A South Australian magistrate has accepted as evidence drawings by an artist who says he witnessed the atrocities of Heinrich Wagner, who is accused of murdering 124 people in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.
Nikolay Danilovich Velikiy, the artist, made a series of watercolor and black- and-white sketches allegedly after he witnessed one of Wagner’s murders.
Velikiy, who identified Wagner in the Adelaide court, claimed he saw Wagner chase a man running from German gendarmes and Ukrainian police, heard the fatal shot and later saw the victim’s body.
The prosecution claims the victim depicted in the sketches was a Ukrainian railway worker, Ivan Vasiliyevich Rudik, whose wife testified in tears about her husband’s execution at the committal hearing for Wagner, an ethnic German who lived in Ukraine.
In Australia, trials of serious crimes go through a two-stage process, the first of which is the committal hearing, held before a justice, often a magistrate, but no jury.
The purpose of the committal hearing is to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to put before a jury the charges alleged.
Velikiy claimed he was one of a number of people forced to work in a labor gang near the village of Ustinovka in 1943 and had made his sketches to show “the exact moment” of incidents involving the alleged killer.
Other witnesses who have given evidence against Wagner during the committal hearing include a man who served eight years in a Soviet prison for involvement in the crimes of which Wagner is accused.
This witness claims he saw Wagner throw a child in the air and fire during the mass murder of children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers near the village of Izraylovka in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.
Other witnesses include villagers who testified that Wagner wore a police uniform in 1942 and 1943; Wagner’s former wife, who claimed he deserted her when she was four months pregnant, at the time German army withdrew; and two witnesses who testified they saw the blood-splattered mass grave of the Jews of Ustinovka.
The committal hearing, likely to be the last under Australia’s 1988 war crimes legislation, has experienced a number of delays because of translation difficulties and complications in taking testimony in Ukraine.
Australia’s prosecution of alleged Nazi war criminals has been grinding to a halt. Last month, the government confirmed that a fourth case against an alleged Nazi criminal would not be tried because funding would not be available for crucial final investigations.
The trial of Wagner has been marked by the volume of evidence given by individuals who have had contact with him over the past half-century and agreement by the defense to allow limited evidence to be given via a satellite link with historian Christopher Browning from a studio in Seattle.
Browning, who teaches at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., wrote a book about mass Nazi killings in Poland, “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” (HarperCollins, New York, 1992).
He is the editor and primary author of one volume of a multivolume history of the Holocaust being prepared for the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem.