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Chapter 8

Enter ‘the Dutchman’ Pieter Menten[286]

 

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Figure 29: SS Sonderfuehrer Pieter Nocolaas Menten 1941

 

When he first appeared in Lvov, the Pistiners said that he epitomised Western culture – he smoked Egyptian cigarettes, carried a silver-topped walking stick, and spoke with an enduring accent; his wife possessed a beauty ‘off a movie screen'. In the uniform of the Sicherheitsdienst and with the rank of SS-Hauptscahrfuehrer, Menten supervised the killing in Pistiner`s garden, suggesting an actor in the wings of a theatre, about to enter onto the stage.[287]

 

General background and Introduction

PIETER MENTEN used the Sipo-SD School at Rabka as a storehouse for art and other collectables seized from Jewish homes. He was the Third Reich's principal ‘roving collector’ who toured the museums and art galleries seizing valuables on behalf of the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler and Reichsmarschall Herman Goering and provided self-service to the Rabka Four.

When Hitler invaded Poland on the 1st September, 1939, Pieter Menten and his wife Meta took refuge on their estate in Sopot near the town of Stryj, where they

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had expected the imminent arrival of German troops. Unknown to the Mentens, the Nazi-Soviet Pact provided for east Galicia's absorption into the USSR, and on the 17th September, 1939, the Soviets arrived in East Galicia and immediately began confiscating Polish estates and distributing them to the Ukranian peasants and deporting the owners to labour camps.

Pieter Menten had been operating in the area as a spy (V-Agent) for the Sipo- SD-Abwehr in Berlin for some time[288] which had been well known to Soviet Ukrainian sympathisers. It wasn't long before he was arrested by the NKVD and detained in the Stryj jail when Samuel Schiff, a Jew from Podhorodze, somehow extricated him. With the help of Samuel Schiff, a Podhorodze Jew, he escaped with his wife to Lvov where they sought the assistance of the Dutch Consul, Jacob Jan Broen, to get back to German occupied Poland[289]:

‘Till the end of 1939 I was consul of the Netherlands in Lvov (Lvov), as a successor to Dr Witkovsky. Because of the war activities in Poland I had to leave Lvov towards the end of December 1939. Shortly before my departure, P.N. Menten came to see me, asking me in my function as consul for a Dutch passport. Although I wasn't quite sure whether Menten still possessed Dutch nationality – this on the basis of a note in my files on Menten, written by my predecessor – I decided to issue him with a passport, mainly from considerations of humanity. Our party left Lvov on December 27, along with Mr and Mrs Menten, Menten's mother, and another Dutchman by the name of Jan Huig and wife. Our destination was the Netherlands, but our papers were only valid to Krakow. We were to get new travel documents there. Each member of our party was allowed no more that about 150 pounds of luggage. Mr Menten, too, could only take limited luggage. He had already told me before, weeping, that he'd lost everything, that his estate had been plundered but the Russians, and his house burned. When we arrived in Krakow, it soon became apparent that Menten was on good terms with the Germans. He was really getting thick with them, and saluting in the Nazi German way. And very soon afterwards he came to tell me he wasn't going on with us to the Netherlands, but had decided to stay in Krakow to try to earn back at least part of the fortune he had so recently lost.

I do not know that Mr Menten owned a house in Lvov before 1940. I do know, however, that from September 1939 to December of that year he resided in a very small room in Lvov; he lived in such small quarters that mother Menten had to share the couple's bedroom.’

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On the 27th December, 1939, the Mentens arrived in Krakow, the centre of Germany's colonial rule over Western Poland, and the hub of Nazi activity. Pieter Menten immediately reported to the Sipo-SD Security Office and offered his services. This office controlled both the SD (Security Service, including the Gestapo) and the Sipo (Security Police) commanded by SS Oberfuehrer Bruno Streckenbach, who was almost immediately replaced by Dr Eberhard Schoengarth, and it seems likely that Menten was able to gain access to Streckenbach because of his previous service with Nazi intelligence as a ‘V’ Agent.

The city which attracted Menten had just become the focus of Germany's colonial rule over Western Poland, and a centre for the deliberate genocide which during the next six years was to make Poland into the death factory of European Jewry and cause the deaths of three million ‘Aryan’ Poles. Krakow's Jewish population had been swollen to 80,000 by refugees from Nazi terror elsewhere.

Krakow was not a large city, so it was easier for the Germans to create a German majority. All undesirable Polish elements had been removed, and only those Poles who showed allegiance to the Reich and who had been carefully vetted, remained as officials in the administration. The Germans had made considerable efforts to restoring the facades and maintenance of the infrastructure which was being resolved to everyone's satisfaction. This would explain why a few days after his arrival in Krakow, Menten was seen in uniform with the rank of SS Hauptscharfuehrer. As the Germans settled into ruling Poland, Jewish property was seized in operations enabling Menten to serve both the Germans and himself. He became administrator for Jewish antiques and art-collections under Streckenbach, then Schoengarth. Menten in 1940 (according to family testimony) knew very little about art, but he knew how to pick brains, particularly those of Joseph Stieglitz, a Jewish art dealer who had owned galleries in Krakow and Lvov, and with whose aid he tracked down numerous treasurers for the benefit of the Reich.[290]

Just before the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR on the 22nd June 1941, Menten enabled Stieglitz to escape to Hungary – from which he reached Palestine, returning many years later to Holland to help Menten stave off prosecution. The Barbarossa campaign had sparked Menten's deep commitment to something altogether darker than legalised art-robbery and treachery to his naturalisation: namely to Hitler's ‘Final Solution’.

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The Naturalisation of Menten in the 1930s as a Polish citizen is contentious.[291] There appears to be some credence to this, as in 1951, the Polish government were still smarting because the Dutch government had not responded to their requests for extradition, and had taken the unusual steps of informing the Dutch press on the grounds ‘that Menten during the German occupation of the province of Lvov had, as a functionary of the German Sicherheitspolizei, participated in the murdering of citizens who were being persecuted because of their race; notably that on the 27th August, 1941, in Urycz (District of Stryj), he, with the assistance of two members of the German Sicherheitspolizei, had executed about 180 people of Jewish origin; they were shot in a specially prepared pit and also buried there; among them were four sisters of a man called Michael Mirski (Michael Hauptmann) ’

A second point stressed in the Polish bulletin was that Menten during the same period had been a functionary of the German SS, and that as Verwalter (trustee or administrator) he carried out the administration over ‘former Jewish firms' in the province of Lvov and Krakow. Also, that Menten had appropriated the household goods of Dr Ostrowsky (a professor at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov) right after he had been shot by the Germans. The furnishings of the house were later transported by Menten to the Netherlands (via the Rabka School?).[292]

 

The Unfolding Story

The central pivotal point of the Menten story is undoubtedly the tenacious investigation by the Dutch journalist Hans Knoop. In 1976, Knoop received information from an informant that a big story was about to be broken in the Israel Press about a Dutch resident who had been a German collaborator in the last war. Following this, the Amsterdam daily De Telegraaf, acting on further information, interviewed Mr Menten and confirmed that he would be auctioning some of his art works. This publicity alerted the public to further rumours that Pieter Menten had been involved in Nazi atrocities in the Ukraine.

