Controversial operetta singer Heesters back in the Netherlands after 45 years

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Johannes Heesters

For the first time in over 45 years, Dutch operetta singer Johannes Heesters sings in his home town of Amersfoort today. Heesters is, at age 104, the oldest performing artist in the world. Despite his advanced age, he is still active in Germany and Austria both on stage and television.

Heesters has been controversial since he moved to Germany in the 1930s. He continued to perform in Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and was accused of paying a visit to perform at the Dachau concentration camp. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler attended his shows more than once.

Hostile attitudes toward Heesters did not ebb after the end of the war. In 1963 he was cast in a Dutch production of The Sound of Music as Captain von Trapp, but the Dutch audience boycotted the show. He went back to Germany, but is still a Dutch citizen.

Heesters' biggest wish was to perform in Amersfoort once again. His past is however not forgotten, and there will be organised protest actions against Heesters in Amersfoort before, during and after his show. For security reasons the Amersfoort police will check visitors to the concert for dubious objects.

Hein van Kasbergen, spokesman for the committee "Heesters Raus" ("Heesters, get out!" in German) says: "Heesters is like the inventor of the A-bomb: he has blood on his hands and with his shows he has extended the war.". "He kept singing for the Nazi regime, for the Wehrmacht, and he earned millions," said Piet Schouten, another representative of the committee. "We have a problem with that on behalf of all the victims.".

According to researcher David Barnouw of Dutch Institute for War Documentation, Heesters was not a major war criminal, and there is no proof that he performed in the Dachau camp. "It is nonsense to suggest that there was a warm relationship between Heesters and Adolf Hitler," says Barnouw.