09/02/2013 03:35 PM

Nazi Murder Trial

Former SS Officer Faces Charges in Germany


Former Waffen SS officer Siert B. faces trial in Germany on Monday for the fatal shooting of a Dutch resistance fighter in 1944. A witness said that the 92-year-old Dutch-born German "spread fear and terror."

Siert B. was a fanatic, one of the deluded. Raised in a family of Dutch fascists, he voluntarily enlisted for the Waffen SS at the age of 20 in 1941. After serving on the Eastern Front, the SS sergeant was redeployed as a border guard between Groningen and Delfzijl.

There, on the German-Dutch border, B. "spread fear and terror," recalled witness Max van Diedenhoven. The resistance fighter described B. as an unscrupulous perpetrator of violence, saying he "came down hard on anyone he could get his hands on." Now, at the age of 92, Siert B. must stand trial.

For some time now B. has lived an inconspicuous life, manufacturing rustic fences in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The state prosecutor's office of Dortmund has charged the retiree with murder. On Sept. 21, 1944, B. allegedly shot Dutch resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema.

'Unsuspecting and Defenceless'

A commander of the border police serving under Siert B. arrested Dijkema at his parents' farm. According to the prosecution, B. and his supervising officer, August N., transported the apprehended resistance fighter by car to the grounds of an abandoned factory. There, Dijkema was forced out of the vehicle. "Go take a piss," the Nazi henchmen told him, according to the prosecution, before shooting the prisoner from behind. Two shots in the head ended his life. The attack couldn't have been anticipated, said chief prosecutor Andreas Brendel: "Dijkema was unsuspecting and defenceless."

One thing that could prove problematic in the course of the proceedings is the fact that the sequence of events relies solely on the testimony of August N. in a previous trial. N. is now deceased -- and the question of who actually pulled the trigger remains unanswered. So it may be difficult to prove that the crime was committed jointly. The prosecutors have not been able to track down any surviving eyewitnesses. For the most part, the trial will consist of reading files and questioning former officials who at some point interviewed witnesses of the crime.

Siert B's defence attorney Klaus-Peter Kniffka says that his client will remain silent at the trial, which began on Monday. In a recent television interview, B. acknowledged at least having been at the scene of the crime along with August N. and Dijkema. But he told reporters that it was August N., not he, who actually pulled the trigger.

Sentenced to Death

A Dutch special tribunal already sentenced Siert B. to death in April of 1949 for the execution. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. But B. never ended up serving his punishment, because the German government refused to extradite him, referring to a decree made by Adolf Hitler on May 25, 1943, extending German citizenship to foreigners serving in the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht.

The provision had a devastating effect after the war, because it legally prohibited the extradition of suspected war criminals. It was not until February 1980 that B. was arrested in Germany for complicity in the murder of two Jewish brothers and sentenced to seven years in prison.

But the courts did not go after Siert B. for the shooting of Dijkema. The appeal board held that the killing lacked the feature of malice and was thus not a murder, so its prosecution was time-barred. Otherwise, went the logic, anyone who killed someone while serving under the Nazi regime could be brought up on charges.

This legal opinion set the precedent in Germany for decades -- until it was broken by the trial of former SS officer Heinrich Boere, who began a life sentence in December 2012 for murdering three Dutch civilians during World War II. The regional court in Aachen ruled for the first time in Germany that arbitrary executions in reprisal for attacks on Germans could be considered murder.

The sister of Aldert Klaas Dijkema, herself now 97 years old, will serve as co-plaintiff in the trial at the Hagen district court. "For her, it is not about revenge," says her lawyer, Detlef Hartmann, "but rather about determining his guilt." But because Siert B. has been deemed fit to stand trial only under certain restrictions, the court will be in session for only three hours per day. The proceedings over a killing that took place nearly 70 years ago is expected to last into the fall.


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