Germany's Last Nazi War Crimes Trial? 86-Year-Old SS Killer Faces Murder Charges

In what may lead to Germany's last Nazi war crimes trial, a state prosecutor in the city of Dortmund plans to indict a former member of Hitler's SS for murdering three unarmed Dutch civilians in 1944. But the defendant, 86-year-old Heinrich Boere, may escape prosecution yet again.


Berlin's Holocaust Memorial. As Nazi war criminals get older, the likelihood of prosecuting any more of them for crimes committed during World War II is slim.
AP

Berlin's Holocaust Memorial. As Nazi war criminals get older, the likelihood of prosecuting any more of them for crimes committed during World War II is slim.

A German public prosecutor is preparing to file charges this week against an 86-year-old former SS soldier accused of killing three people in the Netherlands in 1944. If the case comes to trial it could be the last war crimes trial to take place in Germany.

Heinrich Boere shot dead three unarmed Dutch civilians between July and September 1944 when he was part of an SS hit squad that killed dozens of people in reprisals for attacks on Dutch Nazis by resistance fighters.

He confessed to the killings after he was captured by US forces at the end of World War II but he escaped from his prison camp and fled to Germany before he could be put on trial.

A Dutch court sentenced him to death in absentia in 1949 but legal loopholes, extradition hurdles and disagreement over the nature of his crimes enabled him to escape justice to this day.

Now Boere, born of a Dutch father and a German mother, may become the last person to be put on trial in Germany for Nazi war crimes.

Ulrich Maass, senior state prosector in the Dortmund public prosecutor's office, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that he would file the charges with a German court this week, beginning legal proceedings that could lead to a trial. "It will take some time," possibly months, Maass said, because a court will need to determine whether Boere at 86 is still fit to stand trial.

"I interviewed him on March 11 and it's my impression that nothing stands in the way of this coming to trial, although my opinion isn't relevant here, the decision will depend on the testimony of other people such as medical experts," said Maass.

"I can't take any account of his age," said Maass, who specializes in hunting Nazi war criminals. "There is no statue of limitations for murder. According to my interpretation of the law I will continue to pursue any case that is unatoned."

Boere's lawyer has so far not made any claim that his client is unfit to stand trial, although he may yet do so, Maass said.

Never Too Old to Face Justice

Last year authorities in Germany failed to obtain any convictions or file any indictments of war criminals, prompting criticism from the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff.

The argument that Nazi war criminals are now too old to stand trial isn't acceptable, Zuroff, whose campaign "Operation Last Chance" aims to bring surviving perpetrators to justice, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in an interview in January.

"The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrator. If we were to set a chronological limit on prosecution we would be saying that you could get away with genocide, which is morally outrageous," said Zuroff.

He launched his campaign in Europe in 2002 and extended it last year to South America, where many Nazis fled after the war.

Operation Last Chance started targeting the hundreds if not thousands of surviving lower-level officials, guards and soldiers who committed war crimes.

Such people are more likely still to be alive than the higher-ranking Nazis who have never been brought to justice such as Austrian SS medic Aribert Heim, also known as Doctor Death, who would now be 93 and who conducted gruesome medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.

'I Pray for the Dead'

Maass said Boere took part in an SS operation codenamed "Silbertanne" or "Silver Pine" which killed 54 civilians in retaliation for the killing of prominent Dutch Nazis by Dutch resistance fighters.

"They were citizens who had a certain standing in civilian life, who were opposed to the German occupation and who were suspected of being part of the resistance," said Maass.

Dutch-born Boere, who now lives in an apartment complex for retired people in the western town of Eschweiler, could not be reached for comment on Monday. He told SPIEGEL ONLINE last August: "I'm not interested in what happened back then. I'm alone, don't have much longer to live and am just waiting to die."

He joined the Waffen-SS, the elite military arm of Hitler's murderous SS organization, in 1940 and served on the Eastern Front for two years before returning to occupied Holland to join the 15-strong hit squad "Special Command Feldmeijer" in 1942.

His job was to help eradicate the Dutch resistance by shooting civilians deemed to be sympathetic to it. "We didn't know the men," Boere told SPEGEL ONLINE last August. "The security service of the SS gave us the name and off we went."

According to Dutch and German court documents, he and a companion shot dead a pharmacist, a bicycle dealer and another civilian.

In the case of the pharmacist Fritz Bicknese, Boere and a companion -- both dressed in civilian clothes -- walked into his drugstore in the town of Breda on July 14, 1944, asked him his name and then opened fire. Bicknese bled to death on the floor.

Boere admits that he was a "fanatic" at the time. "I'm sorry about what happened in 1944. I pray for the dead every night and for everyone who died in the war." He said he only realized after the war that he had believed in "total nonsense."

Protected by Law

Boere worked as a miner in Germany after the war and has repeatedly managed to avoid jail.

A Dutch court applied for his extradition in 1980 but the request was denied because of uncertainty about whether he had acquired German citizenship by joining the SS. German law prohibits German citizens from being extradited.

At the same time an investigation into him by German prosecutors collapsed because wartime reprisal operations such as his were deemed to be in line with international rules of engagement.

But legal proceedings against him continued and a German court in Aachen ruled that he should serve his original Dutch sentence -- now commuted to a life term -- in a German prison.

However, a higher court last year accepted Boere's appeal against the ruling because he had not been allocated a defense lawyer in the 1949 trial, rendering the verdict null and void because the trial had not met international standards.

Now prosecutor Maass believes he has enough evidence to bring Boere to trial again. "I have one witness, all the others are dead."

He added that Boere's case might not be the last. "We'll probably still file indictments in one case or another."

With reporting by Jörg Diehl

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