On the 29th May, 1976, Knoop, by appointment, visited Menten at his residence and when entering the property found a showplace of riches, a veritable museum. The walls were covered with paintings and Gobelin tapestries. Pieter Menten received the journalist politely and when Knoop put to him the nature of the information which was about to be published in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, that he, Menten, as part of an SS extermination squad into the village of Podhorodze and several neighbouring villages, personally had selected various

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villagers and had killed them: revenge was his motive, for he had quarrelled with a business partner, Isaac Pistiner, a Jew. Menten denied any knowledge or association with the facts as set out. Knoop left, dismayed, and set on a course which would lead him to the inner wilderness of the Stryj Valley, Ukraine, and many years of a bitter fight to establish the truth.

It would appear that the information had come, in the first instant, from an Israeli journalist, Chaviv Kanaan, who was personally involved. After the war Kanaan had changed his name from Lieber Krumholz to Chaviv Kanaan and was now telling the world about his early life as a 15-year-old boy in the Village of Podhorodze in the Stryj Valley, East Galicia (at the time Poland but now Ukraine). The boy Krumholz worked on his uncle's farm where he came into daily contact with the owner of an adjacent estate, Pieter Menten. There was a close business association with his uncle's family (the Pistiners) and the Menten estate. The association was that close that the young Kanaan referred to the owner as ‘Uncle Pieter’. In 1935, young Lieber Krumholz left his home village and emigrated to Palestine where he started a new life. Contact with his family in Podhorodze was maintained until the beginning of the Second World War when Poland was partitioned between the Soviets and Germany, when all contact ceased until 1944.[293]

Krumholz, now Kanaan, met Jacob Loebel, a family friend, who had recently arrived in Palestine from Eastern Europe. Loebel brought bad news about the boy's family to the effect that they had all been murdered in a terrible onslaught and the man behind the murders was the family friend Pieter Menten. Loebel described Menten as a Gestapo Agent and that the background to these events was over bad business deals with his uncle, Isaac Pistiner.

Hans Knoop and Chaviv Kanaan eventually came together and set about building the evidence to support government action into the activities of Pieter Menten during the Nazi occupation of Poland and the atrocities committed in the Stryj Valley.

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The Dutchman revisits old friends in the Villages of the Stryj Valley: Podhorodze.[294]

 

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Figure 30: The Dutchman (R) 1941, Podhorodze

 

Very soon after zbV arrived in Lvov and had dealt with the University professors, Pieter Menten went on a shopping spree looking for major works of art for the benefit of his new clients – the senior Nazi command. Many journeys were made to and from the Sipo-SD School where he stored his loot under the watchful eye of the retained care-taking staff. In between his visits he was out to settle old scores in the suburbs of the city and the Stryj Valley for times gone by. To assist him he was supplied with a team of Ukrainian militia and SD personnel from the Rabka School.

On the 6th July, several Sipo-SD non-commissioned officers and Ukrainian militiamen (Banderovtsy – OUN), led by the Dutchman Pieter Menten[295] from zbV, arrived at Podhorodze, a small village in the Stryj Valley.[296] Immediately, local Ukrainians with shovels were ordered by Pieter Menten to go to the residence of Isaac Pistiner. On directions from Menten a pit, measuring 16 x 11 x

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10.8 feet deep was excavated near the rose garden. The Execution squad: SS Sonderfuehrer Pieter Menten; Phillip Muller, Volksdeutsch supervisor; and a specialist executioner (Holz Apfel) seconded from the Rabka SD School prepared their lists for the following day.

On the 7 July, all local male Ukrainian ‘politicals’ were rounded up and forced to the graveside. The remaining villagers were assembled and forced to watch as groups of prisoners were made to walk a plank and then shot into the grave on orders of Menten.[297] The remainder, the Jewish men of the village, were brought out one by one. Each walked the plank and each was shot into the pit. In less than 5 minutes, 23 Jewish men had been murdered for no other reason than that they were Jews and by personal vendetta.[298] All the Jewish women and children were released.[299] The local villagers threw Kreutzers and Kopecks into the pit as homage to the dead. This coinage was later recovered from the pit when the bodies were exhumed by the Soviets well after the war.[300]

 

Non Jewish victims resident in Podhorodze: Alexander Nowicki; Bronislaw Nowicki; Alfred Stephan (Bronislaw's brother); Vladimir Pistolak; Petro Starzinsky.

The Jewish Victims resident in Podhorodze: Benzion Nauman – carpenter; Josel Nass – schoolteacher; Moshe Halpern – postman; Uzik – dentist; Shabtai Katz; Alfred Favel; Mendel Yeckel – butcher; Mordechai Londner; Voit Heller; Pinchas Bernstein; Mr Greenberg; Geiwel Hellmar; Chaim Jacov; Schlossberg; Schleitter; Zuckerman; Phillip Wecker; plus 6 others. Women and children were spared and ordered back to their homes.

On the 27th August 1941, a small unit (again led my Menten) of zbV officers returned to the villages in the Stryj Valley and completed their unresolved business in the slaughter of 180 Jews (of all genders and age) in the village of Urycz, near Podhorodze, employing the ‘pit-and-plank’ technique.[301] Witnesses to these events were local villagers Michael Hauptmann and his cousin Abe Pollak, Polish-born Jews who vividly remember those horrible events of Aug. 27, 1941. Both Pollak and Hauptmann ran from the scene and managed to escape the massacre that befell their families and their Jewish neighbours. Also escaping were the Schleiffers. These witnesses hid in a house a short distance from where the action was happening and recorded the events that would be the basis of Menten's trial well after the war. In this action, two hundred Jews had been herded together and in groups were ordered to walk over a long plank where, after a few paces, Menten ordered them to be shot. Abe Pollack:

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‘Armed Ukrainians were herding other Jews in our direction. Some had locked themselves in their houses and the doors had to be broken down and the people dragged out kicking and screaming. I recognized Pieter Menten in a German uniform, along with two other Gestapo agents. They had mounted machine guns in front of them. I saw Ukrainians digging a pit some 15 yards from the guns. You could hear voices and crying. Later the guards began to take people out in small groups of ten and twelve. They pushed them onto planks set over the pit. Then you could hear the machine guns – a continuous rat-ta-ta-tat.’

