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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 22:35 GMT


Jewish victims were 'murdered with enthusiasm'

A memorial to the Jews killed at Domachevo

A jury at the Old Bailey has heard how a retired railway worker from south London was once a Nazi policeman who 'enthusiastically' murdered Jews.

Anthony Sawoniuk, 77, denies four charges of murdering two Jewish men and two Jewish women in his home town of Domachevo in German-occupied Belorussia in 1942.

[ image: Sawoniuk: Denies murder]
Sawoniuk: Denies murder
But John Nutting, QC, prosecuting in Britain's first war crimes trial, said that Sawoniuk "not only was prepared to do the Nazi bidding, but carried out their genocidal policy with enthusiasm."

Mr Nutting said the Polish-born Sawoniuk, then aged 20, was one of the first volunteers in the local police set up by the Nazis after they took Domachevo in 1941.

He became a senior officer and left the town with the retreating German army in July 1944.

The court heard how the town's 3,000-strong Jewish population was hounded into a ghetto surrounded by wire gates and prevented from leaving on pain of death.

In September 1942, on the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, 2,900 of them were marched along the "road of death" to sand hills outside the town and shot dead by machine gun fire.

[ image: Ghetto liqudiation: 3,000 Jews were killed]
Ghetto liqudiation: 3,000 Jews were killed
Mr Nutting said there was no evidence that Sawoniuk - now a stocky, white-haired man who walks with a stick - had participated in the massacre that day.

But he alleged that Sawoniuk played a prominent part in the rounding up and murder of Jews who had fled in anticipation of the bloodshed.

Mr Nutting told the jury: "On each count, say the Crown, this defendant executed Jewish men and women whose only offence was to be Jewish, and who had escaped the main massacre of several thousand Jews when the ghetto in Domachevo was liquidated.

"We say the evidence that Jews were murdered by the defendant is irresistible. Either because he was seen to shoot or was seen taking Jews to a place where they were eventually shot and returned without them - or because he boasted about the fate of the victim afterwards."

[ image: Memorial: Jews who fled were hunted down]
Memorial: Jews who fled were hunted down
One witness would relate how he saw Sawoniuk shooting dead 15 Jewish women. Sawoniuk is also alleged to have beaten a Jewish woman so hard she dropped the baby she was carrying.

Another witness said Sawoniuk set fire to the beard of an aged Jew and then stabbed him. A fourth says he was told to dig graves for two Jews after watching Sawoniuk shoot them.

Acknowledging the case rested on the question of identity, Mr Nutting said: "After such a long time, may the witnesses' memories be at fault or do they describe events which are literally unforgettable, events which once witnessed would remain with them for the rest of their lives?"

The judge, jury and lawyers for the prosecution and defence will visit Domachevo next week.

No English jury has ever left the country to visit an alleged crime scene before.

The only other man to be prosecuted under the British War Crimes Act, Szymon Serafinowicz, 86, died in August 1997, six months after a court ruled he was unfit to stand trial.

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