War crimes? Not me, says the 'lovely old man'

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The Independent Online

For half a century Simeon Serafimowicz, who next year could face the first war crimes trial in Britain, must have thought the world had forgotten the eastern European town of Mir.

Between 1941 and 1944 the Jewish population in the area was cut from 4,000 to 30. The Belorussian town is a long way from the commuter village of Banstead, Surrey, where he lives. It is the sort of place where people smile and greet each other in the street, but never know each others' names.

Yesterday, Polish-born Mr Serafimowicz, now 84, retreated behind drawn curtains at his semi-detached home. In the front garden, there was a neat row of deep red peonies.

"They say I killed so many people, but it is all lies. There is nothing I want to say. I am an old man. Why can't I be left alone?" he asked. He would not talk about the war: "No, you have caused me trouble. I am sorry, no." His solicitor has told him not to talk publicly about his case. The Independent revealed on Monday that he faces trial next year as the first case under the 1991 War Crimes Act. Mr Serafimowicz has had the allegations put to him and given a statement to Scotland Yard's war crimes unit.

During the German occupation of Mir, Mr Serafimowicz was in charge of a police battalion, according to witnesses in Israel, Britain and eastern Europe. That battalion, claim the witnesses, was involved in rounding up and killing Belorussian jews from the ghetto.

Mr Serafimowicz came to Britain in 1947, and became a carpenter. He lived in Banstead with his wife, Jadwiga, for 29 years. She died last year. They have one grown-up son.

Three doors down, a young woman stood with her 10-year-old son. "He's a lovely old man. He speaks to the boys when they deliver his paper - he had an awful time looking after his wife at the end. They kept themselves to themselves. His son is a good man as well. We were all surprised when we heard what they were saying about him. None of the neighbours think he should have to go through all this.

"It's time to put the past behind us. We've all done things wrong," she said.