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War Crimes Trial Set Back by Death of a Key Witness

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Half the charges against an alleged Nazi war criminal on trial here for killing Jews during World War II were dropped last week by Canada’s Justice Department, following the death of a key witness.

The death of the witness provides a significant boon for Michael Pawlowski, 74, a native of Byelorussia, who was charged here in November 1989 with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the deaths of 410 Jews and 80 Poles, Killed in the region of Minsk in 1942.

The witness, Petr Korelev, who died in May, would have given critical testimony involving the massacre of the Poles and eight Jews in the village of Yeskovichi, said Justice Department lawyer Peter Sutton.

Moreover, the remaining indictments are also under a legal cloud. Justice James Chadwick ruled last year against a government request to send a commission to the Soviet Union to videotape witness statements. Justice Department lawyers are arguing the motion again because of new evidence.

Pawlowski, a retired carpenter, has lived in Renfrew, 65 miles west of Ottawa, since 1951. He is the second person arrested under war crimes legislation enacted by Parliament in 1987.

So far, Canada’s attempt to convict Canadian residents of war crimes perpetrated on foreign soil has come to nought.

In the first trial under the war crimes amendment to the Criminal Code, Imre Finta, a captain in the pro-Nazi Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie, was acquitted a year ago. Finta, now 79, had been charged with the kidnapping, forcible confinement and robbery of 8,617 Hungarian Jews in Szeged in 1944.

GOVERNMENT FAULTED FOR DELAYS

This March, charges were dropped against Stephen Reistetter of St. Catharines, Ontario, who was accused of sending some 3,000 Jews in Bardejov, Slovakia, to Nazi death camps. Crown lawyer Gilles Renaud said there was insufficient evidence to proceed against him after two witnesses died and others proved incapable of testifying.

In Vancouver, more than two years have lapsed without a ruling since a denaturalization hearing concluded against Jacob Luitjens, who was convicted in absentia by a Dutch court after the war for collaborating with the enemy.

Canadian Jewish leaders acknowledge the difficulties of mounting a trial nearly half a century after crimes were committed. But they accuse the government of dragging its feet in delaying investigations.

Charlotte Bell, senior counselor in the Justice Department’s War Crimes Unit, defends the work of her office, as well as the 26-member Royal Canadian Mounted Police war crimes squad, saying they are working as fast as possible.

From a list of 660 suspected Nazi war criminals living in Canada, the government’s Deschenes Commission identified 20 urgent cases and 200 to be further investigated.

To date, Canada has successfully pursued one such case. In 1983, Albert Helmut Rauca of Toronto was extradited to West Germany to stand trial for the murder of 11,585 Jews in the ghetto of Kaunas, Lithuania. Rauca died before the case could be heard.

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