The Guardian (London)
August 13, 1997
Duncan Campbell, ‘Alleged Nazi War Criminal dies at 86’
THE first man to be brought to court under modern war crimes legislation has died in hospital.
Szymon Serafinowicz died in hospital last Thursday, aged 86, his solicitor, Ted Dancey, said yesterday. He had been ill since April.
In January, an Old Bailey jury decided that Serafinowicz was unfit to stand trial on three counts of murders said to have taken place in Belorussia – now Belarus – when it was under Nazi occupation in 1941 and 1942.
Mr Dancey said yesterday that his client’s condition had deteriorated after the death in April of his younger son.
Serafinowicz moved to Britain after the war, settled in Surrey with his Polish -born wife, who died in 1993, and worked as a carpenter. He was arrested in 1993 under the 1991 War Crimes Act.
He was charged originally with four murders in the villages of Kryniczne and Dolmatowszczyzna and the town of Mir between November 1941 and March 1942 when he had been first police chief and then police district commander working with the Nazis. One case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service before trial.
Witnesses against him were due to fly from South Africa, Israel, the United States and Siberia. Serafinowicz denied the offences.
His lawyers argued at the Old Bailey that he was suffering from senile dementia, which made it impossible for him to understand fully the trial process. The jury heard from defence and prosecution psychiatrists about his ability to follow the case.
Serafinowicz, who appeared to be frail, was allowed to move out of the dock and sit with his lawyers. The jury decided unanimously he was not fit to plead and the case was dropped.
His prosecution raised the issue of whether similar cases should be brought after such a length of time. Four more cases are pending after investigations identified 369 people – 112 of them deceased – as being suspected war criminals who moved to Britain after the war.
David Cesarani, of the all-party parliamentary war crimes group, said yesterday: “Justice has caught up with him very late in the day. The fact that there was no verdict in this case leaves open the question of whether he was guilty or innocent. If this case had been pursued with energy and efficiency at an early stage he may have been acquitted and lived without a shadow over him or been convicted and spent a time in prison.”
Former Labour MP Lord Greville Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said he was disappointed that Serafinowicz had not been brought to trial sooner.
A 1940s war crimes investigator himself, Lord Janner said: “There was an abundance of evidence alleging individual and mass murders against him. I am sorry that he was not tried while he was fit enough to stand. War criminals have managed to evade prosecution under our system of justice for decades. There were absolutely no reasons why he should have escaped charges for ever.
“The CPS had a huge file of powerful evidence against him. He was accused of individual involvement in more than 3,000 murders.
“His defence was that he saved a few lives. But all Nazi killers saved families. It was like an insurance policy.
“Serafinowicz was typical. There were thousands of killers involved in carrying out the Holocaust – and not just Germans. The allegations accuse him of being a typical Nazi killer on a massive scale. I’m very sorry that more have not come to court.”
One of the principal witnesses against Serafinowicz, Oswald Rufeisen, a Jew who posed as a Pole to save his own his life and secure interpreting work with Serafinowicz, said he felt no bitterness towards him. “About the dead, say nothing but good. About his judgment, he has his own judge, I cannot judge him.”