Netherlands Pardons Nazi War Criminals After 43 Years in Jail
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Dutch legislators Friday pardoned two Nazi war criminals, one of whom may have sent Anne Frank to the death camp, and let them go home to their families in West Germany.
Franz Fischer and Ferdinand aus der Fuenten were released after 43 years in prison for their parts in the Holocaust deaths of more than 10,000 Dutch Jews.
The Parliament vote to free Fischer, 87, and aus der Fuenten, 79, ended two days of emotional debate. Opponents of the pardon said they should have stayed in jail for the rest of their lives.
Fischer headed a local branch of the Nazi Security Service and was held responsible for the deporting 13,000 Jews to death camps. Aus der Fuenten was an SS administrator who oversaw mass roundups of Jews in the Netherlands.
″We saw this coming, but still it hit us very hard,″ said prominent Rabbi Avraham Soetendorp.
He said aus der Fuenten ″may have been indirectly responsible″ for sending Anne Frank to a concentration camp. The girl and her family lived in an Amsterdam attic for two years before they were discovered and sent to concentration camps.
Her poignant work, ″The Diary of Anne Frank,″ perhaps the most famous personal document to come out of the Holocaust, was published in 1947 and was turned into a play and movie. She died of pneumonia in 1945 at age 15 in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Fischer and aus der Fuenten were expelled from the Netherlands and handed over to West German authorities hours after Parliament approved the pardon, according to the Justice Ministry.
Witnesses outside the prison in southern Breda city, where they were held, saw an ambulance and unmarked prison wagon drive away under police escort.
West Germany’s ARD television network said the two arrived in the country late Friday. The TV showed two frail-looking, gray-haired men step from an ambulance.
Dutch newspapers have reported that relatives of the two men said they were planning to spend their old age quietly with their families.
West German President Richard von Weizsaecker praised the decision to pardon the men, calling it a humanitarian act. A government spokesman said they would be allowed to settle in West Germany.
″They are German and they have the right as Germans to enter the country,″ said government spokesman Ulrich Strempel.
Aus der Fuenten’s wife, Maria, lives in an apartment in a gray building in a working-class neighborhood in Duisburg, about 36 miles from the Dutch border. Ute Dehnen, who lives across the street, told The Associated Press: ″I’ve never spoken to her as a matter of principle. I would have divorced that man and I can’t understand why any woman wouldn’t.″
Her husband, Werner, said: ″I can’t help but think of the victims’ families and the pain this man caused.″
The Dutch Parliament approved the government decision by voting against a Labor opposition motion to keep the two jailed. The vote was 85-55.
Inneke Haas Berger, a center-left member of Parliament and leading opponent of the release, said: ″Time hasn’t made things easier. It’s just made the pain greater.″
But Justice Minister Frits Korthals Altes told lawmakers: ″Let’s rid our society of the miserable remainder of the two war criminals’ lives.″
They had become ″symbols (of Nazi evil) and an unending source of sorrow and strife″ to victims of the war, he said.
Outside Parliament, several demonstrators waved placards, one demanding, ″Don’t make the victims suffer further 3/8 Never release the henchmen 3/8″
Only 6,000 of the 150,000 Jews who lived in Holland before the war survived the Nazi death camps.
Fischer headed a local branch of the Nazi Security Service and was held responsible for the deportating 13,000 Jews to death camps. Aus der Fuenten was an SS administrator who oversaw mass roundups of Jews in the Netherlands.
Fischer and aus der Fuenten were sentenced to death in 1950. Their sentences later were commuted to life imprisonment.
″It would have been better in cases like these if the death penalty ... had ultimately been executed,″ said Korhals Altes.
Premier Ruud Lubbers told reporters that the decision followed months of secret talks with former resistance figures and Holocaust survivors.
Most argued for their release, Lubbers said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote in a letter to Lubbers, ’It is unconscionable to release such notorious individuals, who perpetrated heinous crimes and caused suffering to so many thousands.″
The center is devoted to the search for Nazi war criminals. It is named after the famed Nazi hunter.