictions on his freedom." Intelisano said Hass left his Rome hotel room two floors above ground level just after dawn and had been trying to leave the building via a balcony on the floor below when he fell a few feet onto flower pots.

He said Hass might have been under pressure not to testify, but a police official said Hass received no calls at the hotel, although he probably telephoned his daughter in Switzerland. Priebke's lawyer has presented to the court documents that he said proved Hass was one of the main participants. "Perhaps he realized he was digging his own grave," lawyer Velio Di Rezze said, attempting to explain the escape bid. In the massacre, Nazi officers rounded up men and boys, carted them off to caves outside Rome and shot them in reprisal for the killing of 33 German soldiers.


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