In September 1976 an official request was made to send a Dutch investigation team to Podhorodze and Urych, now part of the USSR. Simultaneously, Hans Knoop of Accent requested visas for himself and a photographer: because of Accent's fierce anti-Communism, he expected nothing, but in fact his visas came through in October, while the official party had heard nothing.

The two journalists were conveyed to Lvov, capital of Eastern Galicia under the old Polish regime, and from there to Podhorodze, where a team of pathologists was examining the freshly-exhumed remains of 180 people. They were invited to attend exhumations also at Urych, Dogve and Kropivnik, but decided after a week's investigating, tape-recording and photography that they had had enough.

 

A Fact-finding Mission to the Soviet Union by the Dutch Journalist Hans Knoop[302]

 

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Figure 31: Hans Knoop

 

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‘The trip in that taxi was pleasant (although it smelled alarmingly of gasoline) and it took us all the way from Moscow's international airport to the national airport, Vnukova, past the other side of town, a distance of about 60 miles, which took a little more than two hours. Moscow, in that October of 1976, was already under a blanket of snow. It was cold. The people were wearing their heavy winter clothing.

Vnukova, the jumping-off place for our trip to Lvov some 1,400 kilometres (800 miles) west, was a grim and dreary place. And cold as it was outside, the airport building itself was stifling inside. (Something, by the way, which I hear is true all over the Soviet Union.) There wasn't really any proper waiting room, and no restaurant. There was nothing to do for four hours but hang around staircases and sit on rickety wooden benches, killing time by playing cards, waiting for the old-fashioned propeller plane which was going to take us to Lvov.

The plane was full of soldiers, and there was almost no room for anyone else. Since we were the only two non-Russians, we were expected to get on the plane first and leave it last. What a trip! Two and a half hours of sudden shuddering dropping and rising, to the accompaniment of motors which alternately angrily screamed and feebly whined. The only thing served to the passengers was one thimbleful of mineral water Aeroflot thought should sustain us! Tired and famished (we hadn't had anything since midday) we finally landed at one a.m. local time at the airport of Lvov, which as far as the eye could see was full of military planes.

As I've said, our interpreter, Vladimir Molchanov, wasn't there. Although we'd never met, we should have recognized each other quite easily. I knew what Molchanov looked like because he had worked with the Dutch television crew who made the trip earlier. And the Soviet Embassy in the Netherlands had sent him several copies of Accent which carried my picture. However, no one approached us, and there was no one even roughly resembling our missing translator. When all the Moscow passengers had left what was called the “arrivals hall,” and not a soul had paid any attention to us, we decided to go outside and try to get a cab. We found a driver who could speak a few words of German, with which he addressed us because he assumed we were from East Germany. Since my hotel voucher mentioned that we were to stay in one of the town's two big hotels, the Lvov, I told the driver to take us there.

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The reception desk inside that pompous building was deserted. After we had paced up and down for a half-hour, whistling and banging on doors and counters, an old woman appeared. Answering our questions in broken German, she kept telling us that there were no reservations made in our names. She had never heard of Molchanov either, and said we were probably booked at the Intourist Hotel some 100 yards up the street. There were no cabs, of course, so the photographer and I had to walk it, each of us lugging two heavy suitcases.

We were more successful at the Intourist. First of all, there was someone at the desk who spoke fluent German, and secondly there was indeed a reservation for us. And Molchanov, too, was staying there, we were told by the receptionist. But he wasn't in at the moment; he had left the hotel around ten o'clock and hadn't returned yet. Although the tiredness had reached my bones, and my eyes were at half-mast, we decided to wait for him in the lobby area and not go to bed before we had introduced ourselves to him.

Thirty minutes later Molchanov stood before us dressed in a raincoat, making a sort of qualified apology. It hadn't been possible for him to be at the airport because the wrong arrival time had been called through from The Hague, and there had been other circumstances involved too, he said. Molchanov spoke surprisingly good Dutch, only a slight accent betraying him as Russian. (It was not an exaggeration; several months later, during the Parliament debates concerning Van Agt's role in the Menten affair, I answered Van Agt's sleighting references to my interpreter's ability that the Dutch Molchanov spoke was much more understandable than the bureaucratic Dutch in which the minister of justice was expressing himself at that time.) Molchanov told me he had studied the language for several years at the University of Moscow, and that he'd written a thesis on the important Dutch novelist Louis Couperus.

We decided to continue our conversation in our hotel room, which had a great supply of heat but very little air. Molchanov ordered a bottle of mineral water from the female floor guard at the top of the stairs – every floor has one! Molchanov told us that we had come to the Soviet Union at just the right time, for a few days before, at the command of the district attorney of Lvov Province, Russian soldiers had opened the mass graves at Podhorodze. The remains of the victims were being carefully and elaborately studied on the spot by experts from the University of Lvov.

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Next morning at ten-thirty, Popov, Novosti director in Lvov, a small, dark, energetic man, welcomed us with outstretched arms on the second floor of his Novosti office building. The man spoke nothing but Russian and Ukrainian; Molchanov translated for us. Popov offered us a chauffeured car for almost the entire length of our stay. He'd already telephoned Podhorodze and been told we could come the following morning. A representative of the Communist Party from the neighbouring village of Skole would accompany us for the last stretch from Skole to Podhorodze because it was difficult to find. I'd had a long telephone conversation with Chaviv Kanaan the evening before my departure to the Soviet Union, and asked him then if he could give me the names of any people to look up contacts who might be of importance for the investigation into Menten's crimes. Kanaan didn't have to think for long, rattling off the names of three Jews still living in Lvov who, according to him, should have full knowledge of the executions. If I succeeded in locating them, I should start off with a story he told me, and send them the regards of individuals in Israel in order to gain their confidence. Kanaan pointed out I might expect them to clam up when a Western stranger came knocking on their door unexpectedly. He emphasized that I should play it subtly, draw them out, and slowly try to win their confidence. One of them was a hard-core party man, an engineer for the city of Lvov, and I'd have to be especially careful to watch my words when I spoke to him.

The addresses for the three people given to me by Kanaan proved to be incorrect. They must have moved since the war. Popov promised to find them through the Lvov registry, and told us that he hoped to have them for us when we returned a few hours later.

My photographer and I, with Molchanov, spent the time driving around the beautiful city of Lvov. I could see why it was formerly called “Little Vienna.” Before the war the total population of Lvov was 300,000, of whom more than a third were Jews. There is no longer any organized Jewish life as such in Lvov. Of course, that is to be found practically nowhere in the Soviet Union. The city has no synagogue, and religious services, when they are held at all, are conducted in the most discreetly private, almost clandestine manner. Lvov still maintains its large Jewish cemetery with a great deal of care.

