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Brit Court Sees Belarus Crims Site

February 16, 1999

DOMACHEVO, Belarus (AP) _ A British court convened on foreign soil for the first time Tuesday, judge and jury retracing the ``path of death″ to a snowy forest where a Nazi collaborator allegedly slaughtered Jews in World War II.

The collaborator, 77-year-old former policeman Anthony Sawoniuk, is charged with four deaths in the first war crimes trial in British history.

Judge Humphrey Potts and 12 jurors began reliving the horrors that transformed Domachevo, once a popular vacation spot near the Polish border, after the Nazis occupied parts of the former Soviet Union.

The group, hearing the case in the Old Bailey court in London, arrived in Belarus on Monday.

Led by Belarusian prosecutors and closely guarded by police, the court began Tuesday with Sawoniuk’s modest blue wooden home. It once was part of Domachevo’s sprawling Jewish ghetto _ until all its Jewish residents were killed.

They moved on to the former police station where Sawoniuk worked.

Then came the ``path of death.″

The haunting name still lingers, more than a half-century after residents labeled the route from the ghetto to a nearby forest where 3,800 Jews were massacred and dumped in mass graves.

Among the unmarked forest clearings where the British court stood Tuesday was the site where Sawoniuk allegedly killed four Jews after they escaped a massacre.

Reporters were not allowed to talk to or photograph the judge or jurors or stand within 40 yards of them.

Nearly all of the 1,300 residents of Domachevo in western Belarus surveyed the visitors’ every move. While anti-Semitism is still widespread in Belarus, anti-Nazi sentiment is also potent, especially among survivors of the occupation. Most here welcomed the court proceedings.

``Our people are very grateful to the British that Sawoniuk’s crimes have not been forgotten,″ said Vera Eskin, a 60-year-old retiree. ``It’s a pity he couldn’t go on trial in our country. I wish he could look into the eyes of Domachevo’s people.″

The defendant did not accompany the court to Belarus.

Lawyers for Sawoniuk say he denies the charges that he killed two men and two women in Domachevo between September and December 1942.

Prosecutor John Nutting, however, says Sawoniuk acknowledges joining a police force set up to kill the local Jewish population after Germans overran Domachevo in June 1941. And there has been evidence implicating him in more than the four cases.

Most of those exterminated here by Nazis and cooperating police were Jews from the Domachevo ghetto, some of whom had been brought there from elsewhere in Belarus and from as far away as Warsaw.

The court also met Tuesday with Fyodor Zan, a 70-year-old Domachevo resident who testified last week at the trial in London that he saw Sawoniuk shoot 15 Jewish women in the back with a machine gun after ordering them to stand in front of a common grave and undress.

``He was very predatory,″ Zan said Monday. ``These shootings were his job. He is a real criminal. He killed more people than there are hairs on your head.″

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