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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific