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The Netherlands Intends to Free Last Two Nazis Imprisoned There

The Dutch government said Tuesday it wants to release the last two Nazi war criminals imprisoned in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Cabinet, in a letter it sent Tuesday to the chairmen of the parliamentary parties, said it wants to release Ferdinand aus der Fuenten, 79, and Franz Fischer, 87, because their incarceration “can no longer be justified in a state based on the principle of law.”

The men are both Germans. Aus der Fuenten was commander of the German Security Police in Holland, headquartered in Amsterdam. Fisher held a similar post in The Hague.

Aus der Fuenten is remembered for his role in the deportation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp of a group of patients at a Jewish hospital for the mentally ill in Apeldoorn.

Aus der Fuenten called for 50 nurses to volunteer to accompany the patients and told the nurses they could either return at journey’s end or work “in a really modern mental home.”

Historian Martin Gilbert records Rudolf Vrba, who later escaped the camp, as recalling the arrivals of these patients 12 days after they left Holland. Vrba said, “Nearly half the (train’s) occupants were dead or dying, more than I had ever seen.” But, he added, “what appalled me was the state of the living.”

MEDICAL EXAM LAST SUMMER

Aus der Fuenten was captured in 1946. Fischer, a non-commissioned officer, was captured in 1945. They stood trial in 1949 and were originally sentenced to death, their sentences commuted later to life in prison.

They have been held in Koepel Prison, in the town of Breda, since 1952.

The issue of their release has been raised before. In 1972, the Dutch Cabinet wanted to release what was then the three remaining Nazi prisoners. The third was Joseph Kotaella, who later died in prison.

At that time, about 20 survivor groups of Jews and former resistance members testified at hearings, and Parliament, which had originally agreed to release them, reversed the decision.

Late last July, the Dutch Ministry of Justice reportedly acceded to a request by the prison director to call in three outside physicians to examine the two men.

Survivors registered concern that the medical evaluation would pronounce the men too ailing to be confined any longer.

At that time, 19 prominent people, including several former Cabinet ministers and jurists, wrote a letter advocating the prisoners’ release, also because their further detention would not be in agreement with Dutch law.

The signators included two Jews, Professor David Simon and Professor Ivo Samkalden, who is a former minister of justice.

But Vrba, reached Tuesday by telephone in Vancouver, British Columbia, called the pending release “misplaced mercy. I am against the freeing of any Nazi war criminals.”

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