A German federal court on Monday rejected the appeal of Nazi war criminal Heinrich Boere, who was convicted to life imprisonment for murders committed when he was an SS member in the Netherlands in 1944. While his legal efforts in Germany have now been exhausted, he may still escape prison due to his advanced age.
The appeals court in Karlsruhe was the last legal resort in Germany for 89-year-old Boere. But the German Public Prosecution office, which has to execute Boere’s sentence, has to weigh whether the former Nazi is healthy enough to go to prison, a spokesperson from the Achen courthouse said.
Boere made headline news worldwide when his trial started in October 2009 in Achen. In March this year, the court found Boere guilty of killing three Dutch unarmed civilians in 1944, in retribution for attacks by the Dutch resistance against German troops. When reading out his verdict, the presiding judge said that all three killings had been carried out on a "totally random basis" and the risk to Boere while carrying out his crimes was "zero".
Boere was born near Achen to a Dutch father and German mother, but grew up in the Netherlands. He was a member of a SS-Sonderkommando, one of the special Nazi killing squads responsible for butchering hundreds of thousands of people.
He had admitted to the murders, but claimed that he was merely following orders which he had to obey.
Convicted yet free for decades
Boere was 18 when he joined the SS, shortly after the Germans invaded the Netherlands. He admitted the killings to the Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the end of World War II, but managed to escape from his camp and returned to Germany, where he has been living every since.
In 1949, a tribunal in Amsterdam sentenced him to death in his absence. The sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.
A Dutch extradition request was turned down by the West German government three decades later, after a court ruled that there was a possibility Boere had German citizenship. German law prevents extradition of German nationals for war crimes.
The Netherlands further requested that Boere serve his sentence in Germany. Finally, a German appeals court ruled in 2007 that Boere’s Dutch trial in 1949 was unfair as he was absent during the process.
Boere was then indicted in April 2008, but a court then said he was unfit to stand trial because of health problems. The decision was eventually overruled on appeal last July.
Appeal to European Court of Human Rights?
When appealing Boere’s case at the federal court, his lawyers contended that the case must automatically go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, based on the fact that he had been tried twice for the same crime.
International criminal law expert Geert-Jan Knoops said that Boere is allowed to bring his case to the ECHR within the next six months. However, Boere’s claim that the case must go to Strasbourg was rejected by the federal court.
“As a matter of fact, Boere went to trial again because the one in 1949 was considered unfair as he was not present during the trial and was thus unable to defend himself,” Knoops said in Amsterdam.
He further said that Boere’s chances of victory at the ECHR are “relatively slim,” and pointed out that filing a case in Strasbourg would not delay the execution of his sentence in Germany.
Knoops further expects that Boere would appeal to the German Public Prosecution office for leniency in his sentencing given his age and health conditions.
Similar Nazi convict case ongoing
Meanwhile, the Dutch government is currently trying to extradite an 88-year-old Dutch-born convicted Nazi criminal who has been living in Germany for over sixty years. Last month, The Hague issued an arrest warrant seeking the extradition of Former SS soldier Klaas Carel Faber.
Faber was jailed for killing Jewish prisoners at a Nazi transit camp. Faber was sentenced to death by a Dutch court in 1947 for murdering 22 Jews, although this was later commuted to life imprisonment.
He escaped from a Dutch prison in 1952, fleeing to Germany where he obtained German citizenship.
The European arrest warrant is a preliminary step before a formal extradition request is filed with the German authorities, the Dutch public prosecutor’s office said.
Faber, who is high on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of wanted Nazis, served in a special SS unit in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands which killed Dutch civilians deemed "anti-German" as reprisals for resistance attacks.
Faber's arrest has been hindered by the same German law which made it possible for Boere to not be extradited from Germany.