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SS man goes on trial for WWII murders

Wheelchair-bound man faces life term for killing three civilians in Netherlands

A former member of the Waffen SS went on trial yesterday on three counts of murder for the killings of three civilians in the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Heinrich Boere, 88, admitted to the killings to Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the war, but has managed to avoid prosecution for decades – first escaping from the Netherlands before he could be brought to trial, then successfully eluding the courts in Germany.

Outside the Aachen court building in Germany, a handful of protesters held up a pair of black banners that read "No peace for Nazi criminals", and "Don't forgive, Don't forget". Just before proceedings opened, cries of "Nazis get out! No fascists here!" broke out in the courtroom as two skinheads in black clothes took seats at the back.

Teun de Groot, the son of one of Mr Boere's victims and a co-plaintiff, said to reporters before the trial began: "I'm in a good mood and I feel like it will go to a good result."

Judges brought an end to the opening session after just one-and-a-half hours, saying that they needed time to consider a motion from the defence to have the prosecutor removed from the case. Defence attorneys argued that Ulrich Maas made statements to the press that called into question his objectivity. The court said that it would need until Monday to reach a conclusion.

Mr Boere, who attended the trial in a wheelchair, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the 1944 killings of a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian while part of an SS death squad codenamed Silbertanne, or "Silver Pine".

The son of a Dutch man and German woman, Mr Boere was 18 when he joined the SS at the end of 1940, only months after German forces had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands.

After fighting on the Russian front, he ended up back in Holland as part of Silbertanne – a unit consisting largely of Dutch SS volunteers like himself tasked with reprisal killings of their countrymen for resistance attacks on collaborators.

In statements after the war, which are expected to form the basis for the prosecution's case, Mr Boere detailed the killings almost shot by shot. His attorneys have declined to say how they will try to counter the confession, but could argue that their client was simply following orders.

In a 2007 interview with the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, Mr Boere attempted to justify the killings, saying he was sorry for what he had done but that it was "another time, with different rules".