The Nazi Occupation Former SS Assassin Accused of Additional War Crimes
Heinrich Boere, a former member of the Nazi SS, is currently on trial for shooting three innocent civilians in occupied Holland. He says he was merely following orders, but new evidence suggests that he may have been involved in seven additional deaths
Former SS man Heinrich Boere has never denied the charges against him. As part of a Nazi hit squad in the Netherlands, Boere, now 88 years old, stands accused of having shot and killed three innocent civilians in 1944 in Holland. The "Germanic SS in the Netherlands," as Boere's group was known, was charged with combating anti-Nazi resistance in the country.
"We didn't know the men. The Security Service of the SS gave us the names and we got going," Boere told SPIEGEL ONLINE in 2007. "They told us they were partisans, terrorists. We thought we were doing the right thing."
Now, though, German historian Stephan Stracke has found evidence that Boere may have been involved in more SS missions in Holland than previously known. He claims to have found evidence in Dutch archives that Boere operated as a spy to expose resistance attempts to hide those who were being hunted by the Nazis. On Thursday, co-plaintiffs in the case, currently being tried in Aachen, filed a motion to present new evidence and to levy further charges against Boere.
According to Stracke's research, Boere operated as an SS spy in 1944 and managed to penetrate a Dutch group aiding those trying to escape Nazi persecution. Boere, along with two other SS men, claimed to be victims of Nazi oppression and said they needed a safe house. Two farmers were found to put them up.
Role in Deaths Claimed by Lawyers
The trio informed their SS commander of the resistance cell, providing names of the people involved, their location and information about the structure of the Dutch resistance, the complaint alleges. Boere and his two SS comrades each received 75 guilders for their efforts -- equal to roughly 400 ($559) today.
Not long after the SS trio's undercover operation, the SS staged large-scale raids and arrested 52 people -- at least seven of whom subsequently died in concentration camps "due to their inhuman treatment," the lawyers for the co-plaintiffs write in their complaint. The lawyers say that Boere willingly played a role in their deaths.
Detlef Hartmann and Wolfgang Heiermann, lawyers for the co-plaintiffs -- representing the families of two of those Boere shot dead in 1944 -- say that the new evidence disproves Boere's claim to merely have been following orders. It provides proof of Boere's initiative and thus his guilt as a perpetrator of Nazi war crimes, the lawyers say.
It is unclear what effect the new research may have on the progression of the trial, public prosecutor Andreas Brendel said on Thursday. He did say, however, that it would likely not change Boere's sentence should he be found guilty -- he is seen as being too old to send to prison.
Boere's defense attorney, Gordon Christiansen, declined to respond to questions posed by SPIEGEL ONLINE, saying only that he needed more time to study the new evidence.
Volunteer for the SS
Boere was born in 1921 in Aachen on Germany's border with Belgium and the Netherlands. According to the charges levied against him, Boere killed 22-year-old pharmacist Fritz Bicknese on July 14, 1944 and bike-shop owner Teunis de Groot on Sept. 3. He also is charged with having murdered a man named Frans-Willem Kusters.
The son of a Dutch father and a German mother, Boere told SPIEGEL ONLINE in 2007 that he had been a "fanatic" member of the SS. As an 18 year old, he volunteered for the SS in 1940 and fought for two years on the Eastern Front. In 1942, he returned to occupied Holland where he was assigned to a small SS unit comprised of 15 men.
The unit, called "Feldmeijer," was charged with breaking any signs of resistance in Holland via arbitrary shootings of civilians seen as being anti-German.
Whenever there were attacks on German troops or people who collaborated with them, senior SS and police commander Hanns Albin Rauter dispatched his killing squad by issuing the codeword "Silbertanne," which means "Silver Fir." At least 54 Dutch citizens are believed to have been murdered by these SS hitmen.
Boere admitted to having committed three of the killings during interrogations as early as 1946. Only recently, Boere repeated his admission to the killings before the Aachen court, once again claiming that he had been under orders.
Afraid of Disobeying
The only living witness to one of the shootings, Jacobus Peter Bestemann, gave testimony to the court via a video feed. Bestemann, now 88 and living in Rotterdam, said that members of the SS were afraid of disobeying orders. "That was dangerous," Bestemann said.
In his confession, Boere claimed that Bestemann, too, had fired shots -- an allegation Bestemann has denied. He says he only accompanied his comrades and that he never carried a weapon. "Someone must have ordered me to go along," he says. He also says that he doesn't know if Boere fired shots or not. Despite his denials, Bestemann served 13 years in prison in Holland for the murders of two mayors.
Boere has also been convicted of his crimes once before. In October 1949, an Amsterdam court sentenced him for the murders. But by then, Boere was back in Germany and he was never extradited.