SYDNEY, Australia (Oct. 29)
After months of delay, Australia’s first war crimes trial opened Monday in an Adelaide court with a 20-minute recital of charges against Ukrainian-born Ivan Polyukhovich, accused of complicity in the mass murders of Jews in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.
According to the proesecution, Polyukhovich, in September 1942, helped the German authorities identify and round up 850 Jews from the ghetto in Serniki village, who were then systematically shot to death over a 12-hour period.
The prosecution also informed the court the Special Investigations Unit of the Australian Attorney General’s Department had gathered forensic evidence upon exhuming the mass graves of the victims. Investigators found that 96 of 553 identifiable skeletal remains were of children under 9 and 410 of the victims died of rifle shots to the backs of their heads.
The victims came from the villages of Serniki, Alexandropove and Brodnitsa.
Polyukhovich, 74, a longtime resident of Adelaide, South Australia, was charged last January with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He is the first Australian national brought to trial under a 1988 statute that allows Australian courts to prosecute war crimes committed abroad.
But his trial was delayed by a challenge to the constitutionality of the law. It was upheld by Australia’s High Court on Aug. 14.
Prosecution witnesses will be called on to relate how Polyukhovich, a forest warden at the time, personally hunted down 24 escaped Jews and murdered them in front of other villagers.
The Crown plans to call 20 eyewitnesses from around the world and people who knew the accused socially, including his sister-in-law. They will start giving testimony on Nov. 11.
Since prosecution efforts began, two witnesses have died, resulting in one murder charge being dropped.
The alleged war criminal has his supporters. Eight members of the racist, anti-Semitic Australian League of Rights demonstrated outside the courthouse before the trial began.