Woman saw Jews marched to death

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN who was forced by the Nazis to act as a witness to their atrocities told Britain's first war crimes trial yesterday how she watched hundreds of Jews being marched to their deaths.

Galina Puchkina was aged 12 when the Nazis made her watch as Jews were forced to undress and then herded along the so-called "route of death" in the Nazi-occupied town of Domachevo in Belarus. Later she would hear the sound of machine-gun fire.

Mrs Puchkina, 68, told the Old Bailey she and her sister had been attending a Catholic church in Domachevo on the morning of the Jewish Day of Atonement in 1942. Soldiers grabbed them and took them to a hill overlooking the town's Jewish ghetto, she said.

In front of them they saw hundreds of men, women and children. They could hear quite clearly the sound of them crying and shouting.

Speaking through a Russian interpreter, Mrs Puchkina said: "They were all being taken to their deaths. There were lots of them - about 2,000.

"They were herded away - as we watched them. We were afraid ourselves. After the first group were led away, I heard the sound of machine-gun fire. After the third, the Germans told us to go home. We did. My sister took flight immediately - she was three years younger."

The court has previously been told that 2,900 Jews were murdered that day, before being buried in mass graves in sand hills on the outskirts of the town. When locals visited the site a few days later, the ground was soaked with blood.

Mrs Puchkina was giving evidence during the trial of Anthony Sawoniuk, 77, who is alleged to have assisted the Nazis while working as a police officer in Domachevo during the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944. He is accused of murdering up to 20 Jews while organising "search and kill" operations on behalf of the Nazis after the massacre in September 1942.

Mr Sawoniuk, a former British Rail ticket collector now living in south London, denies the charges.

Yesterday Mrs Puchkina said Mr Sawoniuk had served with the Nazis' locally recruited police force from the outset. "Judging from how he behaved afterwards, I believe he joined voluntarily," she said.

Another woman from a nearby village said she narrowly escaped death after being mistaken for a Jew by a German and a local policeman whom she knew as Andrusha - the nickname of Mr Sawoniuk.

Fedora Yakimuk, 72, told the court she cut herself accidentally while working in the fields with a sickle. She said her mother had bound the wound with a rag soaked in iodine. "But the iodine came through the rag and there was a yellow mark on my arm," Mrs Yakimuk told the court through a Ukrainian interpreter.

"The Jews would wear yellow arm bands. At the time Andrusha was walking along with a German. They saw me and started shouting `Jude, Jude' (Jew, Jew) with the intention of making me stop. I stopped and they grabbed me and started dragging me away to be shot.

"I was crying and kissing their feet, explaining, `I am not a Jew.' He knew me very well, but did not protect me. Andrusha did not protect me. I was on my knees, kissing the German's feet.

"When he realised, the German pulled off the bandage and saw what it was and let me go.

"It was about a week after the massacre of the Jews."

The trial continues.