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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK


Life for war criminal

Sawoniuk: Under Scotland Yard investigation since 1994

Anthony Sawoniuk, a 78-year-old former railway worker, has been sentenced to life after being found guilty of murdering two Jews in the UK's first full Nazi war crimes trial.

The judge said he had been convicted on "clear evidence".

The BBC's Jon Silverman: "The Old Bailey is never again likely to hear this sort of harrowing evidence of the Holocaust"
The jury found him guilty of killing a Jewish woman in September 1942.

After several more hours of deliberations, they found him guilty by a majority verdict of 10 to one on a second charge of murdering another unnamed Jewish woman.

During sentencing, Sawoniuk, who is very frail and hard of hearing, showed little reaction and simply shook his head slightly. Mr Justice Potts had asked him to come forward from where he was sitting at the back of the court so he could hear the sentence.

The judge told him: "I want to say this to you. No words of mine can add anything of value to those words already written and spoken about the events in which you played a part.

Jon Silverman reports on the first and almost certainly last Nazi war crimes conviction in Britain
"I only say this - that although you held a lowly rank in the hierarchy of those involved in the liquidation of Jews in eastern Europe, to the Jews of Domachevo, it must have seemed otherwise."

Both charges related to incidents when Sawoniuk was accused of murdering a number of Jews. But English law does not allow the charging of more than one person on one count.

Harrowing eyewitness evidence

The Old Bailey jury had heard harrowing evidence from eye-witnesses. One man said he was forced to watch Sawoniuk command three Jews - two men and a woman - to strip beside an open grave.

He then shot them in the head and pushed their bodies into the grave with his knee. The witness, Alexander Baglay, who was 13 at the time was then forced to cover the pit with earth.

On the second count of murder, Fedor Zan said he saw Sawoniuk mow down 15 Jews with a submachine gun and push their bodies into an open grave.

Sawoniuk is expected to serve his sentence either in a prison hospital or a special unit for elderly prisoners set up at Kingston, Portsmouth.

Charges denied

The retired British Rail worker protested his innocence throughout the eight-week trial. He was originally subject to four charges of killing Jews in the village of Domachevo in Nazi-occupied Belarus.

Two charges of murdering Jewish men were dropped by the judge because of flaws in the evidence.

[ image: The Jewish cemetery near the massacre site]
The Jewish cemetery near the massacre site
The prosecution said Sawoniuk had led "search-and-kill" police squads to hunt down Jews trying to escape after nearly 3,000 were massacred in Domachevo in September, 1942.

Sawoniuk, who came to the UK after the war, was denied bail and was remanded in custody in a prison hospital during the trial. The judge told the jury to disregard this fact, and warned them not to reach an "emotional verdict".

But Sawoniuk said his conscience was clear.

"I killed no one. I would not dream of doing it. I am not a monster - I am an ordinary working class poor man," he said.

'Everyone telling lies'

He claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy and said prosecution witnesses from his hometown of Domachevo had come to the UK to tell lies about him on the orders of the KGB.

Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson: "Nobody could describe this as a show trial"
The former ticket collector, from Bermondsey, south London, repeatedly claimed he had been friends with the Jews of Domachevo and said the police had not harmed them. He said the killings had all been carried out by the Germans.

"Everyone is telling lies. These devils came here with their lies against me," he said.

Sawoniuk said he had fought partisans while in the police force in Domachevo, but denied any Jews were killed by the police.

[ image: The jury : Visiting the scene of the crime in Belarus]
The jury : Visiting the scene of the crime in Belarus
The jury travelled to the village of Domachevo in western Belarus where 3,000 Jews were murdered in 1942.

Prosecution witness Fedor Zan, 75, took the jurors to a forest near the village where he recalled seeing Sawoniuk murder a group of women.

The trial created a number of legal precedents:

  • It was the first time a British jury had travelled abroad to see the scene of a crime.

  • Sawoniuk became the first UK citizen accused of war crimes to conduct his own defence in a criminal court.

  • The trial depended largely on the evidence of only one eyewitness. It was this fact which contributed to the dropping of two of the charges.
Potential suspect in 1988

Sawoniuk first came to the attention of UK war crimes investigators in 1988 when his name was on a list of potential suspects handed to UK authorities by the Soviet Government.

He was one of 376 suspects investigated under the 1991 War Crimes Act.

But it was not until 1994 that Scotland Yard began an inquiry into his wartime activities. He was first interviewed by police in April 1996 and was charged in September 1997.

The defence are expected to appeal against the conviction.

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