Anderson and Hanson present a gripping tale of Great Britain’s only war crimes trial which, although attracting “saturation coverage” at the time, is no longer widely known.
“I might did, I might didn’t. I do not remembers it. It is 57 years ago.” Anthony Sawoniuk cut a sorry figure when he took the stand at the Old Bailey in 1999. Diabetic, deaf in one ear, partially blind and suffering from heart disease, the 77-year-old former British Rail ticket collector might have elicited sympathy under different circumstances. But his violent outbursts in and out of court told another story, as did the chilling testimony from a succession of elderly witnesses from Belarus who had absolutely no problem remembering what Sawoniuk had done while serving in the Schutzmannschaft or auxiliary police during the country’s Nazi occupation.
Sawonuik had been greatly feared in his native village of Domachevo where he routinely meted out savage beatings and participated enthusiastically in the massacre of thousands of men, women and children when the town’s Jewish ghetto was liquidated. But it was his execution of escapees in a vicious “search-and-kill” operation that was to be the primary focus of the trial. Some suggested he had killed more than two hundred people, but the tenuous nature of much of the evidence that had been so painstakingly gathered would ultimately render it inadmissible. Sawoniuk would face only four specimen charges, and two of those would later be dismissed by Justice Potts.