German Court Lets Admitted Nazi Murderer Go Free

Ex-Nazi Guilty in Wartime Murders,” the New York Times headline ran. “Heinrich Boere, Ex-Nazi SS Member, Convicted For WWII Murders” ran the headline of the AP article on the Huffington Post. The Times of London (in an otherwise informative article, it must be said) even chose to run with “SS killer Heinrich Boere finally jailed at 88.” But the headlines could just as well have run “German Court Lets Admitted Nazi Murderer Go Free.”

For that is, in fact, what happened in a courtroom in Aachen last Tuesday. The court convicted Boere, who has made no secret of his participation in the murders in question, and then let him go free. The New York Times article fails even to mention this fact. The AP does eventually get around to mentioning it, but not before noting, “Though sentenced to death in absentia in the Netherlands in 1949, later commuted to life imprisonment, Boere has managed to avoid jail until now” -- as if he was not, in fact, continuing to avoid jail!

Theoretically, the Aachen court sentenced Boere to life imprisonment. But in reality, it appears that Boere’s chances of living out his remaining years as a free man are very good indeed. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explains this curious fact as follows:

It remains an open question whether Boere will in fact have to go to jail one day, not only because of the announced appeal of the judgment, but also due to the state of his health. Until his ability to withstand jail time [Haftfähigkeit] has been clarified, Boere will remain a free man, since in the case of a resident of a nursing home [such as Boere] there is no risk of flight or tampering with evidence. The court indicated that years could pass before the sentence is applied.

Boere thus becomes the second Nazi-era war criminal to be convicted by a German court to much international fanfare in recent months -- and then to walk out of the courtroom a free man. The first was the mountain division commander Josef Scheungraber, who was found guilty of murder for his role in the deaths of ten Italian civilians in the so-called Falzano di Cortona massacre. (On the Scheungraber case, see my PJM report here.)

Ulrich Maaß is the public prosecutor who asked for the life sentence for Heinrich Boere. But even he appears to accept as given that Boere will never in fact go to jail. Thus, the Germany news magazine Focus reports:

Maaß does not, however, believe that Boere, who still lives in a nursing home in the town of Eschweiler near Aachen, will really have to serve prison time. In the first place, doctors will have to declare him capable of withstanding jail time. According to Maaß, even if this happened, he would certainly not be sent to a normal prison, but at most to a health care facility for convicts [Justizkrankenhaus].

Focus reporter Tim Pröse, moreover, recounts some curious details of a visit he paid to Boere at his Eschweiler nursing home in June 2008:

Then as now, Boere gave the impression of being robust and lucid. He seemed to be recuperating well in the nursing home. Even he could not say what exactly was wrong with him. He talked about an irregular heartbeat and water in the lungs. “But they want to treat me here, they want me to reach one hundred,” he said.

Pröse also notes that Boere attempted to make a joke, referring to a portable-EKG device hanging over his belly as “my pistol holder.” Boere has admitted to shooting three Dutch civilians with a pistol as part of a series of “reprisal killings” undertaken by the German occupation authorities in the Netherlands in 1944.  “Yeah, I got rid of them,” he told Pröse.