A man accused of murdering Dutch civilians as a member of a Waffen SS hit squad said at his trial Friday that he was proud about being chosen as a volunteer to fight for the Nazis.
Heinrich Boere, 88, made his first comments to the Aachen state court since his trial opened at the end of October. As part of that SS unit, he is charged with killing a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Boere said he remembered his mother waking him up the night in 1940 that Germany invaded his hometown in the Netherlands and seeing Stuka dive-bombers overhead. Instead of fearing the German bombs, Boere, whose father was Dutch and mother German, said his family was elated as the attack unfolded.
"(My mother) said 'they're coming' now things will be better," he told the court, speaking animatedly to the panel of judges.
"It was better," he added later.
Boere was born in Eschweiler, Germany, on the outskirts of Aachen where he lives today, but moved to the Netherlands when he was an infant.
After the Germans had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands, he remembers as an 18-year-old seeing a recruiting poster for the Waffen SS, signed by Heinrich Himmler. It offered German citizenship after two years of service and the possibility of becoming a policeman after that.
He showed up with 100 other Dutchmen at the recruitment office and was one of 15 chosen.
"I was very proud," Boere told the court in a statement read by his attorney before he answered questions from the presiding judge.
After fighting on the Russian front, Boere ended up back in the Netherlands as part of "Silbertanne" — a unit of largely of Dutch SS volunteers responsible for reprisal killings of their countrymen for resistance attacks on collaborators.
Boere admitted the three killings to Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the war but managed to escape from his POW camp and eventually return to Germany.
He was sentenced to death in the Netherlands in 1949 — later commuted to life imprisonment — but Boere has managed to avoid jail so far.
Still, Boere told the court he was aware of the possibility he would be pursued by authorities, so much so that he never married.
"I always had to consider that my past might catch up with me, and I didn't want to inflict that upon a woman," he said in his statement.
Boere refused to comment on his time with Silbertanne, but his attorneys said he would address that period when the trial resumes Dec. 2.