AMSTERDAM (May. 10)
The trial of Nazi war criminal Pieter Menten which opened in magistrate’s court here yesterday is expected to last at least a year. Nearly 100 witnesses from eight countries are scheduled to testify but those from the Soviet Union and Poland will not be available before October. The initial phase of the trial will consist of six sessions held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the next 14 days. The court will then adjourn until late summer or early fall.
Menten, 77, a millionaire Dutch art dealer, was formally charged yesterday with having killed or having ordered the killings of more than 200 Polish citizens, mostly Jews, in the Lemberg area of Galicia in July and August, 1941, when he allegedly served as an SS officer. The charges, read by Public Prosecutor Frans Habermahl, said the killings took place on July 7 and August 27, 1941 in the Ukrainian villages of Podgorotsy and Urich which were then Polish territory.
The charge sheet said that on the earlier date 20-30 persons were killed directly or on orders from Menten and on the later date, 230, mostly Jews, were killed. It accused Menten of having solicited these killings by gifts or promises or abuse of authority or giving information leading to the identification of the victims. The charge sheet named 19 victims, including several families.
The first prosecution witnesses to take the stand were Haviv Kanaan, an Israeli journalist whose articles over the past year were credited with having exposed Menten’s Nazi past, and his cousin, Minna Cygelsreich of Tel Aviv.
The court also heard from Johan Van Den Leeuw, of the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, who described the ethnic composition in Galicia before and after the outbreak of World War II and the activities of the various “Einsatztruppen” and “Einsatzcommando” (special commando troops) which operated in the Lemberg area under the command of Oberfuehrer Erich Schoengarth. Testimony was also taken from two Dutch police officers who have been in charge of the Menten case since last summer.
The tribunal hearing the case consists of Johan A. Schroeder, president of the court, and Hendrik Baron Van lmhoff and Gerda Van Erp Toalman Kip, judges. A relief judge and relief prosecutor have been appointed because of the anticipated extended duration of the trial. The defense lawyer is Louis Van Heyningen who is reportedly still preparing Menten’s case. He has reduced the number of defense witnesses from 81 to 40.
LINE OF DEFENSE
Meanwhile, the Amsterdam daily “De Telegroaf” has published what it says will be the line taken by the defense, a disclosure considered unusual inasmuch as the articles by reporter Henk De Mari appeared before the trial began.
According to the writer, Menten will claim that he was friendly to Jews and helped them even at the risk of his own life. The defense will also attempt to discredit the prosecution witnesses by alleging that their testimony is contradictory. Menten is also said to have alibis for the dates on which the killings occurred.
An additional feature of the trial will be a report now being prepared by an historical commission headed by Prof. Ivo Schoeffer. It has been entrusted by the Dutch government to investigate the conduct of the Menten affair by Dutch authorities between 1945-1976 and particularly to determine if political influences contributed to the very light sentence pronounced on Menten in 1951 for collaboration with the enemy. The commission was installed in January and will need at least another year to complete its research.
Menten fled Holland on Nov. 15, 1976, one day before police called at his luxury villa at Blaricum with an arrest warrant for questioning on his war-time activities. He is believed to have been tipped off that his arrest was imminent. He was apprehended by Swiss police near Zurich on Dec. 6 and returned to The Netherlands on condition that he would not be extradited to a third country for trial. A preliminary hearing was held here April 3. If found guilty, Menten would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.