PERSPECTIVE : The Monster Who Almost Got Away; the Death of Anthony Sawoniuk Will Be Mourned by Few Alun Thorne Looks Back at Sawoniuk's Crimes and the Battle to Bring Other War Criminals to Justice

The Birmingham Post (England), November 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

PERSPECTIVE : The Monster Who Almost Got Away; the Death of Anthony Sawoniuk Will Be Mourned by Few Alun Thorne Looks Back at Sawoniuk's Crimes and the Battle to Bring Other War Criminals to Justice


Byline: Alun Thorne

Retired British Rail ticket collector Anthony Sawoniuk began two life sentences more than six years ago, haunted by the knowledge that he nearly got away with his horrific crimes.

He became the first and only person to be convicted in the UK of Nazi war crimes after being found guilty of two specimen charges of murdering Jews in his hometown of Domachevo, Belarus, in 1942, while serving in the local Nazi-backed police force.

This is despite the Home Office claiming it had identified 'several hundred' former members of the SS Galician Division who may be in the UK.

The Galician Division committed atrocities after the Germans overran south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine. But 7,100 of its members were allowed into Britain in 1947 after spending two years as prisoners of war in Italy.

Few were questioned about their wartime activities and successive British Governments refused requests by campaigners to investigate their backgrounds.

Earlier this year, however, Ministers revealed that a new review of cases is under way.

And police have been examining NHS records to find out how many of the suspected war criminals are alive.

Home Office Minister Andy Burnham said in a Commons written answer earlier this year: "The enquiries into the Galician Division continue. We have identified several hundred individuals in the UK who may still be alive. We are working with other government agencies to explore lines of enquiry to gather any available evidence."

However, the Home Office was unable to say why it had not yet established which suspects were alive, what evidence it held against them or what was being done to bring them to justice.

Indeed, the problems of bringing former Nazi collaborators to justice were borne out two years after Sawoniuk's conviction with the case of Anton Gecas, who as commander of the 3rd platoon of the 2nd company of the notorious 12th Lithuanian Police Auxiliary Battalion, was responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews, partisans and Communist Party members in Lithuania and Belarus in the last three months of 1941.

Gecas fled to the West and changed his name in the chaos that followed the fall of Berlin. He settled in Edinburgh where he worked as a mining engineer and opened a thriving bed and breakfast in the city's affluent Newington district. He escaped prosecution in the Soviet Union at the end of the war, evaded British controls on his arrival here and dodged the 1991 War Crimes Act as well. An arrest warrant was finally issued this year in February. It should have led to immediate extradition and trial in Lithuania, but the warrant was never served as Gecas has suffered two strokes and judges ruled he was too ill to be extradited.

Sawoniuk, however, was not so fortunate. As a Nazi collaborator, Sawoniuk had led "search and kill" police squads which hunted down escaping Jews.

He shot dead at least 18 men and women "whose only offence was to be Jewish", Sir John Nutting QC, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey trial in 1999. …

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