Some significant cases

Robert Verbelen

born April 5, 1911, in Belgium; died October 28, 1990, in Vienna

Robert Verbelen joined the German armed forces, was a member of the Flemish SS (Algemne SS Flandern) and headed De Vlag Veiligheidscorps, a Nazi SS security force in Belgium. In 1947 he was tried in absentia by a war tribunal in Brussels and sentenced to death for his responsibility in the deaths of 101 Belgian civilians and resistance fighters.
After the war, Verbelen went to Austria, where he lived unhindered until the early 1960s, using his real name as well as a number of alias names and writing articles for neo-Nazi publications. He at first worked for the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps and later as an informant for the Austrian federal police. In 1959, he was even granted Austrian citizenship.

In April 1962, Simon Wiesenthal, in the name of the Union International de la Résistance et de la Deportation (UIRD), informed the Public Prosecutor in Vienna of the presence of Robert Verbelen in the city and presented evidence concerning his activities during the war and his conviction for war crimes in Belgium. Verbelen was immediately arrested, and soon afterward the Belgian government officially requested his extradition. Initially the Viennese provincial government revoked his Austrian citizenship, but Verbelen successfully appealed this decision. As a citizen of Austria, he was protected by law from extradition, and so the Public Prosecutor instituted proceedings against him in a Vienna court, in November 1965. He was charged with five counts of murder and instigation of murder. Although the Austrian jury found Verbelen guilty of instigating the murder of two people, it ruled that he had only been carrying out his superiors’ orders and thus acquitted him of committing war crimes. This acquittal was later overturned by the Austrian Supreme Court, but the case was never retried.
Robert Verbelen was never punished and continued to engage himself in neo-Nazi circles in Austria.

Simon Wiesenthal and resistance organizations repeatedly called public attention to this unacceptable situation, which also elicited a great deal of indignation both in Belgium and in Austria. An official parliamentary inquiry in Brussels, brought up the question as to why the Belgian police had not informed the Austrian authorities about Verbelen’s past, and came to the conclusion that Belgium and Austria were jointly responsible for the Verbelen scandal. At the same time, the news media in Austria questioned how the Vienna municipal officials could have naturalized someone without first asking for character references or an income statement. Two positive aspects of this case, as far as Wiesenthal was concerned, were the fact that it had shed a positive light on the work of the Austrian resistance movement and had served to unsettle protectors of individuals such as Verbelen.      

Letter by Simon Wiesenthal urging the Austrian Resistance Movement to support efforts to have Robert Verbelen denaturalized by intervening with the authorities in Vienna; May 3, 1962


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