Siert Bruins, a 92-year-old man who served in Adolf Hitler’s elite group the Waffen-SS, faces trial in Germany over the killing of a Dutch resistance fighter in 1944.
The trial, taking place in Hagen state court in western Germany, accuses the former Nazi border guard of driving resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema to an isolated industrial area and shooting him in the back, having told him to “go take a leak”.
The incident, which Bruins has admitted to having witnessed but denies any involvement in, took place in the town of Appingedam, in the northern Netherlands, during the final months of World War II. In a televised interview with German television channel Das Erste, Bruins says he was present at the murder of Dijkema but says another soldier, now dead, pulled the trigger.
The arraignment of Bruins is the latest in a series of trials attempting to prosecute elderly former Nazis who previously slipped through a legal system that focused on more senior level officers. In June 2013 Hans Lipschis, a 93-year-old suspected of being a former guard at Auschwitz concentration camp, was arrested in southern Germany on suspicion of accessory to murder, while in June the 98-year-old Hungarian Laszlo Csatary was charged for helping to deport Jews to Auschwitz. He died last month in Hungary while awaiting trial.
The movement was given further steam in July when the Simon Wiesenthal Centre launched "Operation Last Chance II", a campaign to root out surviving Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice before they die. The campaign includes putting up posters in cities to enlist the help of the public in finding suspects and offers reward of up to €25,000 (£21,200). A statement on the campaign’s website says: “Old age should not afford immunity to murderers”.
Meanwhile, in Hagen, Siert Bruins’ trial is slowly proceeding. Bruins, though found fit to serve trial, has had his court sessions limited to three hours a day due to his advanced age.
Bruins, who served seven years in jail during the 1980s for his role in the murder of two Dutch Jews in 1945, could face a life sentence if found guilty of the murder of Dijkema.
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