British Judges Clash over Whether Nazi Should Serve His Life Sentence
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British Judges Clash over Whether Nazi Should Serve His Life Sentence

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Two British judges are disputing the length of time a convicted war criminal should spend in jail.

Anthony Sawoniuk, 78, was sentenced to life in prison last April after he was found guilty of having killed Jews as a member of the pro-Nazi local police force in the Belarus village of Domachevo after the German invasion in 1941.

In all cases when life sentences are imposed, the British home secretary must decide whether life should literally mean life or allow a set term of extended imprisonment.

While the trial judge, Justice Potts, advised Home Secretary Jack Straw that Sawoniuk should spend the rest of his life in jail, Lord Chief Justice Bingham is arguing that he should be allowed at least some hope of eventual release.

“Retribution must be moderated when delayed for nearly 60 years and visited on a man approaching the age of 80,” Bingham told Straw.

But Potts insists that “an early release would defeat the purpose of the War Crimes Act and the object of the trial.”

The chairman of the Holocaust Education Trust, Lord Janner, supports the position of the trial judge.

Sawoniuk is the only war criminal to have been tried in Britain under the War Crimes Act.

The law permits the trial in British courts of Nazi war crimes suspects who were not British at the time of their alleged offenses, but whose victims were not British and whose offenses were not committed on British soil.

Sawoniuk was shown to have hunted down and killed Jews in Domachevo who had escaped the main Nazi slaughter on Yom Kippur 1941.

Fedor Zan, an old school friend of Sawoniuk who still lives in the village, told the court that Sawoniuk had behaved “like an animal.”

In 1944, Sawoniuk slipped off his police uniform and fled from the village with the retreating German army.

In July 1944 he joined a Belarus Waffen SS unit in Italy. In December of that year, as the tide of the war turned decisively against the Germans, Sawoniuk switched sides, joining the Polish troops fighting alongside the British Army.

After the war was over in 1945, Sawoniuk arrived in labor-starved Britain – – and few questions were asked about his past until the 1980s.

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