BERLIN — 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 in a prison hospital while serving a life sentence, German justice officials said Monday. He was 92.
Boere died Sunday of natural causes in the facility in Froendenberg where he was being treated for dementia, North Rhine-Westphalia Justice Ministry spokesman Detlef Feige said. He had been the state's oldest prisoner.
Boere was on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals until his arrest in Germany and conviction in 2010 on three counts of murder.
"Late justice often sends a very powerful message regarding the importance of Nazi and Holocaust crimes," the center's top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. "It's a comforting thought to know that Boere ended his life in a prison hospital rather than as a free man.
During his six-month trial in Aachen, 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 sat through the proceedings in a wheelchair and was regularly monitored by a doctor. He spoke little, but told the court in a written statement he had no choice but to obey orders to carry out the killings.
"As a simple soldier, I learned to carry out orders," Boere testified. "And I knew that if I didn't carry out my orders I would be breaking my oath and would be shot myself."
But the presiding judge said there was no evidence Boere ever even tried to question his orders, and characterized the murders as hit-style slayings, with Boere and his accomplices dressed in civilian clothes and 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 to the end for his actions, saying that he had been proud to volunteer for the SS, and that times were different then.