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Nazi hit man goes on trial in Germany

world Updated: Oct 28, 2009 14:23 IST

Nazi hit man Heinrich Boere goes on trial Wednesday for the execution-style killings of three Dutch civilians during World War II.

Boere has admitted to gunning down the three men as part of a Waffen SS death squad. They were killed in retribution for partisan attacks in Holland as the tide of World War II turned against the Nazis.

But for more than six decades after the war, he managed to avoid punishment _ first escaping from a prisoner of war camp in the Netherlands, then successfully eluding the courts in Germany. The 88-year-old Boere goes on trial at the state court in Aachen, charged with the murders of a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian.

It will be the first time that Teun de Groot sees the confessed killer of his father _ the bicycle shop owner _ with his own eyes. "I don't think he can get out of it in any way now," de Groot said in a telephone interview from his home in Heiloo, Netherlands. "I would be a little disappointed if he got less than natural life (in prison), which is only a few years for him anyway," he added. "You know when you owe a debt, it grows with time. Well, he should actually have to pay interest."

Boere volunteered for the Nazis' fanatical Waffen SS only months after Adolf Hitler's forces had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands.

After fighting on the Russian front, Boere ended up back in Holland as part of a notorious death squad code-named "Silbertanne," or "Silver Pine." Made up largely of Dutch SS volunteers like him, they were tasked with reprisal killings of their countrymen for resistance attacks on collaborators. In statements after the war to Dutch authorities _ which prosecutor Ulrich Maass said now form an important part of his case _ Boere detailed the killings, almost shot-by-shot. In a 2007 interview with the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, he justified the actions, saying he was sorry for what he had done but that it "was another time, with different rules." Boere's attorney, Gordon Christiansen, declined to comment before the trial on how he planned to counter the confessions. Maass said the defense could try the familiar argument that Boere was following orders, but he did not think it would be successful. The trial is scheduled over 13 days through Dec. 18, but could last longer if more time is needed. Sessions are expected to be limited to about three hours per day because of Boere's age and poor health.

In addition to the Dutch court documents, Maass said it is possible that the only other known surviving member of Silbertanne, who was Boere's partner on the first killing but has already been convicted and served his time, might come from the Netherlands to testify.

Boere was captured by the Allies at the end of the war and spent two years as a POW in the Netherlands, but managed to break out of his camp and flee to Germany before he could be brought to trial. He was sentenced in absentia to death in the Netherlands in 1949 _ later commuted to life imprisonment _ but then managed to escape any jail time, with German courts both refusing to extradite him and to force him to serve the Dutch sentence in Germany. The Associated Press was the first to report in early 2008 that state prosecutors in Dortmund had quietly reopened the case, in a last-ditch attempt to bring charges against him.

Silbertanne, consisting of 15 SS men, is believed to be responsible for 54 killings. Boere was convicted in the Netherlands of three of them, which he detailed in statements to Dutch police after his arrest now preserved in the court file, obtained by The AP.