AACHEN, Germany (AP) — An accomplice of a former member of the Nazi SS who is on trial for murdering Dutch civilians during World War II testified Friday that hit squad men were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t follow orders.
Dutchman Jacobus Petrus Besteman testified Friday to a German court by video link from the Netherlands in the trial against Heinrich Boere, who is charged with three counts of murder.
“All those who participated were afraid of not following an order. That was very dangerous,” Besteman told the Aachen state court. He said, however, that he wasn’t aware that anyone had ever been punished.
The 88-year-old Boere admitted in court last month that he was involved in the 1944 killing of three Dutch civilians as a member of a Waffen SS hit squad.
Besteman, also 88, acknowledged that he and Boere were the only people present at the killing of pharmacist Fritz Hubert Ernst Bicknese in the Dutch town of Breda.
Boere has said he and Besteman both fired the fatal shots — but Besteman denied that.
“I had no weapon. Never,” he said. Asked whether Boere fired on the pharmacist, he said he hadn’t seen a weapon.
Boere’s defense says he was just following orders and should be acquitted. He faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted on three counts of murder.
Defense lawyer Gordon Christiansen said after the hearing that Boere wasn’t denying the killing, but added that Besteman’s testimony clearly showed that all concerned greatly feared the consequences of disobeying the Nazis’ orders.
Prosecutor Ulrich Maass questioned that assertion. He said Besteman, the only living witness, answered most questions by saying he didn’t know the answer.
Besteman was the last scheduled witness at the trial, which started in October.
Boere has told the court that his superiors said the victims were to be killed in revenge for attacks by the Dutch resistance.
He already admitted the three killings to Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the war but managed to escape from his POW camp and eventually return to Germany.
He was sentenced to death in absentia in the Netherlands in 1949 — later commuted to life imprisonment — but has managed to avoid jail so far.
Besteman was sentenced to death on unrelated charges after the war, later his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released from jail after 13 years in 1958.
The prosecution has painted Boere as a willing member of the fanatical Waffen SS, which he joined shortly after the Nazis had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands in 1940.
Boere was born in Eschweiler on the outskirts of Aachen, where he lives today. The son of a Dutch man and a German woman, he moved to the Netherlands when he was an infant.
After volunteering for the SS, he fought on the Russian front, and then ended up back in the Netherlands as part of “Silbertanne” — a unit of largely Dutch SS volunteers responsible for reprisal killings of their countrymen.