PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 6)
The denaturalization trial of Wolodymic Osidach has been adjourned until Oct. 15 due to his hospitalization with chest pains. The 76-year-old Osidach, who is accused of canceling his collaboration with Nazi forces occupying the Ukraine in order to enter this country and obtain citizenship, has had a history of heart problems.
Before the trial adjourned last week in Federal District Court here, the prosecution had completed its case which included eyewitnesses testimony on Osidach’s role as police chief in the Ukrainian village of Rawa Ruska, it was reported by David Grass, editor of the Jewish Exponent. Gross’ report was compiled with the daily courtroom aid of staff writer Robert Cohen and staff intern Marc Sugarman. Witnesses had been brought from Israel, Canada, and the United States, and on videotape from the Soviet Union.
The defense, which opened its case Sept. 25, maintains that Ukrainian police were only responsible for keeping order in the non-Jewish part of Rawa Ruska. According to defense attorney Louis Konowol, they never entered the ghetto, never rounded up Jews never headed them to cattle cars for transport to the death camp at Belzec or guarded the slave laborers who turned the Jewish cemetery into having material.
WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE
As its first witness, the defense called Petro Mirchuk, a retired Ukrainian political science professor who himself survived three years in Auschwitz and has been honored by the Philadelphia Association of Jewish New Americans and the local Jewish Identity Center for his book, “In the German Mills of Death.” Jewish collaborators, not Ukrainian policemen like Osidach, assisted the Nazis in “beating, torturing and murdering the Jewish population,” he testified.
Mirchuk contended that evidence to the contrary was the result of “Jewish brainwashing.” “At one point, I thought Ukrainian police might have helped transport Jews,” he said, “but I was brainwashed by Jewish literature, and since that time I have changed my thinking.”
Under cross-examination by Justice Department attorney Rodney Smith, however, Mirchuk admitted to have done no research about the treatment of Jews by the Ukrainian police and that be knew nothing specifically about Rawa Ruska. He also conceded that he had leapt to the defense of his friend Osidach without knowing the charges against him. Both Mirchuk and Osidach were members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.
Mirchuk defended Osidach, he said, because he felt that the U.S. government, in league with “my enemy” the Soviet Union, was inciting “hysteria” against Ukrainians. He said be warted to clear the Ukrainian community’s name before another “holocaust” began.
Mirchuk also had some advice for the Jewish community. “We are all Americans,” he said. “We have our own problems now. We should leave the past alone, whatever happened.”
ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH TESTIMONY
The defense also tried to impeach the testimony of Shlomo Altschuler, one of the Israeli witnesses against Osidach. In his testimony, Altschuler had stated that he had never been interviewed about Osidach. When he was shown a 1977 Philadelphia Daily News article based on an interview with him, he said he couldn’t recollect the incident.
The defense called Daily News reporters Frank Dougherty and Stuart Bykofsky in an effort to challenge Altschuler’s credibility. The matter was of some importance, Federal District Court Judge Louis Bechtle indicated, because “if Altschuler’s testimony is to be believed, it is likely to be sufficient to allow a ruling in favor of the government.”
Osidach and his wife were expected to have taken the stand as the defense’s final witnesses. He had already been on the stand as a prosecution witness and had been excused from all other court sessions because of his health. While he was in court, he was attended at all times by a physician and a nurse. Osidach was taken to a local hospital, but defense attorney Konowol requested the judge not to release its name.
INTERESTING ASPECT OF THE CASE
One interesting aspect of the case was the defense effort to show that one of the prosecution’s witnesses, whose deposition taken in Sarasota, Fla., was admitted into evidence, was himself a “worker” for the Nazi secret police. Two government witnesses, videotaped in the Soviet Union identified Miroslav Stasiu, who deposed under the name of Jaroslaw Tesarowycz that Osidach commanded the Ukrainian police in Rawa Ruska, as a “worker of the Gestapo, criminal police.”
The defense showed reporters a May 23, 1980 deposition in which Stasiu admitted entering the U.S. in the 1950s using on assumed name. He also admitted failing to provide immigration officials with complete information about his wartime activities and failing to admit being arrested in the 1930s for Ukrainian nationalist activities.
Neal Sher, deputy director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special investigations and chief prosecution attorney, refused to discuss any of the allegations made against Stasiu. He also declined to indicate whether Stasiu was under investigation for possible immigration violations.
During the two weeks that the Osidach trial has been going on, considerable hostility has built between the local Jewish and Ukrainian communities. While Judge Bechtle has strictly enforced courtroom decorum, threatening to have spectators removed after the one outburst that occurred in court, several confrontations, have taken place in the crowded hallways.