Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland
Gecas the War Criminal - His Johnstone Connection
Among the hundreds of Polish soldiers who arrived at Johnstone Castle camp with the Polish Resettlement Corps after WW2 was Anton Gecas, the Nazi war criminal. In fairness his fellow comrades were probably unaware of his murderous past, except perhaps those who had served with him prior to joining the Polish Army and kept their mouths shut, concealing their own involvement in the crimes. How did all this come about?
As Antanas Gecevicius he was born on 26th May 1916 in the Kretinga District of Lithuania to a well-to-do family of Catholic landowners. The country had been briefly independent since 1919 but under the Nazi-Soviet Pact the Soviet Union moved in. It seems that Gecevicius was a successful student and a popular Lithuanian Air Force cadet, graduating from Military Academy in 1937, and joining the Air Force, being commissioned as a Lieutenant. During the Russian invasion of 1940 the Lithuanian Air Force had been grounded, and together with the army was ordered not to fight. The Soviets created their own puppet regime and army. All members of the armed forces were interrogated and those deemed to be dangerous were executed or sent to concentration camps or gulags. A number chose to join resistance groups.
Gecevicius left the Air Force and joined a resistance group called the Lithuanian Activist Front, becoming a leading member in this short lived organisation. At the same time he was working as an undercover agent for the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police). After the Germans invaded Lithuania in June 1941 Gecevicius joined the 12th Auxiliary Lithuanian Police Battalion (previously known as the 2nd Btn. And the 2/12th Btn.) in Kaunas as a Lieutenant in charge of the 3rd Platoon, 2nd Company of the Battalion. This unit had been created by the Germans and originally named a 'Schutzmannshaft' or Protection Battalion. It was used by the Germans to kill up to 42,000 Jews in Lithuania and Belarus. On joining the Battalion Gecevicius sent the local commander a letter written in German, in which he asserted that his true identity was Gecewitz, an 'old German family' and that he had dedicated himself to the military success of the Reich and the greater glory of Adolf Hitler.
By joining this battalion he escaped arrest by the Lithuanian Security Police (Saugumas) for collaboration with the Soviets. As a Platoon Commander, Gecevicius was accused of planning and ordering a number of executions, often taking part himself. Among the vast amount of documentary evidence is a testimony in the form of a letter from a Nazi official to his commander warning that Gecevicius's battalion was out of control, which by Nazi standards must have been extremely barbaric.
In 1943 Gecevicius was awarded the Iron Cross by the Germans for his actions against Russian partisans. By the summer of 1944 his days as a Nazi hireling were numbered. Depleted by losses and desertions his unit was dissolved and with a number of his men he was transferred to the Italian Front to serve in a Luftwaffe Labour Unit assigned to the Hermann Goring Division.
In October 1944 he and some 120 men under his command crossed the front lines and surrendered to the U.S. Army. They were sent to a POW Camp, being grilled by American Intelligence Officers. Having passed this test, in mid-November Gecevicius wrote a letter to the Commander of the Polish Forces in Italy, General Anders. In it he claimed that he stemmed from a family of Polish nobility long settled in Lithuania, saying 'I feel and have always felt Polish, and wish to give my best efforts to Poland......and wish to serve in the Polish Army.' His wish was granted and he was allowed to join a regiment of the Polish Army together with his men.
The Baltic Times (18 Jan 2001) states that he was admitted to the 2nd Polish Corps of the British 8th Army as a Lieutenant. Later he was attached to the 6th Tank Regiment. An earlier report in The Independent (17 July 1992) stated that he fought with the Polish Commando under Polish Officers. The Baltic Times also reported that Gecevicius 'led his platoon on a counter-attack against a German unit, forcing it to surrender. He ended the war on a high note and his actions led him to receive his second major decoration. For bravery in action he was later awarded the Polish Military Cross.'
