BERLIN – Heinrich Boere has admitted to gunning down three men as part of a Waffen SS death squad — civilians killed in retribution for partisan attacks in Holland as the tide of World War II turned against the Nazis.
But for more than six decades after the war, he managed to avoid punishment — first escaping from a prisoner of war camp in the Netherlands, then successfully eluding the courts in Germany.
On Wednesday, the 88-year-old goes on trial at the state court in Aachen, charged with three murders — hits on a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian.
It will be the first time that Teun de Groot sees the confessed killer of his father — the bicycle shop owner — with his own eyes.
"I don't think he can get out of it in any way now," de Groot said in a telephone interview from his home in Heiloo, Netherlands.
"I would be a little disappointed if he got less than natural life (in prison), which is only a few years for him anyway," he added. "You know when you owe a debt, it grows with time. Well, he should actually have to pay interest."
Boere volunteered for the Nazis' fanatical Waffen SS only months after Adolf Hitler's forces had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands.
After fighting on the Russian front, Boere ended up back in Holland as part of a notorious death squad codenamed "Silbertanne," or "Silver Pine." Made up largely of Dutch SS volunteers like himself, they were tasked with reprisal killings of their countrymen for resistance attacks on collaborators.
In statements after the war to Dutch authorities — which prosecutor Ulrich Maass said now form an important part of his case — Boere detailed the killings, almost shot-by-shot.
In a 2007 interview with the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad he justified the actions, saying he was sorry for what he had done but that it "was another time, with different rules."
Boere's attorney, Gordon Christiansen, declined to comment ahead of the trial on how he planned to counter the confessions.
"I can't discuss defense strategy in the press," he said.
Maass said the defense could try the familiar argument that Boere was following orders, but he did not think it would be successful.
"Legally anything is possible, but I don't think it will work," he said.
The trial is scheduled over 13 days through December 18 but could last longer if more time is needed. Sessions are expected to be limited to about three hours per day, in deference to Boere's age and poor health.
In addition to the Dutch court documents, Maass said it is possible that the only other known surviving member of Silbertanne, who was Boere's partner on the first killing but has already been convicted and served his time, might come from the Netherlands to testify.
Boere was captured by the Allies at the end of the war and spent two years as a POW in the Netherlands, but managed to break out of his camp and flee to Germany before he could be brought to trial.
He was sentenced in absentia to death in the Netherlands in 1949 — later commuted to life imprisonment — but then managed to escape any jail time, with German courts both refusing to extradite him and to force him to serve the Dutch sentence in Germany.
The Associated Press was the first to report in early 2008 that state prosecutors in Dortmund had quietly reopened the case, in a last-ditch attempt to bring charges against him.
Silbertanne, consisting of 15 SS men, is believed to be responsible for 54 killings. Boere was convicted in the Netherlands of three of them, which he detailed in statements to Dutch police after his arrest now preserved in the court file, obtained by The AP.
The first was in July 1944.
According to Boere's statement, he and fellow SS man Jacobus Petrus Besteman set off for the town of Breda, and the local office of the Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi internal intelligence agency. There they were given a list of names slated for "retaliatory measures."
Their target that day was Fritz Hubert Ernst Bicknese, a pharmacist.
Wearing civilian clothes, Boere and Besteman walked into the pharmacy and asked the man there if he was Bicknese. When he answered "yes," Boere pulled his pistol from his right coat pocket and fired two or three shots into Bicknese's upper body, then Besteman moved in and fired another two or three shots into the fallen man.
The next one, in September, followed a similar pattern: Boere and an accomplice named Hendrik Kromhout shot bicycle-shop owner Teun de Groot when he answered the doorbell at his home in the town of Voorschoten. They then continued to the apartment of F.W. Kusters, and forced him into their car. They drove him to another town, stopped on the pretense of having a flat tire and shot him.
"Kusters fell against the garden door of the Villa Constance and sank to the ground..." Boere told investigators. "Blood shot out of Kusters' neck."
Boere has refused to speak with The AP, but in 2007 told the Algemeen Dagblad he regretted the killings.
In comments to the newspaper, he described ringing de Groot's doorbell and asking him for his papers.
"When we knew for sure we had the right person, we shot him dead, at the door," he said. "I didn't feel anything, it was work. Orders were orders, otherwise it would have meant my skin. Later it began to bother me. Now I'm sorry."