Page last updated at 18:42 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Former Nazi SS man hears charges

Heinrich Boere at the opening of his trial in court in Aachen 28.10.09
Heinrich Boere listened to the court proceedings impassively

A former member of the Nazi SS has been read murder charges in a German court relating to the wartime deaths of three Dutch civilians.

Heinrich Boere, 88, is charged with shooting the three in 1944. He has previously acknowledged the killings, as reprisals against the resistance.

Mr Boere also heard a written plea from a relative of one the deceased, asking him to openly admit responsibility.

Reports say throughout the hearing, the accused sat motionless in a wheelchair.

Heinrich Boere is accused of three separate killings, as part of an SS operation codenamed Silbertanne (Silver Pine), that hunted down members of the Dutch resistance.

The defendant is charged with shooting Fritz Bicknese, a chemist and father of 12; bicycle seller Teun de Groot, who helped Jews go into hiding; and resistance member Frans Kusters.

Listening impassively throughout, he only spoke to tell the presiding judge he understood the charges.

In a statement read to the court in Aachen, western Germany, the son of Teun de Groot said "You say you regretted what you did back then, if you really regretted it, accept the verdict of the court."

Mr de Groot was referring to a 1949 conviction in Amsterdam, where Heinrich Boere was sentenced to death in absentia - later commuted to life imprisonment.

Heinrich Boere admitted the killings to Dutch authorities while in captivity after the war, but escaped before he could be brought to trial. He later fled to Germany.

'The right thing'

He has also confessed to his role in interviews with the media.

The son of Teun de Groot, also called Teun, talking to reporters at the start of the trial in Aachen, Germany (28 Oct 2009)
Teun de Groot's son says Boere should accept the 1949 court ruling

A Dutch extradition request was turned down by Germany in the early 1980s.

He was eventually indicted in Germany last year, but a court in Aachen then said he was unfit to stand trial due to health problems.

That ruling was reversed in July by an appeals court in Cologne.

Heinrich Boere, who is of Dutch-German origin, was 18 when he joined the SS in 1940, shortly after the Germans overran his hometown of Maastricht.

After fighting on the Russian front, he went to Holland as part of an SS death squad.

His statements to Dutch authorities are expected to form the basis for the prosecution's case, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Defence lawyers have declined to say how they will try to counter the confession, although they have said Heinrich Boere is expected to make a statement when the trial resumes on 10 November.

Defence lawyers also tried to get the trial halted, saying their client's conviction in Holland in 1949 meant he had already been tried for the crime.

It is not possible to be tried for the same crime twice in countries signed up to the European Schengen agreement, the defence argued.

But even if he is convicted, there remains some doubt over whether he will actually go to jail.

Both the prosecution and the defence are still trying to arrange testimony from the only other known surviving member of the Silbertanne unit, Jacobus Petrus Besteman.

The presiding judge, Gerd Nohl, says Mr Besteman failed to respond to earlier requests to travel from his home in Holland to appear at court. Besteman has already served a sentence for his wartime actions.

Heinrich Boere currently lives in a retirement home outside Aachen.

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