After the war was over Gecevicius and his men left Italy in September 1946 for the UK, being sent to a Polish Repatriation Camp at Irvine, Ayrshire, joining the Polish Resettlement Corps. The press (The Scotsman, Sat. 26 Oct 1946) reported that the camp in Irvine was to be taken over by the Town Council as temporary housing, and 600 Polish soldiers moved on 25th October to the former German POW camp at Pennylands, Auchinleck, a much larger centre than at Irvine, where it was anticipated that the camp would deal with 2000 Polish soldiers each month.
Gecevicius was sent to Johnstone Castle camp in 1947 (the first Polish soldiers having arrived there on 11th January 1947) where he was demobbed with a new name Antony Gecas, being shortened to Anton.
He went to work for the National Coal Board as a miner, settling in Edinburgh, and was employed at Bilston Glen and Newcraighall Collieries, being known as 'Tony' by his fellow workers. Gecas was granted British nationality, as confirmed by the London Gazette, 11 April 1956 -
Gecas- Gecevicius, Antanas (known as Antony Gecas), born Lithuania : Colliery Overman, 4 Melville Terrace, Edinburgh 9, Midlothian. Granted naturalisation on 17th February 1956.
A colliery overman means basically a supervisor of a colliery . He would be an experienced miner promoted on the basis of his experience. Gecas completed a managerial course at Heriot-Watt University.
In 1959 Gecas married Astrid Van Twest, a 19 year old nurse from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). He was 45 years old. They had two children and lived a comfortable existence in their sheltered home, the family apparently unaware of his past. Gecas retired as a mining engineer in 1981 and helped his wife run a guest house (bed and breakfast) at 3 Moston Terrace, Edinburgh.
His military history was revealed publically when his name was given to the Home Office in 1986 by the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Centre which brought scores of Nazi war criminals to justice.
The following year 1987, a TV documentary by STV branded Gecas - formerly Antanas Gecevicius a war criminal. Gecas strenuously denied the accusation and raised s civil defamation action against the station, but in 1992 at the Court of Session, Lord Milligan declared that he was a war criminal and Gecas lost his case. The British Government in the meantime had passed the War Crimes Act in 1991 and a unit attached to Strathclyde Police had been working to compile a criminal case against Gecas, and the act allowed for foreign nationals who became British citizens to be prosecuted here for murder committed on foreign soil. According to The Herald, 18 July 1992, Gecas was one of 41 members of the 12th Lithuanian Police Battalion now living in the UK. The case against Gecas came to nought however as the Crown Office ruled that there was insufficient evidence against him. It was announced on 3rd February 1994 that the police unit which had investigated him was being disbanded.
To add to the controversy KGB papers discovered in 1994 listed Gecas as an MI6 asset.
This gave rise to some Nazi-hunters claiming that Gecas was given protection because of his alleged links with British Intelligence. The Cold War era was murky and Lithuania was of course back under Soviet control. The need to contact any existing espionage networks and resistance groups by intelligence services was great as well as creating new ones. Someone like Gecas could therefore have been considered useful given his knowledge of that country. If this was the case then Gecas's past if known, may have been kept secret and away from public knowledge.
Whatever the truth Gecas was now No.2 on the Simon Wiesenthal Centres wanted list for war criminals and more evidence began to be uncovered implicating him in war crimes. In February 2001 prosecutors in Lithuania issued a warrant for the arrest and extradition of Gecas after uncovering new evidence of his involvement in the extermination of the Jews. The extradition process was placed on hold in May when Gecas suffered two strokes, and Jim Wallace, the Scottish Justice Minister, declared Gecas unfit to face a criminal trial. Gecas died peacefully in his hospital bed at Liberton Hospital, Edinburgh on 12th September 2001, aged 85 years. He had lived in Edinburgh all his life since his demobilisation from Johnstone Castle camp in 1947. His funeral and cremation at Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh was held in secret to prevent protests from campaigners, under the name of 'A. Smith' on Tuesday, 18th September 2001. The service which lasted 30 minutes, was attended by 40 people including his wife Astrid and his lawyer Nigel Duncan. The name on his death certificate was given as Antony Gecas.
His death of course meant that he would never face justice for his crimes.
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