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Gecas - Eamonn O'Neill

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AZI-HUxTERS ruefully call it the

"Pinochet

Defence". lt's the tactic

whereby the dwindling number of the

worldt old Nazis, most now well into

'heir 80s,,uddenly - ljle rhe,ged Ch,lean

dictaror - r?ke ill ,round the rime a court

decision is made regarding tieir exradition to a

counrv which might try them for rheir crimes.

ln America in crses where that\ occurred, the

US Justice Departmentt Offic€ of Special

lnvesngations, which .o-ordrnates nrtionwide

Nazi hunts, appoints a teim ofdoctors to check

on the individual concerned. Ifth€s€ physicians

pdge the suspect to be finer than appearances

suggest. papers are srgned and the individual in

quesrion suddenly finds him.elfbeing wheeled

out the hosprt:l and transponed srraight onto a

plane to a less than hospitable count y.

This week, intens€ controversy surrounds the

nan at rhe centre ofScotland's own war crime

case: Artenas Cecevlous aka Arron Gecas. or Big

Ton) Gecas, '5 he was ldros'n to hi5 worknares

on the Nationrl Coal Boird. The 85-yeaFold

form€r mining engjneer rernains apparently ill

in Ed;nburgh's Uberton Hospital after suffering

a stroke a month or so before ScottishJustice

MinhterJirn Wallace finally hsued a warrant for

his arrest at the end ofJuly. Gecas was a healdry

man over a decade ago when he could have been

puton tdal: now he has failed in a physiol sense

bur succeeded legalJyin eudins iusrice. Ib dare,

he still mainteins his complete irurocence of any

w& crnnes: his lauyer Nigel Duncan, has stated

that his client c,nnot be extradited until his

frtness is no longer in doubt. Cecas will now

probably n€ver stand Fial for an)'thing.

However, the real controversy surrounds lihe

inacrion on th; case from $e early loo0., when

Gecas could have been put on trial in Scodand

Il's argued thar Nrzi collabor.tor..nd war

crimes suspects v,ho entered the UK after the

Second world War were protected from day

one. Afrer t-hey senled. some coniinued to enioy

'special

sratui. Anton Cecas is accused ofbeing

The time it rook $eJuitjce Mjnister to sigr $e

papers allowing Gecast extradition caused

protests not just from organisations like th€

Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel, which has

been hunting Cecas for l6 years, but also from

poliricians l.'.ke the SN?\ Lloyd Quinan. During a

June debate on the lntemational Criminal Coufl

bi passing drcugh the parli.ment, Qoinan went

one step irnher and actually caUed Gees a Nazi

and murderer in the chanber, saying:

"Antanas

Gecas, who lives in Edinburgh, is a Neziwer

diminal and murderer ofJevish and B€lorussian

citizens. I ref€r you to Lord Milligant 199?

deramacion casejudenenr, when he made h cled

tiat he believes ntr G€cas is guiltla"

In rhe case Quinan mentioned, Gecas had

su€d Scottish Television for libel after the

company transrnitted two documentries which

s€( out to prove Cecas was . w.r criminal. In

dismissing Gecas\ action, Lord Milligan said:

"I

Wilson had tearned up widl STVr€porter Bob

Tomlinson in the 1980s to collate the facts

scattered arouad the rvorld about the Gecas case.

Their programn€, Crine' of Wtr, told rhe

natjon that Scotland and probably England

roo

am clearly satnfied... he perticip.'ed in many

operations involving the kitling of innocent

Soviet citizens, includingJe$'s in particular i'

Belorussia (now Belans) durins rhe lrst thre€

mon$r of l04l. and in so doing comired war

c.imes ag"inst Soviet citizens inchdirg old nen,

women and children."

In rhe nine years since, many have ask€d why

no war crimes case had been brought against

Gecas. The answer, it seems, is both cornplex

BAFIA-winning documentary maker Ross

- was hone to Nazi warcr;minals.

Dr David Cesarani, professor ofModern

Hjsroryat the University ofSouthampton and

aurhor of a book abour how Brirain becane a

retuge fo. Nazi vrr crimirals, told ne: "I think

it's unlikely Gecas \ri1l be extradited to

Lithuania - he's too old and infirn. Ard this

makes you wonder why action 1las not .aken

sooner.Ifhe dies in bed an old man, it will be

the seal on a pretty appalling record in this

country Scodand has no excuse. People rnight

breathe a sigh of relief when Gecas passes a\r"y

bnt the stain will not go {iom Scodand's record.

History ivill simply record that the United

Kingdom failed to reckon with Nazi

collaborators who nade homes in its donain."

As the Second World War drew to a bloody

close, it would appear Britein did little to

prevent known war criminals enterjng the

counny. They slipped into the UK among the

thousands of genuine Displaced Persons or

European Voluntary Worke$ who had come

here searching for new lives and new hope.