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Our tour carried us past the house of Dr Ostrowsky, the Lvov surgeon and art collector who had been killed in June 1941 during the so-called “professor murders.” According to a number of depositions, Pieter Menten had moved into the famous physician's house the very night of the murder, appropriating the art collection. Menten's rushing in there to “take care of” Ostrowsky's valuable collection was brought to the attention of the Dutch press in 1951 by the bulletin of the Polish legation to the Netherlands, which was attempting to publicize Poland's request for the extradition of Menten. According to Wiesenthal, it's not at all unlikely that Menten played some role in those “professor murders.” However, I wish to emphasize that I have no specific proof linking him to them. But Lvov neighbours of Ostrowsky's confirmed that Menten became their neighbour hours after the murder, and immediately had men working to remove the collection to a warehouse near the railroad station.

I questioned Menten about the whole Ostrowsky business, and so has Commissioner Peters. Menten stubbornly denies ever having heard the name, let alone living in the professor's house and stealing his collection. Neighbours of the professor, however (contrary to many press references, by the way, Ostrowksy wasn't a Jew), remember all too well Menten's nameplate nailed to the door. The same fact was communicated soon after the war to the former examining magistrate of the Special Court in Amsterdam, Mr. Rohling, later to be accused by Menten of having committed perjury and falsified evidence against him.

Rohling vividly remembers hearing Ostrowsky's stepdaughter give evidence as a witness in Amsterdam. Jadwina Roswadovska, one of the few remaining members of the Ostrowsky family after the war, testified to having seen Menten's nameplate on the door of her dead stepfather's house. Although its actual value was never assessed, Ostrowsky's collection was said to be worth millions. The house on what is now called Saskasangsko Street also contained many precious paintings and artefacts that had been brought to him for safekeeping by the Polish nobility of eastern Galicia. Many a Polish count and baron feared his art treasures would be devoured by the Russians (who were the ruling power in eastern Poland till they were chased out by the Germans in 1941). They believed that because Ostrowsky was a doctor and a professor, the Russians would let him be and their treasures would be safe with him. When the Germans attacked Russia, this collection fell into Menten's lap like a ripe golden apple.

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In our ride through Lvov we also found Isaac Pistiner's last house. He had been trucked off to the Lvov ghetto from this place by the Germans sometime before Menten allegedly came looking for him, eager for revenge. And it was in front of this house that Menten had, according to witnesses, sent a bullet into Hirsch's head and succeeded in the cold- blooded murder of others in the Pistiner family. The present Ukrainian occupants knew nothing of the story, although they did say they'd heard that before the war the house had been lived in by a rich Jewish family. But they had no knowledge of Menten or of the execution of the members of that family in front of their door. Not so strange when one considers that the new occupants must have been children back then.

When we returned to the offices of Novosti, the helpful Popov had some good news for us – he'd found the addresses of the three people Kanaan had given me to contact. Together with Molchanov and Popov (Molchanov doesn't speak Ukrainian, but Popov does) we visited them in the afternoon. The engineer was indeed a good friend of someone living in Israel, just as Kanaan had said, and he spoke seven languages fluently – but he had very little to say to us in any of them. He had never heard of any massacres in Podhorodze and Urycz. He himself had always lived in Lvov, although it was true that in the old days he had had some good friends in Podhorodze. He didn't know exactly what had happened to them; he'd always assumed that they'd been killed by the Germans in a concentration camp during the war, just like so many members of his own family. One thing of which there was no shortage in eastern Galicia was death camps. Not more than two miles from Lvov was an immense concentration camp, Janowska. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had died there in that hell, fed into the place from Lvov and its surroundings.

We didn't find anything new about Menten on our second stop either. The man we were looking for wasn't in and his wife told us she didn't expect him back from Moscow for several days.

We did not come away empty-handed, however, at the third and final address: that of a man named Halpern (not to be confused with the Halpern from Stryj mentioned earlier). Kanaan had told me that after the war the monument to the Jewish dead had gone up in Urycz at the site of the executions largely because Halpern himself was a native of Urycz, and one of the few Jewish inhabitants of this village to survive Menten's mass executions. Halpern wasn't at home when we came, but his wife

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knew everything. Yes, her husband was indeed from Urycz, and his entire family was said to have been wiped out by a Dutchman named Menten. She wasn't Jewish herself, but had married Halpern after the war and knew the whole horrible story. But she'd let her husband tell us. She suggested we come back later that evening at around six when he was expected back.

When we returned we were met by a small, grey-haired man in his sixties. Halpern was most eager to answer all our questions. We had to set up a somewhat complicated assembly-line procedure: I asked my questions in Dutch, Molchanov repeated them in Russian, and then Popov translated them into Ukrainian. The line went into reverse for the answers. (Cassettes of this and all other taped interviews I conducted with witnesses in East Galicia were later handed over to the Dutch judiciary.)

Halpern could not recognize and identify Pieter Nicolaas Menten from the pictures we showed because he had never actually met the man. The name, however, was more than familiar. As a boy of ten or eleven, he'd often heard it mentioned in pre-war Podhorodze and it kept coming back after the war in connection with the Podhorodze and Urycz executions. Halpern told us he'd often played in Pistiner's back yard in Podhorodze only a few miles away from Urycz. He recalled the local gossip about a business argument between Pistiner and Menten, and also that Pistiner had lost a great deal of money to Menten.

Sometime during the war, Halpern had joined the Red Army. As soon as Lvov and surroundings were liberated in 1944 he had returned to Urycz to search out his family and acquaintances. One of the first people he met was a certain Cyglarova, a farmer's wife who'd known his family very well. This woman, now living in Poland, broke out in tears when she saw Halpern. She told him what had happened. On a summer's day in 1941, at ten in the morning, she had seen a German car enter the village. In the car were a young officer, a driver, and a German soldier. The car pulled up at the house of a certain Mr Nordligt, which stood on a little hill. The officer gave an order to the Ukrainian nationalists, who were gathered in some force there that morning, to round up all the two hundred Jews living in the town and corral them in that house. The nationalists (who had been recruited from neighbouring villages) then went on a house-to-house search, telling the Jews to come to Nordligt's house because someone wanted to address them there.

