- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

BERLIN (AP) - A 104-year-old Dutch-born entertainer who made his name performing in Hitler’s Germany is trying to clear his name of allegations he sang for Nazi guards at the Dachau concentration camp.

Johannes Heesters admits that he visited the notorious camp outside Munich in 1941, but is suing in a civil court in Berlin on Thursday to have a German author and documentary maker retract statements that he entertained the SS troops while there.

“It never happened,” Heesters said in a lengthy statement explaining his connections to Nazi-era Germany on his Web site.

But the author, Volker Kuehn, said he has no intention of taking back the allegation, which he regards as “historical fact.”

Kuehn bases his information on a 1990 interview with former Dachau inmate Viktor Matejka, a political prisoner who became Vienna’s Councilor for Cultural Affairs after the war.

Kuehn said the topic came up when he was talking with Matejka for a documentary he was making on how prisoners covertly organized their own entertainment inside the concentration camps to help keep their morale up.

He said he remembers asking Matejka, who is now dead, how he specifically knew that Heesters sang for the SS.

“He said: ‘Well, I pulled the curtain for him, I was there, I saw him singing, I saw him acting and performing for the SS,’” Kuehn recalled.

Kuehn said that he asked Matejka to repeat the statement on camera, and he did. Kuehn did not use the clip for the documentary he was working on at the time because it was off-topic, but has used it subsequently several times and said he also plans to present it as his main defense before the court.

“We know he was there, he says he was there, if he sang there or not is really not so important but he’s challenging this statement, so I will give it to the judge and I think he will have no recourse but to reject this charge,” Kuehn said.

Heesters’ attorney, Gunter Fette, said Matejka gave the interview as an elderly man and had a “false memory” of the event 50 years in the past.

Fette said his client would contest the idea that his musical ensemble was “invited” to Dachau _ saying the visit could not be avoided _ and stick to his contention that he had not performed. He said Heesters’ case is bolstered by a photo album kept by an SS man that recently surfaced, which shows photos of Heesters’ visit _ but not one shows him performing.

“It will have to be up to the court to decide,” Fette said.

Heesters is asking that Kuehn retract his statements and pledge not to repeat them. It was not clear when a verdict might be returned, Fette said.

Born Dec. 5, 1903, in Amersfoort, Netherlands, Heesters moved to Germany in 1935, two years after the Nazis came to power. He was never accused of being a propagandist or anything other than an actor who was willing to perform for the Nazis, however, and the Allies allowed him to continue his career after the war.

But in his native country _ which was occupied by Germany for most of the war _ he is viewed by some as irredeemable.

In February, when he took the stage in the Netherlands for the first time in four decades, several dozen people protested outside the theater in Amersfoort.

Heesters’ previous attempt to perform in the Netherlands, in 1964, saw him booed off the stage in Amsterdam when he tried to appear as Nazi-hating Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”

Heesters said it gave him a “heavy heart” to know that he was “not wanted in my homeland.”

“Sure, I wanted to make my career and I remember well at the time how many people in the Netherlands were proud that I made a career in the huge neighboring country,” Heesters wrote. “But apart from my career _ and the fact that, through no fault of my own, Adolf Hitler was one of the fans of my art _ what have I done?”

Heesters, who has Austrian citizenship and lives in Bavaria, performs nightly in Hamburg and will not attend the hearing, Fette said.

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