AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – A 105-year-old singer whose past as a singer in Nazi Germany has dogged his reputation for decades is back in the spotlight after telling a Dutch television show Adolf Hitler was a “good guy.”
The Dutch-born Johan Heesters, who now has Austrian citizenship and is still popular and performing in Germany, was asked by a Dutch journalist what he thought of Hitler.
“A good guy, that’s what he was,” he said on the clip shown Thursday on the current affairs show “De Wereld Draait Door” (“The World Keeps Turning”).
His wife, Simone Rethel, immediately corrected him, saying that Hitler was the worst criminal in the world.
“I know, doll,” Heesters responded. “But he was nice to me.”
Rethel protested after the clip was aired, telling Dutch papers that he had been tricked into making the remarks, and that the program had cut out other parts of the interview where Heesters condemned the Nazi regime.
Heesters has made headlines twice in the past year for attempts to repair his reputation internationally, though he has remained popular in Germany throughout the war and after.
In February, he braved protests to perform in his native Netherlands for the first time in more than 40 years. In his previous attempt, in 1964, he was booed off the stage in Amsterdam when he tried to appear as Nazi-hating Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”
Last month, he filed a lawsuit to clear himself of allegations he sang for SS guards at the Dachau concentration camp. Heesters acknowledges he visited the camp outside Munich in 1941, but the suit will try to force a German author to retract statements that the singer entertained SS troops while there.
“It never happened,” Heesters said in a lengthy statement explaining his connections to Nazi-era Germany on his Web site.
The author, Volker Kuehn, maintained Heesters performed for the troops, basing the assertion on a 1990 interview he did with former Dachau inmate Viktor Matejka. Matejka died in 1993.
Heesters was never accused of being a propagandist or anything other than an artist willing to perform for the Nazis, 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 conflict—some view him as irredeemable.
Heesters said it gave him a “heavy heart” to know he was “not wanted in my homeland.”
“Sure, I wanted to build my career. But…through no fault of my own, Adolf Hitler was one of the fans of my art. What have I done?”