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Of course, all knew what was going on, because they had heard what had happened in Podhorodze earlier that summer. Weeping and praying, the Jews were led into Nordligt's house. Halpern's mother, going by the farmer's wife, said: “I feel so glad Misja isn't here today.” “Misja” was Halpern's nickname. Only one Jew refused to go along, a man by the name of Lev Roth who locked himself in his room. The Ukrainians forced the door and pulled him out, tied a rope around his feet, and had a horse drag him along the ground to Nordligt's house. The two hundred Jews locked up in those three rooms (the house was small, with a total area of about 1,000 square feet) must have been unbearably hot, Cyglarova told Halpern; they had to wait three hours before the Ukrainians finished preparing the great hole. The Ukrainians had initially ordered the Jews to dig their own grave, but they had refused.

Halpern told me that he was sure Menten had been in command, and it was all a ghastly repeat of his performance in Podhorodze. According to Halpern, only three Jews of Urycz escaped death that day: Michael Hauptmann, Nordligt's son Saul, and one other. The Ukrainians didn't completely close the grave full of dying and wounded as well as the dead, a grisly detail Halpern gave us which tallied with Hauptmann's description. Halpern lost his parents, his four sisters, his daughter, and his wife. He was sobbing by the time he finished Cyglarova's story.

Two weeks before I visited Halpern, he had journeyed to Urycz and had again stood at the place where on that 27th of August they all had stood. Again he saw it happening, heard the wailing and the bursting shouts of gunfire. While his wife got a photo album out of the closet and showed us pictures of his murdered family, Halpern put a nitro-glycerine tablet under his tongue. He had suffered a heart attack several months earlier.

While we drank down our vodkas Russian-style (emptying the glass at one toss), Halpern told us how peaceful life had once been in Urycz. It was a unique village, its population flourishing and prosperous, and the relations between Jew and non-Jew exceptionally harmonious. Although many other Jewish villages in Poland were plagued by a virulent anti- Semitism, this was not so in Urycz. Halpern gave a resonantly bitter laugh when I told him that according to Menten there weren't any Jews either in Podhorodze or in Urycz; they used to live in the big cities. Halpern said the Jews themselves always referred to their village as ‘Little Israel' because there were so many of them there. In Urycz there

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were three prayer houses. Zionists among the Jewish population of Urycz had been laughed at by their fellow villagers. Why should a Jew want to emigrate from the paradise of Urycz to the desert of Palestine? Halpern was shaking his head slowly from side to side. How dare a vile criminal like Menten, with his record, say such a thing that there weren't any Jews in Urycz and Podhorodze? The insolent scoundrel! Now there weren't any Jews in Urycz and Podhorodze and only one man was responsible for that: Pieter Nicolaas Menten.

Halpern said that, of course, he knew the two chief witnesses for the prosecution, Hauptmann and Pollack. But after he had joined the Red Army he had lost sight of them, and it was news to him that one was living in Sweden now and the other in New York. Would we please give his regards to them?

Halpern was also of help in our locating another valuable witness, Hennek Schleiffer. On the eve of my departure for the Soviet Union, Commissioner Peters had told me that Schleiffer could possibly be the key to several unsolved unclarified points. Peters had put out a search for him throughout the world, with no results. Before the war Schleiffer had briefly been married to Michael Hauptmann's sister, but Hauptmann had lost all contact with his former brother-in-law. Halpern almost knocked over the vodka glass his wife was filling when I mentioned Schleiffer's name. “Well,” he said, “you are certainly very well informed.” Where had I found that name? He knew Schleiffer very well; he was an old boyhood chum from Urycz and he still saw him regularly. He lived in a place about 60 miles from Lvov, Drohobycz, not far from Podhorodze and Urycz. Halpern said, however, that there would be no point in our visiting Schleiffer; he wouldn't talk to us unless we were in Halpern's presence and since Halpern had to go on a business trip to Moscow the following day, we might as well forget about Schleiffer this time round. (After returning to Holland, the CID in Amsterdam was delighted to hear I'd located Hennek Schleiffer, and that he'd survived the war. The same CID, by the way, was still awaiting official permission to go on its fact-finding trip and would continue to wait until February 1, 1977.)

The following day we made the long and tiring journey from Lvov to Podhorodze. The chauffeur-driven car put at our disposal by Novosti was waiting promptly for us at six in the morning in front of the

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Intourist Hotel (formerly called ‘The George,’ where Menten had conducted many of his business conferences). Popov was supposed to come along, but an acute backache kept him in bed, so we had to make out with one interpreter, Molchanov. In Skole, about 20 miles from Podhorodze, a functionary of the local Communist Party was supposed to join us. He'd show us the way, and in case any witnesses could only speak Ukrainian, he would fill in as interpreter. The two-lane highway from Lvov to Skole ran on with an endless sameness, a thick morning mist hung over the steppes, and all was grim and desolate as one imagines when reading about the landscape in many Russian novels. Only after the town of Stryi (Menten made his home there for a while before the war) did the landscape get richer and more pleasant as we were approaching the foothills of the Carpathians. We got to Skole in one and a half hours.

In the town hall (which was also the seat of the Communist Party) Molchanov made our introductions to the local dignitaries. We were to follow one of these officials, who would lead the way to Podhorodze in a jeep, and if necessary he'd assist us when we were there. The last stretch took us through a beautiful landscape, thick woods marching over hill-mountains while the dark, sliding Stryj River ran companionably along. Women in black wearing babushkas were toiling in the fields. Within half an hour we reached the village of Podhorodze and minutes later Molchanov was pointing to Pistiner's big farmhouse on top of a hill. Molchanov recognized it, because months earlier he'd gone the same road with our TV colleagues. When we drew close to the sign that said “Podhorodze” we decided to take a picture of it, a whim which seemed totally unimportant at the time, but which could play a role in Menten's trial. (When Menten was questioned by the CID after his arrest, he insinuated that the Russians had led us astray to another village with a more or less similar name and not to Podhorodze.)

The village was one big mud pool, impossible to drive into. We walked the last 50 yards to Pistiner's farm with pants' legs rolled up, sinking up to our ankles in the mud. What we saw next, I will never forget. The whole area was littered with children's shoes, braids, skulls, vertebrae, everything chaotically mixed together, and the grave staring at us like a great open eye. Some fifteen Russian soldiers were busy cleaning these remains on a large table off to the side, performing this macabre task in a sort of haughty, dreaming silence, supervised by an officer.

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gal032.jpg
Figure 32: Post-War reburial of the bodies from the Podhorodze executions

 

Podhorodze is a village where time seems to have stopped: small wooden houses, children playing in front of them in rubber boots; old, bent women bringing in wood for their stoves with cart and horse. This is the way Podhorodze looked, and this is the way it must have looked years ago when Pieter Menten owned his vast forests here before the war, and this is much the way Menten must have found it when on July 7, 1941, wearing his SS uniform, he returned to the village to take his revenge. The same road which led us to that small and peaceful village in the hills had carried him there.

