As usual when it comes to Germany, of all the English-language reports the brief New York Times dispatch is the most wildly misleading and obfuscatory. In tones more befitting an organ of propaganda or a PR firm than a newspaper, the report begins: “As German authorities pursue suspected Nazi war criminals to the last, a court in Aachen convicted an 88-year-old former SS soldier on Tuesday….” But a more pertinent lead might have been, “As German authorities at last pursue a suspected Nazi war criminal….”
For the story of Heinrich Boere is that of a remarkable evasion of justice in which German authorities have been complicit for some sixty years now. Perhaps what is most astonishing about this story is the German judiciary’s citation of an edict dictated by none other than Adolf Hitler as grounds for refusing to extradite Boere to the Netherlands!
Boere was born in Eschweiler, Germany, of a Dutch father and a German mother. He moved with his family to the Netherlands as a child, and in late 1940, only months after the German invasion and occupation of the country, he volunteered to serve in the SS. In 1949, he was condemned to death by a Dutch court for his role in the “reprisal killings.” Already before the trial, however, he managed to escape from a prisoner of war camp. He would subsequently flee to Germany, returning to Eschweiler, where he has lived for the last sixty years under his own name. In 1980, after commuting Boere’s sentence to life imprisonment, Dutch judicial authorities requested his extradition. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung takes up the story at this point:
For two months, Boere was kept in detention. Then the District Court of Cologne, citing a 1943 edict of Hitler, came to the conclusion that the extradition of the former SS man was prohibited. Hitler had determined that “foreigners of German origin” would become German citizens when they voluntarily joined the SS. The Cologne court ruled that this provision could apply to Boere and hence that he could not be extradited. Thereafter, the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Dortmund did open an investigation against Boere, but it came to the conclusion that the killings were consistent with the principles of international law that obtained at the time.
The New York Times dutifully mentions Germany’s prosecution of John Demjanjuk in its brief report, as if the Boere judgment should reinforce the image of an ever vigilant Germany created by the Demjanjuk prosecution. (On the Demjanjuk case, see my PJM report here.) But it is in fact precisely the differences in the German judiciary’s treatment of Boere and Scheungraber, on the one hand, and Demjanjuk, on the other, that are so striking.
Scheungraber, the 91-year-old former commander of a German Wehrmacht mountain division that herded Italian civilians into a farm house and blew it up, has yet to have been made to serve a day in prison by the German courts. As noted above, Boere was briefly placed in preventive detention following the 1980 Dutch extradition request. Apart from this, the 88-year-old Dutch-German SS volunteer who has talked openly about his past as an SS hit man has yet to have been made to serve a day in prison by the German courts.
John Demjanjuk, on the other hand, was a Ukrainian prisoner of war who was conscripted into service by the Germans and who would almost certainly have died in German captivity had he refused. German prosecutors have yet to adduce any evidence of his concrete conduct at the concentration camp to which he was allegedly dispatched by his German captors. From all appearances, moreover, the 89-year-old Demjanjuk is in far worse health than the elderly German war criminals Scheungraber and Boere. Nonetheless, Demjanjuk has already spent nearly a year in Stadelheim prison in Munich. This is in addition to the more than seven years that he served in Israel for crimes that the Israeli Supreme Court would eventually conclude he did not commit.
“Let them bring me to trial,” Heinrich Boere confidently told Focus reporter Tim Pröse in June 2008. “Nothing at all will happen to me.” Heinrich Boere appears to have known what he was talking about.