published 15/03/1999 at 20:02 GMT
The jury in Britain's first war crimes trial has heard that defendant Anthony Sawoniuk murdered 15 Jewish women.
Sawoniuk allegedly led "search and kill" squads in 1942
Fedor Zan, a 75-year-old former schoolfriend of Sawoniuk, said he saw the murders in his home town of
Domachevo, Belarus, during its Nazi occupation in the Second World War. Speaking in Ukrainian through
an interpreter, Mr Zan told the Old Bailey: "He mowed them down with a machine gun. There were not less than 15 Jewish women."
Asked how he recognised who had shot them, Mr Zan replied: "By his size and by his face. He was famous by that time." Mr Zan told the jury - reduced to 11 members after one woman fell ill - he was taking a shortcut through woods one evening in September 1942 when he heard the sound of crying and shouting and decided to investigate.
Women 'mowed down'
He saw women he recognised to be Jewish undressed to their underwear. "They had taken their clothes off and were asked to put them in a pile. They were then asked to turn round and face the pit." "He (Sawoniuk) immediately mowed them down with the sub-machinegun," he continued, imitating the noise of an automatic weapon and miming how Sawoniuk had swung the weapon from side to side.
"Once that happened I looked round and they had gone. The women fell into the hole." On a previous occasion, he said he had witnessed his aunt and her family being led from the local police station to their execution. The court heard earlier they were suspected of associating with anti-Nazi partisans.
'I saw them tied up'
"I was taking food to the police station for them. I saw them tied up being led through the Jewish ghetto to the sand hills. "They were tied in a row - one after another. My uncle was in front, aunt in the middle and my two cousins were at the back.
"Sawoniuk and another policeman were escorting them. Sawoniuk was carrying a sub-machine gun. The second policeman was carrying a carbine. "Once they had passed through the gates of the ghetto, I did not see them again." Mr Zan said Mr Sawoniuk had volunteered to join the police in Domachevo, soon after it was invaded by Germany in June 1941, and led "search and kill" squads against Jews.
Mr Zan had pointed out locations of the alleged murders when the jury paid its historic visit to Belarus in February. It was the first time a British court had convened on foreign soil. Mr Sawoniuk told police before the trial that he had never heard of Mr Zan, whom he described as a liar. Mr Sawoniuk, 77, of south-east London, has denied four charges of murder in 1942.