War crimes investigations: no decision

  • 2000-09-21
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Last week's war crimes conference in the Latvian capital ended with no sign that alleged Nazi war criminals Konrads Kalejs or Karlis Ozols will be extradited from Australia, despite the Latvian prosecutor general's insistence that progress has been made.

Kalejs, 86, and Ozols, 88, both ethnic Latvians, were allegedly officers in the Arajs Kommando, a notorious Nazi-sponsored death squad responsible for murdering some 30,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation of Latvia.

Speaking after the conference on Sept. 15, Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis refused to comment on whether prosecution of Kalejs is imminent.

"It would be wrong to name a specific date when charges might be brought," he said.

"But we're doing everything possible to promote this investigation, taking into account the republic's resources. We didn't only speak about Kalejs and Ozols, although no cases have been initiated against others yet. The information we've received on how other countries deal with such crimes has been very useful, given that we're inexperienced in this area."

While work carried out since the last war crimes conference in February is "difficult to characterize," Maizitis said, new witnesses have been interviewed and further evidence gathered. 700 pages of archive material have been examined in Moscow. But Kalejs has declined to answer questions sent to him by the prosecutor's office.

The evidence on Ozols so far links him to crimes in Belarus but not Latvia, Maizitis said.

While Latvia can prosecute its citizens for crimes committed outside the country, Belarus has been unhelpful in investigation of crimes committed there, said Maizi-tis.

"We've seen no will from Belarus to look into war crimes cases," he said.

About 800,000 Jews died in Belarus during World War II, leaving 2 percent of the pre-war Jewish population, according to Mikhail Treyster, head of the Belarusian Association of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners.

Belarus was not represented at the conference, which was attended by delegates from the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and Israel. Russia also sent no representatives, having not been invited to the February conference.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said he was "extremely disappointed" at the lack of an announcement on prosecutions.

"Enough well-intentioned declarations have been made. I'll be the first to congratulate the Latvian government if action is taken in the next few days. Without indictment and extradition requests this will be a travesty of justice."

"Even at the age of 86 Kalejs should answer for the tens of thousands of deaths he was responsible for," said Rabbi Mordechai Glazman of Riga's Chabad Lubavitch Center. "Kalejs was not a little person in this process. No one can forgive his crimes.

For years the memory of blood running down the streets of the ghetto stopped the director of the Jewish museum from going there."

But Grigorijs Krupni-kovs, chairman of the Riga Jewish Community acknowledged the difficulty of bringing a prosecution after so many years.

"It's difficult to obtain hard evidence 60 years on," he said.

"Kalejs is 86 and the process will take years. I don't think he'll be extradited. But the moral assessment is clear. Anyone involved in the Arajs Komm-an-do was at least an accomplice to murder."

Comments from the conference's foreign delegates, who have so far been silent, would be helpful in judging the prosecution service's performance said Krupnikovs.

"I'd like to hear from the German and American contributors. Maybe they totally disagree with Latvia's position or maybe they agree but don't want to impede progress."

The conference's foreign delegates refused to comment to the press and even requested to Latvian prosecutors that their names not be released.

The attitude of the Latvian public is more important now than convictions, said Krupnikovs.

"Regarding the Holocaust I don't think the average non-Jewish Latvian has enough information, feeling or compassion. The Latvian education system has not yet faced this responsibility."