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Germans reexamining World War II slayings

Nazi killer has escaped jail so far

Heinrich Boere was part of a Waffen SS death squad. Heinrich Boere was part of a Waffen SS death squad. (Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By David Rising
Associated Press / March 8, 2008

ESCHWEILER, Germany - Heinrich Boere's first victim was a pharmacist. Two more victims would follow on a single day, one gunned down at point-blank range in his doorway, the other on the road.

And although the killing spree happened in 1944, a footnote to the far greater carnage raging across World War II Europe, it still haunts Germany and the Netherlands, leaving a sense of justice denied by dueling court systems despite the continent's long march to unity and harmonized institutions.

Boere was part of a Waffen SS death squad of mostly Dutch volunteers tasked with killing fellow countrymen in reprisal for attacks by the anti-Nazi resistance. His is among more than 1,000 cases worldwide which the Nazi-tracking Simon Wiesenthal Center says are still open as of last April 1.

Though sentenced to death in the Netherlands in 1949 - later commuted to life imprisonment - Boere has managed to escape jail so far. One German court has refused to extradite him because he might have German nationality as well as Dutch. Another won't make him serve his Dutch sentence in a German prison because he was absent from his trial, having fled to Germany.

Now, the Associated Press has learned, a German investigator has quietly reopened the case in a last-ditch attempt to bring charges against Boere, 86, and see that he faces justice.

Boere volunteered for the SS only months after the Netherlands fell to the German blitzkrieg in 1940. After the war he spent two years in an Allied prison camp where he made the statements later used to convict him, but he escaped to Germany before the Dutch could bring him to trial.

Much of what is known about the case comes from the Dutch file on the 1949 trial that convicted Boere.

According to Ulrich Maass, the prosecutor now investigating him, the death squad is known to have been responsible for 54 killings. Boere was convicted of three of them, which he detailed, almost gunshot by gunshot, in statements to Dutch police preserved in the court file.

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, 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.

It's not certain why all of Boere's victims were on the death list. De Groot's son says his father wasn't a member of the armed resistance, but he helped hide fugitives and his bicycle shop was a hangout for anti-Nazi activists.

Today Boere lives in Eschweiler, outside the German cathedral city of Aachen. Telephoned by the reception desk to ask if he would meet with a reporter, he replied: "I don't want to be disturbed."

But last year he spoke to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, saying of his wartime deeds: "It was another time, with different rules."

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