AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Several dozen people protested outside a theater Saturday where a 104-year-old singer who once performed for Adolf Hitler took the stage in the Netherlands for the first time in four decades.
Johannes Heesters was never accused of being a propagandist or anything other than an actor who was willing to perform for the Nazis, and the Allies allowed him to continue his career after the war. But in his native country he is viewed by some as irredeemable.
"He kept singing for the Nazi regime, for the Wehrmacht, and he earned millions," said Piet Schouten, representative of a committee formed to protest Heesters' performance at De Flint theater in Amersfoort.
"Those are facts and we have a problem with that on behalf of all the victims" he told national broadcaster NOS.
In 1964, Heesters was booed off the stage in Amsterdam when he tried to appear as Nazi-hating Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music."
No disturbances were reported during Saturday's concert in Amersfoort, where Heesters was born in 1903.
Heesters, who lives in Germany, has been a popular figure in German-language cabaret since the 1930s. On Saturday, he performed "The Merry Widow," the German song that made him famous, and "There by the Windmill," a Dutch classic, among others. At times he asked his wife, on stage with him, to remind him of lines but his voice was steady.
Around 50 demonstrators gathered outside. A handful of neo-Nazis also turned up — uninvited — to support Heesters, and several were detained by police after throwing eggs at the demonstrators.
Concertgoers were forced to submit copies of their passports and undergo airport-style security scans before being allowed to enter the theater, which seats 800.
Many of Heesters' critics focus on a visit his theater company made to Dachau in 1941. He had never disclosed the visit, but it became known when photos of him with Nazi soldiers were published in 1978.
One of the protesters carried a banner reading "my grandfather was in Dachau too."
Heesters says he didn't perform for the soldiers and didn't know about conditions at the concentration camp.
After the war "I was ashamed of myself and I still haven't stopped feeling this way," Heesters wrote in his autobiography. "I am angry with myself for being gullible, credulous and naive."
In an editorial, Dutch newspaper Trouw wrote Saturday that "the stain will always remain, but Heesters is welcome home in the Netherlands — it's nice that he's appearing here 104 years after his birth."
"It's all too easy for people today, most of whom grew up after the war, to pass judgment on the collaborators then," the paper wrote. "What would we do under comparable circumstances?"