Dutch-Born Singer Loses Dachau Libel Case | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.12.2008
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Dutch-Born Singer Loses Dachau Libel Case

Dutch-born singer Johannes Heesters, who at 105 still performs on stage and TV, has lost a lawsuit against an author who claimed he entertained guards at a Nazi concentration camp.

Johannes Heesters with a glass of champagne

Some have accused Heesters of Nazi sympathies

Heesters, who is reviled by many in his Dutch homeland for acting in Nazi-era feature films, admits he paid a morale-boosting visit to German guards at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich in 1941, but denies he sang.

A Berlin court said satirist Volker Kuehn, 75, was entitled to say in an interview that the evidence did suggest Heesters entertained the SS guards.

Heesters, who is now an Austrian citizen and lives in a suburb of the German city of Munich, had demanded an injunction prohibiting Kuehn, who does cabaret shows and writes history articles, from repeating the allegation.

"Ashamed" of visit

Johannes Heesters, left, receives an award

Heesters, left, has had a long and successful career

The singer has said in past statements that he is ashamed of the visit to Dachau, which was made as part of a theater company and is documented by photographs. He insists the actors were only shown around and chatted to guards. There are no photos of any performance taking place.

Judge Michael Mauck said there was no longer any way to absolutely prove if Heesters, who began his career in musicals in 1930s Vienna and is currently singing in the operetta White Horse Inn in Hamburg, had sung at Dachau.

The Nazis locked up and starved political opponents and Jews in the filthy camp and many inmates died of their privations. An estimated six millions Jews were killed under the Nazi regime.

No ground for libel

Gates to Dachau concentration camp

Did Heesters ever play at Dachau?

The judge said Kuehn was doing nothing wrong if he drew a conclusion from the surviving evidence.

Outside court on Tuesday, Dec. 16, Kuehn was conciliatory, saying Heesters was "definitely a great entertainer" against whom he bore no personal grudge. Kuehn said he had only wanted to establish the truth about the Dachau episode.

Last week, just before turning 105, Heesters concurred with an interviewer on a satirical Dutch television program who asked him if Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had been "a nice guy."

The singer's wife, Simone Rethel-Heesters, said later he was caught out by a trick question.

She told a German magazine Tuesday that Heesters, who is sight- and hearing-impaired, had decided never again to answer questions posed by reporters about Hitler.

Heesters denies Nazi ties

Heesters, who denies he ever joined the Nazi party, was part of the German entertainment industry that created a glossy illusion of happiness even as the Holocaust and mass destruction unfolded in Europe.

The Netherlands was one of the nations Germany invaded and Heesters was regarded as a collaborator with the enemy.

His extraordinary longevity has brought him back to prominence and made even the Dutch curious about him.

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