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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 22:26 GMT


War crimes jury relives history

The slogan reads: "Fascist fiends executed best people in our town"

The jury in Britain's first war crimes trial has toured a Belarus town in sub-zero temperatures in an unprecedented court session on foreign soil.

Jon Silverman in Domachevo:"No jury can have found itself in such bizarre circumstances"
They trudged through the snow to examine the sites where alleged Nazi collaborator Anthony Sawoniuk is said to have killed Jews as they fled a horrific massacre.

The party spent the day at Domachevo, near the Polish border, where they relived the horrors of the Second World War.

[ image: Jewish cemetery in the woods near the village]
Jewish cemetery in the woods near the village
Trial judge, Mr Justice Humphrey Potts, who accompanied the 12 jurors, had earlier warned them the trip would be no holiday.

The group, which included prosecution and defence lawyers, started the day by visiting Mr Sawoniuk's former home - a modest blue and green wooden building on the outskirts of the town.

Mr Sawoniuk worked at the police station opposite the ghetto where Domachevo's Jews were driven in 1941 and kept behind barbed wire.

Path of death

Then came the "path of death'' - the haunting name for the route along which Jews were taken to sandpits and shot.

Among the forest clearings where the court stood was the spot where Mr Sawoniuk allegedly killed four Jews - the subject of the murder charges at the centre of his trial.

[ image: The house where Anthony Sawoniuk lived during WWII]
The house where Anthony Sawoniuk lived during WWII
Jurors were also shown the site where nearly 3,000 Jews were massacred in September 1942.

Mr Sawoniuk, 77, is not alleged to have taken part in the mass slaughter, but he is accused of shooting Jews in the following "search and kill" operation.

The court was accompanied by a key witness Fedor Zan who has already told the trial how he saw Mr Sawoniuk shoot 15 Jewish women with a machine gun after ordering them to stand in front of a common grave and undress.

Mr Sawoniuk, who is being tried under Britain's 1991 War Crimes Act, has denied charges of murdering two men and two women in 1942.

Wigs discarded

Before the trip, the jury of eight men and four women were given vaccinations and warned to take warm clothing.

[ image:  ]
"I am afraid this will not be a holiday," the judge told them. "This is not the time of year that people choose to go to where we are going."

Mr Justice Potts and the barristers also opted to swap their formal robes, gowns and wigs for more comfortable garb.

The judge told jurors to remember they are still part of an English court of law as they were taken around the locations.

They were not to think the judge, or lawyers, "stand-offish" if they did not go beyond formal courtesies as the ''formalism'' of the court had to be preserved.

Jurors were asked before their eventual selection to ensure they were prepared to travel to view the scene of such an unusual case.

Mr Justice Potts also told potential jurors that if they or their family had suffered from "German actions against Jewish or other races or religions" then they should not serve.

Belarus was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Several thousand Jews were killed in Demachevo after the Nazi invasion of 1941.

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