People with short memories and casual tolerance of atrocities may wonder why efforts continue to settle cases such as the one involving an 86-year-old man who acted as a hit man for a Nazi death squad that executed Dutch civilians during World War II.
A German prosecutor says he has charged Heinrich Boere with the 1944 murders of three men as a member of a Waffen SS death squad. Boere in 1949 was convicted of the three murders and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, but so far Boere has managed to avoid jail time. The Dutch have every right to demand justice.
Boere saw combat duty in Russia with the Germans, then was sent to join a death squad composed mostly of Dutch volunteers assigned to kill fellow countrymen in reprisal for attacks by the anti-Nazi resistance. The unit is suspected of killing at least 54 persons, but Boere has admitted to taking part in only three. New charges have been filed in Aachen, a city in western Germany on the Netherlands border.
After all these years and with the defendant 86 years old, some may wonder why the case still is being pursued. Anyone familiar with the torturous experiences for the Dutch during the Nazi occupation, especially during the 1944 Winter of Hunger, can readily understand the intensity of those seeking redress.
It was in 1944, the last full year of the war, that Allied forces scheduled an invasion to free the Netherlands. Dutch resistance forces made arrangements to help but in the process lost much of their undercover protection. When British forces failed to carry out their assignment, the Nazis kept control and began a systematic elimination of any resisters they could find. It was a violent bloodbath with death squad people such as Boere in charge.
Eventually, the Nazis decided to punish the entire population for the role of the resistance by cutting off supplies of food, clothing and shelter in the winter of 1944. Thousands of Dutch citizens died of starvation and exposure.
One cannot blame any Dutch or their descendants for zealously striving to bring to justice those responsible, regardless of age, illness and infirmity. Boere, now claiming medical problems, is among more than 1,000 cases worldwide which the Nazi-tracking Simon Wiesenthal Center says were still open as of April 1, 2007.
Not all the cases will be closed, but whenever possible, the Boeres of the world should be held accountable for their inhumane behavior and made to pay as high a price as the law allows.