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Nazi trial

October 30, 2009

The trial of former SS soldier Heinrich Boere was adjourned at its opening after the defense argued that the prosecutor was too emotionally involved. Boere has admitted to killing three Dutch resistance fighters.

Heinrich Boere
Heinrich BoereImage: AP

At the opening of the trial in the western German town of Aachen on Wednesday, Boere's lawyers, Gordon Christiansen and Matthias Rahmlow, filed a motion demanding that the state prosecutor, Ulrich Maass, be replaced. The defense accused Maass of showing emotional bias in media interviews he has given since he re-opened the Boere case in 2008.

Speaking to Dutch broadcaster NL1 in September, Maass said, “There must be a conviction, whether he shows regret or not. That will not change the severity of the punishment.” He was also accused of divulging confidential information about the accused to the media. German law requires that prosecutors strive to be objective and discreet when a trial is pending.

Teun de Groot
Teun de Groot, the son of one of Boere's victims, was at the courtImage: AP

The judge ruled that the case cannot continue until Maass gives a clear response to the accusations. Maass did not have a response ready but said he would prepare one by Monday when the case resumes.

Sheltered from justice

Although Wednesday's decision is a setback for the prosecution, bringing Boere to court at all represents a victory in itself. In 2008, several German courts ruled that Boere could not stand trial in Germany because of his advanced age. Maass subsequently appealed those rulings and won. Relatives of Boere's victims were present in court.

Boere (88) is on trial in connection with the killings of three Dutch resistance fighters during World War II while a member of a special SS unit named ‘Silver Pine', tasked with hunting down the resistance in Holland. Boere confessed to his crimes while in Allied custody after the war but escaped to Germany before a Dutch court could try him. That court eventually convicted him in his absence.

Years of legal wrangling between Germany and the Netherlands left Boere living his life a free man in Germany. In April 2008, he admitted to the German news magazine Focus that he had committed the shootings. In a later interview with another publication, Der Spiegel, he said he had been following orders which he had sworn to obey.

SS soldiers behind a tank in World War Two
Boere joined the Waffen-SS shortly after Holland's capitulationImage: ullstein bild

The Dutch-born Boere was 18 when he joined the Waffen SS in 1940, just months after Holland fell to Germany. He served on the eastern front for two years before returning to Holland and being assigned to the 15-man SS hit squad in 1942.

Long wait

Martin Bicknese, the grandson of one of Boere's victims, told Deutsche Welle this week that he was happy the former SS man would finally stand trial after living free for so many years.

“He was at home and he lived a good life, and now, finally, he will come before a judge. For my family, this is a good thing,” Bicknese said.

If on Monday the judge decides that Maass is not objective enough, one of Maass' colleagues is to take over the prosecution. The case is set to last two months.

Maass is expected to do whatever he can to stay in charge, as his key witness, an accomplice in one of the 1944 murders, is scheduled to testify that morning.

Author: Chad Smith in Aachen/bk
Editor: Chuck Penfold