Lost film footage discovered in a Devon church has finally proved the guilt of a suspected Nazi war criminal responsible for thousands of deaths during World War Two.
The video shows SS officer Walter Gieseke overseeing the construction of a 1,000 mile road where thousands of prisoners died from exhaustion or were shot.
Senior officers are seen drinking tea, chatting and smoking as they order the weak and emaciated prisoners to carry out back-breaking work.
After the war Lieutenant Colonel Gieseke denied involvement and insisted he was nothing more than a pen-pusher on the project.
He was quizzed by war crimes investigators but was never prosecuted due to a lack of evidence and died a free man in 1974.
But the previously-unseen film – taken by fellow SS officers – clearly shows him overseeing construction of the road in occupied Ukraine, known as The Street of the SS.
Amazingly, the film reel has laid undisturbed for decades before it was spotted among a pile of rubbish during a clean-out of Cullompton Baptist Church in Devon in 2006.
It was handed to historian Dr Harry Bennett, who has spent the last five years studying the film and identifying those involved in the abuse of prisoners.
Dr Bennett, of the University of Plymouth, said: ”Gieseke was part of the Nazi police so he was an experienced liar.
”He set up a series of ‘get out’ clauses for himself so his involvement could never be proved.
”He said he was a ‘pen-pusher’ who spent his days sat behind a desk and didn’t get out much, so he had no idea of the atrocities going on during the building of the road.
”He claimed he was scared of SS members and pointed the blame at other people.
”But this footage shows that he was not behind a desk at all. In fact other people in the footage seem to be visibly frightened of him. He certainly has power.”
The road was one of the largest building projects ever undertaken by the Nazis and was intended to take millions of Germans to a new ‘breeding ground for the Master Race’ in the east.
Thousands of POWs were rounded up and forced to endure back-breaking labour to build the 1,000 mile road.
Those who didn’t die of exhaustion were machine gunned to death and left to die at the roadside.
Some 50,000 Russians, 50,000 Ukrainians and 25,000 Jews were involved in its construction.
Gieseke was questioned by West German war crimes investigators in 1960, when he claimed he held an administrative role away from the front line.
He was quizzed after an escapee, Arnold Daghani, created maps and pictures showing the atrocities which he used as a testimony against the SS.
But Gieseke escaped justice and took his secrets to the grave in 1974.
In the recently-obtained black and white footage, he is seen ordering workers, inspecting camps, and taking delivery of a column of slave labourers.
Dr Harry Bennett
Dr Bennett said of the footage: ”As soon as I saw it I knew it was special. It is priceless.
”It was a big project for me to take on as we had very little information to go on but I found it fascinating.
”The process of investigation started with understanding where the film was located by looking at signposts and I realised it was modern day Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.
”Obviously it had to have been shot between 1941 and 1944 and eventually we managed to pin point this down to 1943.
”Next I wanted to know who the main personalities were so I took a trip to the University of Maryland, in America were they have detailed personnel files and photographs of the SS Police.”
The exact history of the footage is unclear, although it is thought the film came from one of the elders of the baptist church, Reg Whitton, a film enthusiast, who has since died.
Mr Whitton ran a haulage firm that carried out relief work across Europe at the end of World War II, when it is believed this is how he came to have the footage.