While the Russian soldiers were scraping the bones clean with knives, I realized suddenly that this must have been the peaceful place where Chaviv Kanaan had played. Now, wherever one looked, there were skulls, ribs, shoulder blades, children's shoes, and other mute witnesses of the 1941 massacre. Several pathologists were sitting cross-legged on the ground, fitting together hundreds of vertebrae pieces, while others put the skulls in long, long rows on sheets of plastic.

The photographer was taking pictures, and while I followed behind him I stepped on some bones and was overcome by a sense of shame. But it was almost inevitable; one couldn't walk anywhere in Isaac Pistiner's garden without a horrible reminder that thirty-five years before scores of people had died there.

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The chief pathologist was a middle-aged man wearing a white doctor's coat and a fur hat against the cold. When I was introduced to him he stood up and led me to a pile of bones. Picking up some of the shoulder blades, he showed me the bullet holes in them. He told me they had unearthed remains of about 180 people from the two separate graves in Pistiner's garden. The first held only men, and the second (which had been found the day before we arrived) was full of the remains of women and children. I walked behind the head pathologist, Vladimir Zelengoerov, and we stopped at a small table on which lay plastic bags containing the jewellery they had found in the grave. There were earrings, necklaces, and all sorts of other objects, among them several silver stars of David.

Dr Zelengoerov picked up a braid of hair, all intact. According to him, the human remains had been preserved reasonably well because the soil was so swampy. As far as possible they were trying to identify the victims through teeth and bridgework. Assistants were numbering every bone, and then putting the pieces together on a large canvas cloth, trying to build up skeletons.

There in that garden, warming myself before a blazing fire, I also met the Lvov district attorney, Mr Antonenko, who was in charge of everything. He told me that the Soviet judiciary had already questioned more than five hundred people living in the surroundings of Podhorodze who were born before 1926, and so were at least fifteen-years-old at the time of the murders. More than thirty people had declared they had seen Menten present at the executions and that he had been in command at the executions they had seen.

Antonenko was the first to tell me that Menten's murders were not limited to Podhorodze and Urycz. In at least two other villages not far away, he said, Menten had been equally active. According to the prosecutor, the total number of victims could be close to a thousand. This was the first time the name of Pieter Nicolaas Menten was mentioned to me there in Podhorodze. That morning, near the open grave, we were to hear it many more times, from the mouths of eyewitnesses who said they had been forced by Menten to attend the executions, often of their relatives. We didn't have to look for these witnesses; there were already three people present who had been there in 1941, at the executions. They would walk among the bones as if in a

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daze, staring into that hole for minutes at a time, while I registered their shocking stories on my tape recorder. It was the tape recordings of these interviews which were finally to lead to Menten's arrest in 1976.

One of these witnesses, Meron Wascielevitsj Pistolak, at the site of the open grave, told me how his brother Vladimir was murdered by Menten at the first Podhorodze execution on July 7, 1941. He was eleven years old then, and had watched from a tree. His eighteen-year-old brother was selected by Menten to be the first to walk the plank, the first to be shot, falling into the hole.

Pistolak, now forty-six, told me, “All the people of the village had to come to the grave to watch the mass execution – children too. The older people would form a semicircle around the grave so the children couldn't see anything. So we took to climbing the trees. I saw everything, and will never forget it for the rest of my life. My brother was first because he was the leader of the local Komsomol, the communist youth movement. Menten also had a special hatred for the communists because they took his land in 1939. So when he returned in 1941, the first ones he settled scores with were the Jews and communists. Menten gave the orders to shoot. There is no doubt whatsoever it was him. Everybody knew him. I estimate that more than a hundred people were shot at that first execution, by five or six soldiers under Menten's command. He even had a Nazi officer under him, who transferred his orders to the nationalists:

“Not all the people who fell into the pit were dead; there were many wounded among them. When the pit was being covered with soil I could still hear them scream, from the grave. The ground was still breathing. I cannot say anything about the second execution because I wasn't present then.”

I had hardly switched off the tape recorder when a second witness announced herself, Karolina Michailona Semelak, also forty-six. She told me she was born in Podhorodze and lived there all her life. She'd known Isaac Pistiner, very slightly. Her mother, however, had known Pistiner and Pieter Menten very well. Mrs Semelak told me that her mother often mentioned that Menten and Pistiner had transacted a lot of business with each other, and that Pistiner had sold Menten some

[Page 142]

woods. Both were very well known, as important figures in the village. Mrs Semelak continued:

“When the executions happened here in 1941 I was eleven years old, but I still remember it as if it were only yesterday. Menten was in command and ordered all the people of the village to come watch the executions, children also. He himself didn't shoot, but each time the order was given by him. It was shortly after the German invasion of 1941. Menten came back here to Podhorodze ordering his soldiers to assemble all Jews and communist activists in the garden of Isaac Pistiner's house. Pistiner didn't live there anymore. I saw it all with my own eyes. Everybody, the whole village, was there. All the victims were brought together in Pistiner's house. And next they had to come out in groups of three and five and walk across a plank which had been placed across the grave. When they'd get to a point in the middle they were shot. I can still very vividly see Pistolak walk the plank; first the local leader of the communists fell, shot, into the hole. The commands were given by Menten. On that day, the seventh of July, only men were killed. But on August twenty-eighth, it was the turn of the women and children. Their grave is right next to the first. Yet there was one woman murdered at the first execution – she was called Novicka. When her husband, Novicky, had to walk on that board, she wouldn't stop her frenzied screaming at Menten, upon which he ordered his soldiers to shoot her, too. The second execution also, I saw it with my own eyes, and again Menten was in command. He must have been a very high-ranking man, for he gave his orders to a German officer, who then ordered the soldiers to shoot. It is impossible that I should be mistaken that this man was really Menten. When Menten, before the war, came to Podhorodze he was a very well-known man in our village, and when he returned in 1941 wearing a German uniform, people of course recognized him. They all said: ‘That is Menten, Petro Menten.’”

A remarkable detail was that none of the witnesses there in Pistiner's garden stated that Menten fired a shot at the executions. They all said he gave the orders. According to them, Menten was present, he was in command, but he hadn't fired a single shot himself. He did do that in several other places, however.

[Page 143]

One of the witnesses actually present at one of Menten's alleged personal murder actions was Stanislav Moechinsky. He told me that in 1941 he'd seen Menten cold-bloodedly order his former forest-keeper, Alfred Stepan, killed. Stepan had quarrelled with Menten before the war because Menten had refused to pay his wages:

“When Menten came to our village as SS Sonderfuehrer in 1941, he tracked down Stepan and said, ‘I've come to pay you now.’ Then he ordered Stepan shot in front of his own house. His wife could not control her furious grief. Menten said to her: ‘Shut up or you'll get it too,’ and then said to the Ukrainian nationalist with him, ‘Shoot her.’”

