Out of Australia: The bitter taste of vintage crime

JACOB'S CREEK - The people of the Barossa Valley in South Australia are marking the 150th anniversary of one of the country's oldest wineries, near where Johann Gramp, a German immigrant, planted the first grapes by the banks of Jacob's Creek.

Gramp was a pioneer in a community of Lutheran refugees who fled to the colony of South Australia in the 1840s to escape religious persecution in northern Germany. They bequeathed an attractive wine-growing region with German town names and a claret bearing the creek's name which has gone on to become Australia's biggest-selling red wine.

South Australia has remained a magnet for German settlers ever since. In Adelaide, just a few miles away from the tranquil hills of Jacob's Creek, the theme of German persecution, 20th-century style, is being played out in a more sinister and sometimes bizarre fashion: the city is the location for Australia's first prosecutions against immigrants for alleged war crimes committed under the Nazi occupation of Europe during the Second World War.

Australia passed a War Crimes Act in 1988 after an official inquiry reported there were hundreds of suspected former Nazis living in the country. Independent researchers say the number is more likely to be in the thousands. Most of them arrived in a flood of refugees after the war, when the Australian government was keen to attract European immigrants. Few, if any, steps were taken to screen their war records.

With assistance from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a Special Investigations Unit set up in Australia in 1987 identified almost 600 suspects. Only three have been charged so far, all of them elderly Ukrainian-born pensioners who had been leading quiet lives in Adelaide suburbs.

The two cases which have come to court in Adelaide so far have produced a barrage of sensations, outcries and farces. When I attended a session of the court the other day, I was not disappointed in this regard.

The focus of the pre-trial hearing, Mikolay Berezowsky, 78, sat in a rumpled suit, leaning on a walking-stick. The prosecution has alleged that he was head of a police unit at the Ukraine village of Gnivan, that he was recruited by the Nazis after their occupation in 1941, and was involved in the murder of more than 100 Jews who were shot and buried in a mass grave in 1942. At this stage, Mr Berezowsky has not been asked to enter a plea.

Several residents of Gnivan at the time, now in their sixties and seventies, have been brought to Adelaide to give evidence. The proceedings are being relayed to the witnesses and the accused through interpreters. One elderly woman told the court she had seen Mr Berezowsky kill a baby with a whip or a stick when the baby's mother begged him to let them go. She said she recognised his build and voice, but had not seen his face.

Prosecution lawyers showed her photographs taken around 1950 and asked if she could identify Mr Berezowsky. After a long pause, she picked a portrait. Then she asked to see them again and pointed to another. 'He was such a young fellow then . . . Could that be him?' Neither one was correct.

The case has highlighted the inherent difficulty of launching successful prosecutions over war crimes of decades ago, relying largely on elderly witnesses with poor memories. Legal experts in Australia have criticised the war crimes legislation on these grounds, and say the vast cost does not justify the process, however morally-based the intentions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
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
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all