Germany: Former SS Officer to Stand Trial
A 92-year-old former SS officer will appear in court Monday in one of the last trials of its kind in Germany, accused of the murder of a Dutch resistance fighter in 1944.
Nearly 70 years after the events, Siert Bruins, a Dutch-born German national, will take the stand in the western German town of Hagen and could face a life sentence if found guilty.
The nonagenarian, who lives in Breckerfeld in the west of Germany, is accused, along with an accomplice who has since died, of murdering the Dutch resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema in September 1944 when the two men were stationed on the Dutch-German border.
Bruins is accused of shooting Dijkema four times in the back on the night of September 21-22, 1944, after the resistance fighter was taken prisoner. Dijkema died shortly afterwards.
Tracked down and interviewed on German television in July 2012, Bruins admitted to being present at the shooting, but claimed it was his accomplice who actually pulled the trigger.
"I was marching at the prisoner's side. Suddenly I heard a shot and he fell," he said.
Bruins was one of around 30,000 Dutch citizens who collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands. After the collapse of the Third Reich, he was condemned to death in his absence by the Netherlands in April 1949 for participating in three shootings, including that of Dijkema. The sentence was subsequently commuted to a life sentence.
But the Dutch authorities failed to arrest Bruins, who had fled to Germany. An extradition order in 1978 was turned down because Germany does not extradite its own nationals.
Bruins had in fact obtained German citizenship via the Fuehrer's Decree in May 1943 which conferred German nationality on all foreigners who worked for the Nazis. He was, however, detained by the German authorities and sentenced to a prison term of seven years in February 1980 for complicity in the murder of two Jewish brothers in Delfzijl in the Netherlands in April 1945.
Since the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946, around 106,000 German or Nazi soldiers have been accused of war crimes. About 13,000 have been found guilty and around half sentenced, according to the authority charged with clearing up Nazi crimes.
Bruins was one of the last presumed Nazi criminals detained by the German authorities, as was another former SS officer, Heinrich Boere, who was sentenced to life in March 2010 for the murder of three Dutch civilians.
Boere, who lived for more than 60 years in Germany without being caught, was, like Bruins, condemned to death by the Netherlands in 1949 but also never extradited.
The fact that it has taken so long for the cases to come to court shows the difficulty that Germany as a whole, and the political and justice authorities in particular, have had in facing up to the Nazi crimes until only recently.
Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first German leader to visit the Dachau concentration camp memorial, two weeks ahead of a historic gesture of reconciliation planned by German President Joachim Gauck at the French site of a Nazi atrocity during World War II.