Another friend of Vladimir Pistolak who is still living, a certain Dimitri Federowitsj, was compelled by Menten on that 7th July in Podhorodze to watch the execution. Federowitsj was the second most important man in the Komsomol. When he saw his friend Pistolak die, the first to fall at Menten's orders, Federowitsj feared that his turn would come, too. But he slipped away through the crowd and fled to the surrounding hills to Borislav, where he stayed hidden for two weeks. Later he heard that indeed the Ukrainians had been looking for him, and that he'd been on Menten's list.

Altogether, I have fifteen of these eyewitness statements in my possession, recorded on the spot. By far the most shocking account, because it so strikingly demonstrates the behaviour and mentality of Menten, I recorded from a certain Dimitri Antoniak:

“It happened in July 1941,” he said. He was twenty years old then, and remembers how the invaders drove the people into the village centre, rounding them up inside a small Jewish prayer house. About 120 men, women, and children were brought together there. A little farther on the mass grave was being dug. The Germans took the victims out of that house in groups of three and five, and brought them to the big hole in the earth. There was an officer sitting in an armchair: Pieter Nicolaas Menten, dressed in Nazi uniform. The people of Dovge instantly recognized Menten, for they often used to see him in Podhorodze and Sopot. And now there he was in the chair, legs crossed, puffing casually on a cigar, and from time to time giving the orders to have more people come across the wooden board and be shot.

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Antoniak remembered vividly a particularly horrible detail:

“A tall thin SS man, a certain Horst, grabbed a woman's baby, threw it up in the air, and shot it as if it were a clay pigeon. When the mother of the child started screaming, he shot her too. Menten stayed in the chair, gave the orders, till there was no one else to be killed. Not all the people were dead immediately; some of them were given another shot while in the pit.”

Antoniak ran away after seeing this spectacle, and some minutes later fainted out of sheer emotion. He estimates that about 120 Jewish inhabitants of that village were murdered at Menten's orders. Afterward, the Germans plundered the empty shops and houses of the Jews. When some of the villagers protested, the Germans yelled that they were claiming back Menten's possessions, seized from him by the communists. They were robbing everything in sight, according to Antoniak, including things which never could have been Menten's, and belonging to the workers of the village.

It is noteworthy that the statements by the witnesses from Podhorodze, Urycz, Dovge, as well as Kropovnyk, agree in the particulars of the method. All mention the long plank, set across a great hole dug in the ground, and the victims being compelled to step onto that board and start walking. In all cases, too, the graves were, more or less, closed without ensuring that all the victims were dead. And finally, in none of the four places did anyone see Menten do any of the shooting himself, although in each one he was recognized by scores of witnesses as the man who gave the orders.

After several hours of walking in the piercing cold among the bones in Isaac Pistiner's garden, the photographer and I had seen about as much as we could take. There was one more horrible sight. Passing through Pistiner's deserted house, we were shown the intact shrivelled mummified corpse of a woman in the basement. The district attorney told us it was going to be reburied elsewhere in the village the following Sunday together with all the other remains, in a special ceremony we were invited to attend. He asked again if we would be present in Urycz the next Monday when they planned to open the grave there, and we told him we were not sure yet.

[Page 145]

I asked the district attorney why the Soviet authorities, so many years after the crimes, had suddenly decided to have the graves opened. He answered that the chief prosecutor of the Soviet Union, Rudenko (the same man who prosecuted for the Russians at Nuremberg), had received a request from the Dutch judiciary to be allowed to conduct an inquiry in East Galicia into the crimes of Pieter Menten. Therefore, after having discussed it with the prosecutor of Lvov, Rudenko decided to have the graves opened in order to try to determine how many victims had been there altogether, and to identify them if possible.

We took our leave from the place of slaughter and returned to Skole. The chairman of the town council was awaiting us with an elaborate meal, most liberal doses of vodka, and many speeches. Later that day, with the horror we had seen still vividly before us, we drove back via Stryj to darkening Lvov.

Molchanov, the photographer, and I were so powerfully affected that the return journey was almost silent; it was very difficult to put anything into words. We were not too eager to go to Urycz and the other places the next day. Still, I decided to visit Urycz, Kropovnyk, Dovge, and Drohobycz albeit before the graves in those towns were to be opened.

Two days later we were on our way again to that same fateful area along that lonesome road. Urycz, a village built on the edge of a fast-moving stream, looks even more peaceful than Podhorodze. The local headmaster was to be our guide there. His School lay in that part of the village which had held no Jews in pre-war years. Urycz had been composed of two sections, Jewish and non-Jewish. The Jewish part was about a mile from where we were, up in the hills and surrounded by thick pine woods. The headmaster led us a short distance upstream to a place simply but powerfully marked by the white obelisk Halpern had set up as a memorial. About 15 yards from that place at the edge of the stream, Nordligt's house still stands.

The present owners, a farmer and his wife, gave me permission to enter. It was horrible to realize that in the hot summer of 1941, on an August day, some two hundred men, women, and children awaited their turn for death, terrified in that small space. The farmer said he didn't know anything about what had happened some 15 yards in front of his house during the war, and he didn't know that the house had once belonged to a Jewish

[Page 146]

family. When he had come to Urycz in 1954, the house stood empty and they had been able to buy it from the village for very little money.

I couldn't find a single soul in Urycz who had been a witness to the slaughter in 1941. Because the village consisted of two separate sections, the massacre could occur out of sight of the non-Jewish villagers. A number of people, however, told me they had heard shots that day and there were plenty of hearsay witnesses whose statements weren't at variance with the eyewitness testimonies of Hauptmann and Pollak. One man told us he'd heard shooting that day, but did not go up to investigate until one month had passed. Then he was appalled to see how the land in front of Hauptmann's hiding place and the stream there too were still red with blood. A horrible and gruesome story, which was unquestionably true because of the following special circumstances: Right after the execution on August 27, a big storm had suddenly broken loose (Hauptmann had mentioned that) and heavy rains had come down on Urycz. At that point the Ukrainian collaborators and the few German soldiers had given the grave only a thin covering of earth. They rushed off when the storm began. As a result of the rainstorm, which continued for days, the stream became swollen and flooded the scarcely covered grave. Then a huge blood pool filled the field.

In one of the other villages I met a woman, Katarina Barnatska, who used to live in Sopot (which is in fact a continuation of Podhorodze and the place where Menten owned an estate). She told me that Menten and his men had had a bad reputation in her village. They were always very harsh in guarding against the villagers' making off with logs from Menten's woods for their household fires. In the war, she said, Menten came back, uniformed. And she also told me that he led the executions. He murdered, she said, her brother, Joseph. She also remembers her nephews and nieces, Joseph's children, dying of hunger.