Although dre main drrust of the war effort had

been directed against Germany and its alli€s,

Churchill's gov€rnment recognis€d from the

outset the poteDtial for posFwar trouble hom

the Soviet Union. Although theywould never

say so publicly, nany old hands in MI6 rcgarded

Hitle.'s wer as litde more than an internption

in their longer cov€rt fight against Staiin. As a

result, MI6 turned a blind eye to war criminels

ftom Eastern Europe who turned up in British

Displaced Persons camps. They justified dLis by

srying that their vehemently anti-Communist

stance sometim€s meant being temporarily pro-

German oa in dris case, pro Nazi.Itwas avery

shalry def€nce, but certainly not the only time

th€ s€cret s€reices rould invoke the old "my

"lt's

unlikely

Gecas will be

extradited -

he's

lf he dies in

bed an old

man, it will be

the seal on an

-^^- i^^

record in this

country"

Holocaust histo.ian

Dr David Cesarani

en€my's €n€rny is my liiend" clause.

When Hider launched Operation Barbarossa

against the Sovies, he was also lauching a buely

concealed race war. His targ€tr were Communist

partisans, gypsies, social outcasts, political

activists, g!ys, the disebled and, ebove all, Je's.

12

too infirm.

Th€ invasion began with astounding ferocity on

22 June 1941. A[i€r the tenks had blitzed th€ir

v,ay across the landscape, the terror groups

know as rhe Einsatzgruppen followed in their

wake. These were the fast-moving killing squads

that used loc.l "ordinary men", as one author

chillingly labelled then, to do dte "cl€ansing" for

them. They found many willing acconplices.

Several Eastern European countri€s on the edge

of the Soviet empire embraced the Gernans:

Lithuania, where Antanas Gecevicius rvas born

in May 1916, for exampl€, had only just been

subje$ed to dle "Red Tenor" and nade a Soviet

r€public in 1940.

The political sjtuation was h ttrrnoil. Jews,

who made up a significant proportion of the

Communist party there, were regerded as

traitors to the homeland. When th€ Germans

marched in and overturned Soviet rule, the Jews

were targeted by the invaders via local partisans

who were only too willing to bloody their hands.

Sir Mertin Gilbert, author of Nex.r Agtilt: A

Hinory ofThe Hok.awt, dtplains: "The Gernans

undentood the complex make-up of the regions

through which they advanced: they knew and

exploited the tensions beween tbe local people

end theJews. tu a result, they were able ro cali

on Lithuanian, Latvian, B€lorussian and


in contrection with charges againsc a former

comrade, although this was never publicis€d at

the tine. He admitted to rhe OSI he was indeed

one Antanas Gecevicius and dnt he had sewed in

the Lithuanian 12th Au{illiary Police Battalion, a

fact he later confirmed during an STV intervi€w.

This cleared the firsc major hurdle ol

identification, a problen on which manyNazihunting

cases founder. There was no doubt th€

man in Edinburgh and the men in th€

investigltort documents w€re one and the same.

But he denied a[ charges ofwar crimes.

The STV filmmakers started to dig deeper.

They found docunents fiom the forner Soviet

Union which showed thar G€cas had execut€d

innocent p€ople byhims€lfand wirh others. His

name had first com€ to lightjn 1962 during*ar

crimes trials ag"inst sever.l other Lithuanians.

people. Gecevicius was the officer. He himselt

rves not only giling orders but he was also

carrying a revolver And there were cases where

he would shoot people himself."

He denied being involved in any of this, but

for such acts ofhorror, Anianas G€cevicius was

awrded dre Iron Cros. This was highly unusual

- the nedal was normally reserved for Gernan

nationals and ev€n then only ror having eng:ged

in hand-to-hand combat vith the enemy. He was

also promoted to tull lieutenent and awarded a

police rnedal for keeping local partjsans in line.

tu the Allies began to gain the upper hand, he

made his way to ltaly and into a Polish uniform

before giving himself up and, ev€ntually,

arriving in the UK in 1947.

Frorn then until 1982, when the accusations

began to surhce, he was known as Tony Gecas,

Uk.aini.n volunteers to participate in mass

murder. In some instances, especielly in

Lithuania, local gangs took the initiative in

seeking outlews and killing them, even before

the German armyand killingsquads arrived."

One report Foln th€ time stared thrt "The

Lithusnians oft€n distinFished thernselves with

displays of uusual cruelty and sadism."

The number ofpeople slaughtered by these

squads nakes gaim reading: by December 1941,

.n SS colon€l reported to his superiors that in

the former Baltic States ofEstonia, Latvia and

Lithuania, his men had murdered 200,000Jews.

Only 34,000 temained alive, and th€y were

being used as slave labourers.

Wilson and Tomlinson's docum€ntaries

revealed that Artanas Gecevicius was part ofall

rhis. Their information came straighi ftom the

mouth of, Simon Wi€senchal spokesman who

stated bluntly, "Mr Indeed, the name Gecevicius surfaced in court

transcripts no fewer tlan 40 times. Executions

had talen place at Kaunas in Lidruania in l94l .

