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Germany

Former SS hitman sentenced to life imprisonment

In one of the last Nazi war crimes trials, 88-year-old former SS soldier Heinrich Boere has been sentenced to life imprisonment for killing three Dutch citizens in World War Two.

Former SS soldier Heinrich Boere

88-year-old Heinrich Boere was living in a nursing home

The state court in Aachen has handed down a verdict of life imprisonment to Heinrich Boere, a former SS hitman, after a five month trial.

Boere was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday on three counts of murder for the killings a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian.

On several occasions, Boere, now wheelchair-bound and living in a nursing home in Germany, and who has spent six decades one step ahead of the law, has admitted to the murders.

He told the Aachen state court in December that he killed three Dutch civilian resistance fighters at the end of World War II, but he did not do it in cold blood.

"At no point did I feel like I was committing a crime. Now I see things from a different perspective," he said.

Following SS orders

Boere (left) sits next to his lawyer Gordon Christiansen in the courtroom in Aachen

Boere (left) and his lawyer say he only followed orders

Boere described how he and another SS man wore civilian clothes during unannounced visits to the premises of people believed to oppose the Nazis. After asking them if they were in fact the persons sought, the two SS men shot them point blank with silenced pistols.

Boere said that, as a soldier, he was just following the orders of his superior officers who told him to execute the Dutch citizens.

But the prosecution argued Boere was a willing member of the SS, which he joined shortly after the Nazis had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands in 1940.

Bringing Boere to justice

The attempt to bring Heinrich Boere's case to trial has been a long process for prosecutors, as he has evaded conviction for over sixty years.

Dr. Ephraim Zuroff from the group 'Operation: Last Chance' which campaigns to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, told Deutsche Welle it was a "great day."

"I think it sends a very powerful message," Dr. Zuroff said. "Even today, decades after the crime, Nazi war criminals can be brought to justice."

Despite a Dutch court sentencing him to death in absentia in 1949, Boere avoided extradition by claiming he had German citizenship. Germany as a rule does not extradite its citizens.

Years of legal wrangling between German and Dutch courts left Boere a free man living in Germany, until the start of his trial in October 2009.

The Demjanjuk case continues

Suspected Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk

The trial of suspected Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk continues in Munich

Since the Nuremberg trials after the war, where several top Nazi officials were sentenced to death, German authorities have examined more than 25,000 cases but the vast majority have never come to court.

However now, as the suspected war criminals approach their nineties, there has been a minor flurry of arrests and court cases.

In the most high-profile, 89-year old John Demjanjuk went on trial in Munich November 2009 on charges of assisting in the murder of 27,900 people at the Sobibor death camp, where prosecutors say he was a guard.

Despite the age of suspects such as Denjanjuk and Boere, Dr. Zuroff argues many are still well enough to take part in a trial.

"The issue is not the age of the suspects but rather their mental or physical health," he states. "People who commit terrible crimes should not be ignored simply because their birth certificate says 1919 or 1920."

Author: Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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