TOPICS: A message to war criminals

Anthony Sawoniuk, a Nazi murderer, died in prison last Sunday, deeply unmourned. How sad that of the Nazis who found postwar haven in Britain, he was the only one to be tracked down, and convicted and sentenced.

Until 1991, when the British parliament finally passed the War Crimes Act, Nazis like Sawoniuk could live in the UK freely and without fear. No one knows how many found postwar refuge in the UK and were welcomed to work in our coal mines and other jobs needing manual labour. Sawoniuk arrived in Britain in 1946, posing as a Polish patriot, worked for 20 years for British Rail, and lived on a municipal housing estate; he was described as a “model of anonymity.’’ But his evil, racist role in persecution and murder symbolised the ultimate worst in the Hitler regime.

Sawoniuk was convicted of specimen charges of murdering Jews. His most hideous crime: that he had herded 16 Jewish women to the side of a grave, forced them to strip, mowed them down with a machine gun and kicked their bodies into the grave.

The good news was that Sawoniuk was jailed for the rest of his life. At last Britain had brought to justice a Nazi killer who had abused our national hospitality. At least those of us who battled in parliament for the passing of the War Crimes Act could show one resulting symbol of justice — honourable justice, never permitted by the Nazis to any of their innocent victims.

The sad news was that the justice to Sawoniuk was unique. Another Nazi called Anton Gecas, who had escaped to Britain, was charged with mass murders but fell ill and died with the dignity he had never allowed his Jewish victims. No one will ever know how many Nazi criminals found refuge in Britain — certainly thousands.

They had merged into our decent world and were never called to account. I am certain that some of these criminals are still living in Britain and hope that they may yet follow Sawoniuk into prison and beyond.

Watching Sawoniuk at his trial, I thought of the arrested Nazi murderers. My most frightening memory — how ordinary they were: workers, farmers or tradesmen, often surrounded by wives and family. Then I would look at my documents and photographs and see that they had destroyed innocent lives.

When I asked why they had behaved in such an inhuman way, they usually replied: “I was only obeying orders.’’ The creatures who marched my Lithuanian relatives into the woods, shot them and burned their bodies, had not even that pathetic and disgraceful excuse. Those killers had seized their victims’ property.

In 1948, the UK government closed down the army’s war-crimes group. We investigators, who were still hunting 10,000 murderers, were furious but the government was more interested in attacking the Soviets. Well, at least one depraved Nazi escapee has died

in prison; his ignominious end should send a message to other war criminals today. — The Guardian