Gecas had been involved, it eas seid, at a tim€

when 8,000 Jews were murdered there. In

October of the same year, his battalion was sent

to Mirsk in Belorussia. A captured German

communiqu6 proves this:

CRIMES OF WAR

clockwlse horn top l.tt:

Edlnhurgh Jews In

Nazl-held Slobodka,

Llthuanla. The

photogEph w.s taten

ceorge r,Edlsh uslnq .

other.s they are led to

theh executlon In Ponan

Llthu.nla; B.lk n Je$s

are round.d up In the

streee a Uthunlan

Gecas k accused ofmass

murder. H€ has.dm'tted that his battalion

srEstlka leads Jews to

parricipated itr the mxss liquidation ofJevs

only he claims he was always on the side, on

guard duty. Our information is that th€ rvhol€

unitdid nothing for e living but killciviUans and

thrr he was a platoon commander."

Gecas had in facc been intewjewed as e.rly as

1982 by America's Of6ce of Special Inv€stigrtions

"The Commandant

ofKaunas orders the battalion on 6 October, at

0500hrs, to march toMinsk, Borisov and Slutsk

provinces to cleanse the area ofthe remaining

Bolshevik and Bolshevik partisans."

By this time among the officers in command

was Sub-Li€utenant Gecevicius. Eventually, in

the Minsk gheao alone, 42,000Jews were killed.

The Lithuanian battalions qnickly earned a

reputation for terrirying brutality - so much so

that the local SS even petitioned their officer in

October l94l to complain directly to Hitler

about their ind€scribable actions.

cecas insisred Lithuanians weren't allowed to

carry out any hangings and that h€ was there lo

protect the Germans. But this contradicted

evidence from a 1962 trial in which luosas

Knirimas, e soldier in Gecas's baitalion, had

stated,

"On our way Lt. Gecevicius assigned the

soldiers who were to actas hangmen. He chose

Varnas, Samonis and me. I sawVarnas placing

ropes around the necks ofthe condenn€d. One

of chem broke loose. I plcked him up and we

held him while Varnas ti€d the loot agrin. After

this we went to the other place. Here people

were hanged from the beams of two telegraph

poles. I nyself hanged a woman."

Odrer eyewitresses caced by STV testiffed to

cecas's involvement in the killings. One, ralking

about a massacre atMinsk, stated' "Groups of

soldiers *ere filed up close to the pit. Our group

was commanded by Gecevicius. He gave us the

orders: 'Attention and Fire'. Gecevicius used his

pistol to finish offthe victins who were still

alive. When we sewed toge$ef in the battalion,

he was my direct cornmafld€r. So I think that

during these sin rnonths, I ftnew him quitewell."

Awitness called Moitjejus Migonis, who had

already seFed a longs€ntence jn Sibe.a for his

war crim€s against the Sodet state, recalled:

"I

a self-made nining engineerwith dte National

Coal Board. He acted swiftly against anyone

cleiming he was awarcriminal, initially winning

defamacion damages against Tbe Timcs.

But folloving his failed 1992 libel acrion

against STV lhe station managed to unearth

even more documents and wihesses in Eastern

Europe to support lheir allegxtions.

By then the documentary, first screened in

1987, had already generated a po$'€rtul Iobby

for the cr€ation of a British War Crimes Act.

The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd,

commissioned a report on ihe situation. Coauthored

by Sir Thomas Heatheringron in

England and w;llian Chalmers in Scotland, it

was delivered in June 1989. They'd plodded

around the globe retracitrg much ofthe work

done bySfi eventually concluding that Britain

should a€c against war criminals.

The next step was legislation. This wasn't

without its problems. During a bizarre passage

backward, and forwards berween rhe House of

Commons and d1e stubborn anti-ActLords, the

supporters of dle War C.imes Aci were accused

of being ir the srip of a so-called

rememberlews being nass executed in Slursk.

Thxt was at the €nd ofO€tober 1941. Officers

and soldiers ofthe 12th battalion, and some

Gernan soldiers, executed several chousand

'Jewish

lobby". Th€ Aci had gained *id€spread cro$party

and cross-religion snpport, yet its

opponents suggested that only the Jews pusued

vengeance -sonething they regarded as a non-

Christian (and rherefore non-British)

characceristic. Eventually, however, the War

Crimes Act came into being on l0 May 1991.

Everyone's hopes were high, no.leasr Crucr

af l4'ff dfte.tor P.oss Wllsont: "\ 4ren the Act

came through, '€ thought, 'You've had tbe

reason for changing the Iaw, the law is now

chang€d and the criminel ection will follow.'

And then, iust as ir hed done for th€ pr€vious

four decades, it [the case] disappeared into the

mists ofnothingress."

And that!where itseems to have remained.

There are sever.l th€orie, about why no criminal

case ws ever btought against G€crs. Sir Thomas

Heatherington and William Ch?lmers both

characterised the evidence they'd gathered as

"good"

but emphasised that their report was

independent.It was, theysaid, up to the sp€cial

Scottish war Crimes Unit, which *as established

wirh the police, to ascertain whether enough

evidence existed to pros€cute Gecas. Then it)

t3


) wrs up to hoth r}l" Lord {dvocires Office and baitalion currendy residing in the UK. These

the Crom Office whether to proceed to E:ial. ln nen could have provided damning evidence

the end, dre war Crimes Unitwas secredyshut against him, bur English investigators retused

down in I9o I llhe deci

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