Singer known as 'a favourite of Hitler' has libel case thrown out





BERLIN -- At 105, Johannes Heesters would like to be known as the world's oldest performing singer. He is appearing in the operetta The White Horse Inn, and sang recently on Dutch TV. But an outing he made 67 years ago has come back to haunt him, ensuring that he will always be remembered mainly as a favourite of Adolf Hitler and a friend of Germany's Nazi regime.

Last week a German judge threw out a libel suit Heesters brought against Volker Kuehn, a German documentary maker and author who said he had performed for SS guards at Dachau concentration camp. The singer never denied visiting the camp in 1941 as a member of the Munich Gärtnerplatz Theatre Ensemble, and admits he was "gullible, credulous and naïve", but says: "I was ordered there, and I never performed." Kuehn cited the testimony of a former Dachau inmate, who has since died. He said he actually "pulled the curtain" on the stage when Heesters entertained the brutal camp overseers.

The judge ruled there were "certain indications of a performance" by Heesters, but "more than six decades later it is no longer possible to clarify whether a performance took place". The inconclusive judgement means Heesters is unlikely ever to clear his name, particularly in his native Netherlands, where he was booed off stage when he attempted a comeback concert earlier this year. Many Dutch people have never forgiven Heesters for making a life in Germany – a good part of it in Nazi Germany, which inflicted so much suffering on his homeland. He has spent a good part of his later life seeking to justify himself, without much success.


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