Heinrich Boere, who murdered Dutch civilians as part of a Nazi Waffen SS hit squad during World War II but avoided justice for six decades, died of natural causes Sunday in a prison hospital in Froendenberg, Germany, while serving a life sentence, German justice officials said. He was 92.
Boere was on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals until his arrest and conviction in 2010 on three counts of murder.
"It's a comforting thought to know that Boere ended his life in a prison hospital rather than as a free man," the center's top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
During his six-month trial, Boere admitted killing three civilians as a member of the "Silbertanne," or "Silver Fir," hit squad — a unit of largely Dutch SS volunteers responsible for reprisal killings of countrymen who were considered anti-Nazi.
He told the court in a written statement that he had no choice but to obey orders to carry out the killings. The presiding judge said there was no evidence that Boere tried to question the orders and characterized the murders as hit-style slayings, with Boere and his accomplices surprising their victims at their homes or places of work late at night or early in the morning.
"These were murders that could hardly be outdone in terms of baseness and cowardice — beyond the respectability of any soldier," the judge said in his ruling. "The victims had no real chance." Boere remained unapologetic.
Born to a Dutch father and German mother in Eschweiler, Germany, Boere moved to the Netherlands when he was an infant. After the Germans had overrun the Netherlands, the 18-year-old Boere saw a recruiting poster for the Waffen SS, signed by Heinrich Himmler, that offered German citizenship after two years of service and the possibility of becoming a policeman. He showed up with 100 other Dutchmen and was one of 15 chosen.
"I was very proud," Boere told the court.
After fighting on the Russian front, Boere ended up back in the Netherlands as part of the Silbertanne hit squad. After the war, he managed to escape the Dutch prisoner-of-war camp where he was being held and returned to Germany.
He was sentenced to death in the Netherlands in 1949 — later commuted to life imprisonment — but the case always seemed to fall through the legal cracks. The Netherlands sought Boere's extradition, but a German court in 1983 refused on the grounds that he might have German citizenship. Germany at the time had no provision to extradite its own nationals.
A German court in Aachen ruled in 2007 that Boere could legally serve his Dutch sentence in Germany, but an appeals court in Cologne invalidated the 1949 conviction because Boere was not there to present a defense. A prosecutor in Dortmund reopened the case in 2008.
During his trial, Boere told the court he never married because of the possibility he would be pursued by authorities. "I always had to consider that my past might catch up with me," he said. "I didn't want to inflict that upon a woman."