This is not so much a Forgotten History but more a not often mentioned history, why I don’t know. Maybe because it is a bit awkward to talk about since it is a black page in my country’s history.
I had heard about this man when I was a kid living in the Netherlands. I remember his trials between 1977 and 1980, it did have an extensive media coverage at the time.To be honest at that time I thought there could only be German war criminals, my excuse I was still in primary school at the time
Pieter Menten’s story spans a few decades and has connections to the Netherlands,Poland and Ireland.
Born into a wealthy Rotterdam family, Menten became interested in Poland through his father’s business connections. He soon developed an extensive export trade in Dutch products to Poland. Menten moved to East Galicia in 1923 (then in Poland and later part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), where he became a wealthy landowner and businessman. Described as mild-mannered and quiet, he developed a deep grudge against a prominent neighboring Jewish family over a business dispute. Menten travelled back to the Netherlands in 1939, when Russia invaded eastern Poland, and returned in 1941 after the Nazi counter-occupation—this time as a member of the SS. Menten was involved in the massacre of Polish professors in Lviv and robbery of their property. According to witnesses, he helped shoot as many members of the offending family in Galicia as he could find, then turned on other Jews in the area.
While travelling in his personal train with his prized art collection, he was recognized by Dutch Resistance fighters. He was brought to trial. His chief defense lawyer was Rad Kortenhorst, President of the Dutch House of Representatives. The controversial trial concluded in 1949, with the prosecution unable to prove most allegations, and Menten was sentenced to an eight-month term for having worked in uniform as a Nazi interpreter. In 1951 the Dutch government refused a Polish request for Menten’s extradition.
Menten would go on to become a successful art collector and businessman. His 20 room mansion was filled with valuable art work (Nicolaes Maes, Francisco Goya, Jan Sluyters, etc.) and he held vast areas of real estate.
Menten was quoted as saying that his fortune had first been acquired in pre-war Poland, he had been ruined by the Nazi occupation, but he had restored his finances, and his art collection.
What Menten failed to mention was his service in the Abwehr before the war, and his wartime service as an SS Sonderfuhrer, and that he was personally responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Jews and communists in the villages of the Stryj valley.
He also failed to mention that his coveted art collection was the proceeds of theft from the residences of the Murdered Professors of Lvov and elsewhere in the Galician District.
In 1976, the case was reopened.On the 14th of November he day before he was going to be arrested he escaped to Switzerland.He eventually was captured on the 6th of December.
It was a Dutch Journalist, Hans Knoop who was tipped of by an Israeli colleague, she had seen an article in De Telegraaf newspaper about the pending art auction of some of Menten’s collection and she made Knoop aware of Menten’s dealings in Poland.
Knoop interviewed Menten about his collection, at first Menten presumed it was going to be for an article on art, but Knoop advised Menten that he was investigating the accusations made about Menten. Initially Menten dismissed as being rubbish accusations but he stayed amicable , after a short while he became agitated ,Knoop said.
Knoop travelled to the Galicia region to investigate.
He came back with enough evidence to present to the prosecutors to warrant a trial.
On 9 May 1977 the trial began with Menten claiming it was a KGB stunt, a show trial. Chaviv Kanaan and four women who had witnessed the executions in Podhorodze, testified at this trial. Menten was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but this sentence was annulled on a technicality and a further trial was held in The Hague.
At the end of 1978 the Menten trial re-opened in the Hague, Menten was given a last word, a “word” that lasted for two hours, full of allegations against Police Commissioner Peters, against Hans Knoop and against all the others who had contributed to his conviction.
He stated that the late Justice Minister Donker had given him the promise in 1952 that he would not be prosecuted, as he claimed he had a secret dossier containing revelations about high ranking Dutch officials who had collaborated with the Germans during the war.
On 4 December 1978 the court announced its verdict Menten was released, which triggered public demonstrations against the release of a convicted war criminal. The Supreme Court reconvened during May 1979 and the verdict reached was that Menten’s appeal should be rejected and that he should stand trial again before a special court in Rotterdam.
During the trial, Menten’s mansion was set ablaze after a survivor of Dachau concentration camp threw a petrol bomb onto its thatched roof. The building suffered extensive damage and some of the art collection was destroyed
.In 1980 Menten was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was fined 100,000 guilders for war crimes, including being accessory to the murder of 20 Jewish villagers in 1941 Poland. Upon his release he believed he would settle in his County Waterford mansion in Ireland.
In 1985, then Minister for Justice Michael Noonan issued a barring order preventing his return to the State. Following Menten’s death in 1987 at the age of 89, his widow decided to sell the estate in Waterford.
Pieter Menten died on 14 November 1987, a demented old man age 88