New book describes England’s only trial of a Nazi war criminal who was charged with only four counts of murder — 50 years later.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
A new book has just come out describing a one-time event in British legal history – the 1999 trial of a Nazi collaborator who, although allegedly a mass murderer, was never tried for genocide but merely for four counts of murder.
The book, “The Ticket Collector from Belarus, An Extraordinary True Story of Britain’s Only War Crimes Trial,” was written by Mike Anderson and Neil Hanson. It describes how Andrei (Anthony) “Andrushka” Sawoniuk was tracked down in England half a century after World War II and the trial itself, including emotional court testimonies given by the defendant, who took the stand against his own lawyers’ advice, and the main witness for the prosecution, a Jewish survivor who was his childhood friend.
Sawoniuk was born 1921 in the almost-entirely Jewish town of Domachevo in what was then Poland (and subsequently, Belarus). He grew up very poor, with no father, and left school at age 14. Soon after, his mother died, and he subsisted by doing odd jobs for the Jewish townspeople.
He was 20 when Germany invaded the Russian-occupied area. A bully and a petty criminal, he joined the Nazi-organized police force, his first real job.
According to eyewitnesses, Sawoniuk was a sadistic murderer who enjoyed killing Jews by shooting them in groups into pits dug outside the town, or in a more personal way when roaming the local ghetto. He was so trusted by the Nazis that they eventually left him in charge of liquidation operations when the SS left.
In one case, he was said to have murdered 54 children in an orphanage in a nearby village.
In mid-1944, he understood that the Germans would lose the war and fled. First, he worked as a laborer for the German army, but then switched sides and used his Polish birth certificate to enlist in the Polish Free Forces. Although he never fought at the front – he was considered ‘unreliable’ and ‘insubordinate’ – his service allowed him entry into England in 1946, where he worked for British Rail for decades as a porter and then a ticket agent, retiring in 1986.
What eventually led to his discovery was the government’s passing of the War Crimes Act in 1991. The Soviet Union passed on his name to the unit in charge of investigating suspects but spelled it differently, and it took years before his proper name was found in the German archives. When a British detective reached his hometown, he had no problem finding people who even 50 years later remembered Sawoniuk well.
“He’s killed more people than you’ve got hairs on your head,” one person told him.
Since British law did not allow for indictments on general war crimes, despite the name of the Act, Sawoniuk was put on trial in 1999 on four specific counts of murder instead of being charged with genocide or crimes against humanity. His primary accuser was a survivor named Ben-Zion Blustein, who had grown up with him and gave direct, eye-witness testimony.
Sawoniuk’s own words were what damned him at the end, the book said. He shouted that he had been framed, contradicted himself, and told obvious lies that were easily disproven by historical records and Domachevo residents, who came to testify for the prosecution.
He was eventually convicted on two of the four counts, sentenced to life in prison, and died in jail six years later at age 84.