All the witnesses I spoke to in Russia recognized Menten's picture without any reservations. I carried about ten photographs of different people in my pocket; one of them was Pieter Menten. Every witness pushed aside the rest of the pictures and picked his, without fail. That was him, that was Petro Petro Menten; or, as they pronounced it in the accusative, Menten.

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After travelling in East Galicia for almost a week with our guide and interpreter Molchanov, the photographer and I decided to return to the Netherlands. We wanted to get back as soon as possible to report our findings and confront the Dutch judiciary and the CID with the shocking material. From my hotel room in Lvov, via a telephone conversation with my wife, I'd already informed Commissioner Peters of the main thrust of what we found. He was eager for me to get in touch as soon as we got back, and make an appointment to see our material.

After a journey of almost twenty hours, we touched down in London late Sunday night. Flying on to Amsterdam was impossible because all the flights were fully booked to the very last seat, filled with good Dutch citizens whose idea of adventure was to go on a bargain-shopping weekend trip to London. So we spent the night in a London hotel, and although we would much rather have been in our own beds, this wasn't too bad, actually. In Russia we had had to do without any kind of creature comforts or service. And now it seemed a tiny miracle to push a button and be able to order anything we felt like having; after six days of Ukrainian beet soup, finally a good big steak and a bottle of wine!

The material we brought back with us from Russia almost led to a crisis of the Dutch government. Less than three weeks later, during a spectacular Parliament debate on November 18, the minister of justice, Van Agt, was going to get his vaguely fluttering protesting hands rapped with copies of Accent.

I believe I may permit myself to point out that when, in November 1976, the decision was finally made to arrest Pieter Menten, it could hardly have been on the basis of the material gathered much later by the CID, but because of the evidence my photographer and I brought back from Russia. If we hadn't gone to Russia, then surely Menten wouldn't have gone anywhere either – he'd still be enjoying a hideously earned luxury and freedom.

Why two journalists were given the opportunity to attend the opening of a mass grave in East Galicia and the Dutch judiciary was not given visas till much later, I cannot say. It will remain one of the many unsolved riddles in the Menten affair. But I am prepared to state under oath my belief that there couldn't have been any form of staging by the Soviet authorities. It is true that the mass grave in Isaac Pistiner's back yard

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had already been opened by the time we got there. But the fact remains that other mass graves were still to be opened, and we could have been present at those. We were in Podhorodze on a Thursday, and four days later the great grave in Urycz was going to be opened. The prosecutor of the district of Lvov, whom we'd met in Podhorodze, invited both of us to attend the Urycz “opening.” Even if it could be true (as some spiteful tongues keep saying) that the whole operation in Podhorodze was especially rigged up for us, such a thing was impossible for Urycz. And the same holds true for the villages of Kropovnyk and Dovge, where more mass graves were scheduled to be opened at spots located by relatives of other victims.

The only thing I'm willing to admit is that the Russians gave us our visas only when they knew graves were to be opened. But I myself would call this a good kind of “staging.” If they let us come as witnesses only when there was something to see, I have more reason to be grateful than to blame them. We got all the cooperation a journalist could hope for while we were in the Soviet Union. For the purpose of fact-finding we were allowed to talk freely with everybody and see everything, and in theory nothing was impossible. One might wonder (and, of course, I have) what moved the Russians to be so generously helpful to two Western journalists, one of them a notorious anti-communist. They must have had their reasons for that, but I see no point in endlessly trying to figure them out.

We were out for facts, and facts were what we got in the Soviet Union. While some people said they didn't know anything, and others seemed close-mouthed, others knew a great deal. And told us!’

 

The Dutchman Runs![303]

Back in Amsterdam, Knoop showed the photographs to the Menten prosecution team, playing tapes of the statements of witnesses. They all agreed that if the material were to be published in Accent, Menten would attempt to abscond, and that they were aware that the Ministry of Justice would resist preventive detention, begged Knoop to wait until official evidence could be brought back from the USSR (due to Soviet delays, it was to be months before this happened).

Knoop, with some sympathy from the police, maintained that it was his duty to publish, and theirs to apprehend Menten. The story, he said, would appear in

[Page 149]

Accent and in the Hamburg magazine Stern on the 20th November 1976. On the 11th November the police fixed the 15th November as the day that they would arrest Pieter Menten.

But on the night of the 14th November, warned by some still-unknown official in the Ministry of Justice, Menten and his wife got into their Simca estate car, drove away from their mansion at Blaricum and disappeared, leaving frustration by one and all.

Menten's escape led to a savage debate in the Dutch Parliament, lasting 14 hours and conducted before television cameras. The Prime Minister promised an inquiry to discover the source of Menten's tip-off, and a police search to bring him back to justice. Neither promise was redeemed.

 

Capture!

Menten was recaptured through the efforts of the journalist Hans Knoop and the German Magazine Stern who offered Knoop the use of their foreign network. On 6 December 1976 a freelance correspondent in Switzerland telephoned Stern and said that for 5,000 Deutschmarks he could reveal Menten's hiding place.

That evening Knoop and three Dutch police officers flew to Zurich, where a few hours later the Swiss authorities arrested Menten in his suite at the Hotel Muster.

The Swiss-Dutch extradition treaty does not mention war criminals, and the expensive lawyers hired by Meta Menten portraying their client as a victim of Jewish vengeance and KGB intrigue suggested that the Swiss should expel him to a country of his choice, such as Ireland.

That campaign collapsed when Hans Knoop and Haviv Canaan (his first Israeli informant) revealed to the Swiss press the available evidence against Menten. Swiss embarrassment was not lessened by wartime memories of how the country had excluded Jewish refugees and on the 24th December Menten was returned to Holland, with the condition that he must be tried there and not extradited to Poland.

Menten instantly claimed that he had lost his Polish naturalisation without regaining his Dutch citizenship: he was thus stateless, and couldn't be tried in Holland. The fact that this made Menten's previous accounts of his citizenship

[Page 150]

into perjury did not stop De Telegraaf, the most important Dutch newspaper, from leaping to his support and predicting that a trial would find him innocent.

When proceedings began the defence, led by a prominent member of the neo- Nazi Ritter van Rappard party, tried to repeat the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ ploy, with suggestions that Menten resembled Solzienitsyn as a victim of the KGB. But when the evidence of mass-murder became overwhelming, there was a startling tactical shift. The prisoner alleged that in 1952 the Socialist Minister for Justice had promised him immunity.

 

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