While filming a segment for a Dutch public television program, Jelle Visser and Jan Ponsen used a hidden camera to record an interview with Heinrich Boere, a Dutch citizen who served as an assassin for the Waffen-SS. Boere subsequently filed a complaint against the two for violation of privacy. The journalists could have received as much as three years in jail had they been convicted.
Visser and Ponsen, who filmed Boere while he was a resident in a nursing home, called the verdict a victory for press freedom. Jelle Visser said she had been convinced all along that they were justified for employing a hidden camera to tape Boere’s admissions of guilt. “We thought it was a much bigger story that Heinrich Boere lived sixty years quietly after killing people, than what we did,” he asserted.
Boere, now 90, volunteered for the elite Nazi killing unit in 1941 when the Nazis invaded his native Holland. He is known to have murdered at least three Dutch civilians before escaping to Germany after the war. Although the Dutch government attempted to extradite him for years, they were unsuccessful, due to a decision by a West German court that Boere may technically be a German citizen, and thus not subject to extradition by Germany to face trial abroad. Boere evaded prosecution for over sixty years, but German authorities began preparing an indictment against him in 2008. He went on trial the next year and began serving a life sentence in 2010.
While in prison, Boere lodged his complaint against Visser and Ponsen. Despite the Nazi’s conviction as a war criminal, authorities in the German town of Eschweiler – where Boere lived – decided to proceed with a case against the journalists. “This case is bizarre and ridiculous,” Visser originally said in response to the charge. “The German authorities took more than sixty years to prosecute Boere, but they took less than two years to prosecute the reporters who filmed him at large.”
Visser and Ponsen received visible support at the trial from representatives of the journalist unions of the Netherlands and Germany, along with relatives of Boere’s wartime victims. One such person is the daughter of Fritz Bicknese, a father of twelve whom Boere executed in July of 1944. Also attending the trial were Anny Schröder-Schilte and her sister, whose father hid people being sought after by the Germans and their collaborators in his home. After Boere reported him to the Nazis, Mr. Schilte was sent to a German concentration camp, where he died.
“I was relieved to see the broadcast,” Anny Schröder- Schilte stated. “Finally, the person who killed my father had a face. I knew who had done it. I was twelve when it happened and it all happened very fast. It is unbelievable that he [Boere] dares file complaints after what he did.”
While Boere confessed in court to his crimes, he argued that – given his status as a member of an SS commando unit assigned to kill suspected members of the resistance or its supporters – he was in danger of being sent to a concentration camp if he refused.