NEW YORK, Jan. 27 (JTA) — A British jury has deemed that
a man accused of being a former police commander in Nazi-occupied
Byelorussia is unfit to appear before a court, collapsing the nation’s first war crimes
Szymon Serafinowicz, 86, has been accused of killing three Jews between 1941 and 1942 in Nazi-occupied Byelorussia, now an independent nation called Belarus. The prosecution also reportedly alleged that Serafinowicz had taken part in a massacre of some 2,000 Jews in Mir in November 1941 and had led his forces in convoys of horse-driven sledges that swept through Byelorussian villages, rounding up Jews and killing them. Serafinowicz has denied the charges. The London jury on Jan. 17 accepted the defense team’s claim that Serafinowicz was suffering from dementia, probably caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and was not fit to stand trial. Serafinowicz, a retired builder who lives in Surrey, became a British citizen in 1947. He was the first person to face war crime charges in Britain as a result of Parliament’s 1991 passage of the War Crimes Act. Under the act, suspects can be charged with crimes committed in another country before they were British citizens. He was arrested in July 1995 by a special police war crimes unit set up after the controversial act was passed. Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service reportedly said that it was considering bringing five cases to court, but that Serafinowicz’s was believed to have been the one most likely to succeed. Some of the nation’s major newspapers emphasized the cost of prosecuting Serafinowicz, reportedly about $8 million. The Express, a London-based daily with a circulation of more than 1.2 million, said in a Jan. 18 editorial, “The very idea of trying to uncover the truth, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of events that took place 56 years ago in wartime must give any sensible person pause.” The editorial also said it was “all for nought” that taxpayers’ money had been spent on setting up the trial and on investigating alleged war crimes. The publication urged that the government drop cases against other suspected war criminals.