Dutch-born entertainer Johannes Heesters, who made his name performing in Adolf Hitler’s Germany and was dogged later in his long career by controversy over his Nazi-era past, died Saturday, his agent said. He was 108.
The tenor Heesters made his debut on the big stage at the Volksoper in Vienna, Austria in 1934. His career took off in Berlin where, starting in 1935 ― two years after the Nazis took power ― he became a crowd favorite at the Komische Oper and Admiralspalast.
He died in a clinic in the town of Starnberg in Bavaria where he lived, said his agency Ross.
Heesters’ popularity with the Nazis haunted him throughout his life, with protests accompanying his 2008 concert in the Netherlands, his first in decades in his home country.
During his previous concert in the Netherlands in 1963 the audience chased him off by giving him a Hitlerian salute when he appeared on stage.
Despite his popularity in the Third Reich, 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, when he took Austrian citizenship.
In December 2008, Heesters lost a court attempt to force a German author to retract allegations that he sang for SS troops there.
Heesters maintained he had been ordered to go to Dachau by the Nazis in an attempt to deceive the public about what was really going on there, but said the alleged performance “never happened.”
But Berlin author Volker Kuehn cited an interview with former Dachau inmate Viktor Matejka where the prisoner recalled “I pulled the curtain for him, I was there, I saw him singing.”
(From news reports )