Seven-year wait for No 2 on war crime list

AS THE John Demjanjuk verdict last week catapulted war crimes trials back into the news, one can only guess what went through the mind of Anton Gecas, 77, a retired mining engineer living in Edinburgh.

He was named publicly as a suspected war criminal in 1986. Until then the Jewish family in the neighbouring terrace house, and his Sri Lankan-born wife, knew nothing of his wartime experiences.

Last week, in the wake of the release of Demjanjuk, who had been sentenced to death for the war crimes of another man, the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel issued a list of the 15 most-wanted war criminals. At the top was Alois Brunner, a German who was Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man and was last interviewed in Syria, when he proudly defended his war record. Second was Mr Gecas, originally from Lithuania.

Antanas Gecevicius, as he was called before he came to Britain, commanded a platoon in the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, a squad used by the German army to round up Jews in its territories and murder them.

Greville Janner, the Labour MP, named Gecas under parliamentary privilege as a man on the list of suspects in Britain supplied to the Home Office by the Wiesenthal centre. At that stage there was no question of prosecution, because neither English nor Scottish law covered crimes committed abroad by foreign nationals, even if they subsequently became naturalised British.

The 1991 War Crimes Act made it possible to launch a prosecution and a unit was set up in London to co-ordinate investigations. Scottish law is different, but the evidence against Gecas was so strong that a separate unit was set up in Edinburgh to prepare a case against him. The unit of researchers and officers from Lothian police have spent an estimated pounds 600,000 travelling the world collecting evidence.

Mr Gecas is a sturdy, grey- haired man with a slight stoop. His life divides into three, each apparently in a watertight compartment in his mind.

In compartment one, from his birth in 1916 up to the outbreak of war in 1939, he was a middle-class schoolboy and became a successful Lithuanian air force cadet. The second Mr Gecas, one he now denies existed, came into being during the war. In 1941 the Germans annexed Lithuania in their sweep into the Soviet Union.

The young Gecas joined a Lithuanian police battalion as a lieutenant in charge of a platoon. The battalion killed thousands of Lithuanian Jews taken from city ghettos and from small towns and villages to be shot. By autumn 1941, when few Jews were left in Lithuania, the battalion and others were taken by the Germans to do a similar job in German-occupied Byelorussia (now Belarus).

By 1944 the battalion was being used to help bar the Allied advance through Italy, and in September Mr Gecas's company was captured by the US army.

He changed sides and fought for a Polish regiment, and after the war was able to launder his past and come to Britain as a Pole. By 1956 he was a full British citizen. He married in 1959 when he was 43 and his wife a 19-year- old nurse. He worked for the National Coal Board until his retirement in 1981.

The discredited identification evidence against Demjanjuk was from surviving victims. Mr Gecas, were his case to come to court, would have to discredit the testimony of several officers who served alongside him for months or years. He has accepted publicly that he joined the battalion, went with the Germans to Byelorussia, and later wore German uniform and fought in Italy, but says if Jews were rounded up and killed he had no knowledge of it. He claims to have no recollection of ghettos even existing.

Mr Gecas has avoided any comment since a libel action he brought against Scottish Television failed. Months ago the Scottish police team completed its dossier on the Gecas case, and to all intents and purposes was wound up. For some reason the Advocate General, who in Scotland decides whether it is in the public interest for a case to proceed, has so far failed to say what his decision is.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced