Australia’s first war crimes trial was adjourned last Thursday, when defendant Ivan Polyukhovich complained of dizziness and was hospitalized.
It was not the first adjournment of the case of the Ukrainian-born Polyukhovich, who is the first person to be tried under a law enacted in December 1988 that allows Australian courts to try persons living here for war crimes they allegedly committed on foreign soil.
He was formally charged in January 1990, but the trial was delayed because of a court challenge to the war crimes law and because of Polyukhovich’s health.
In July 1990, the accused war criminal was found in an Adelaide street with a self-inflicted bullet wound to the chest.
Polyukhovich, about 75 and a longtime resident of Adelaide, South Australia, finally went on trial there Oct. 28, accused of the mass murder of Jews in the Ukrainian village of Serniki during World War II. Testimony began Nov. 11.
Inside the courtroom last week, videos were shown of the exhumation of the graves of his alleged victims and their skeletal remains.
Outside, a small demonstration protesting the trial was staged by the anti-Semitic Australian League of Rights.
The demonstration gained media attention when the participants were joined by a 90-year-old former lieutenant governor of South Australia, Sir Walter Crocker, who told reporters that the war crimes trials were the immoral “contrivances” of a “financially powerful lobby” which never had “Australian interests” at heart.
Inside the court, police witnesses testified that they had examined the mass graves and found that “most of the bodies were women and children” shot in the head or bludgeoned by rifles.
More than 60 of the 553 skulls were identified as the remains of girls under age 10.
Prosecuting attorney Gregg James told the court he would prove not only that Polyukhovich was guilty of war crimes but that this was part of a deliberate policy of genocide.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.