Singer known as 'a favourite of Hitler' has libel case thrown out

At 105, Johannes Heesters would like to be known as the world's oldest performing singer. He is appearing in the operetta The White Horse Inn, and sang recently on Dutch TV. But an outing he made 67 years ago has come back to haunt him, ensuring that he will always be remembered mainly as a favourite of Adolf Hitler and a friend of Germany's Nazi regime.

Last week a German judge threw out a libel suit Heesters brought against Volker Kuehn, a German documentary maker and author who said he had performed for SS guards at Dachau concentration camp. The singer never denied visiting the camp in 1941 as a member of the Munich Gärtnerplatz Theatre Ensemble, and admits he was "gullible, credulous and naïve", but says: "I was ordered there, and I never performed." Kuehn cited the testimony of a former Dachau inmate, who has since died. He said he actually "pulled the curtain" on the stage when Heesters entertained the brutal camp overseers.

The judge ruled there were "certain indications of a performance" by Heesters, but "more than six decades later it is no longer possible to clarify whether a performance took place". The inconclusive judgement means Heesters is unlikely ever to clear his name, particularly in his native Netherlands, where he was booed off stage when he attempted a comeback concert earlier this year. Many Dutch people have never forgiven Heesters for making a life in Germany – a good part of it in Nazi Germany, which inflicted so much suffering on his homeland. He has spent a good part of his later life seeking to justify himself, without much success.

He has pointed out that he was cleared by de-Nazification officials in 1945 in Germany, adding that he was never anti-Semitic, never carried out a state order for the Nazi cause and was not involved in subjugating his countrymen. But he did perform for Hitler and other leading Nazis at the dictator's request, and was a highly-paid star of Ufa, the Goebbels-controlled movie industry, making films right up until his patron ended his life in a Berlin bunker. After the war Heesters settled in Bavaria, about as far as it is possible to go in Germany from the Dutch border, and became a familiar figure in the German and Austrian cultural scenes. But he was never welcome in the Netherlands.

The redemption cause suffered another setback earlier this month when he was asked by a Dutch journalist on a current affairs show what he thought of Hitler. "A good guy, that's what he was," he said. His second wife, the actress Simone Rethel, corrected him, saying that Hitler was the worst criminal in the world. "I know, doll," Heesters responded, "but he was nice to me."The singer subsequently apologised on German TV, admitting he had said "something stupid, something horrible. For that I ask for forgiveness." He may have a long wait, particularly in Holland.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
health
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine