Jews hunt millionaire for war crimes

  • 2001-03-29
  • TBT staff
TALLINN - The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a worldwide hunter of Nazi war criminals, asked the Venezuelan government on March 27 for assistance in finding 18 alleged Nazi collaborators from all three Baltic countries. The suspects emigrated to Venezuela shortly after World War II.

The people in question are 14 Lithuanians, three Latvians and one Estonian who allegedly served in local security police units, which actively participated in the persecution of innocent civilians, primarily Jews, during World War II.

The Estonian on the list is Harry Mannil, a prominent 81-year-old businessman from Venezuela. The Simon Wiesenthal Center claims Mannil served in local police units in Estonia during the Nazi occupation and played a role in the death of at least 100 Jews.

In 1995 Juri Pihl, Estonian national security police director, sent a letter to the country's interior minister saying the charges against Mannil by the Nazi hunters were groundless.

Later, in remarks to the Postimees daily in the summer of 1998, Pihl said there was no proof of Mannil's guilt.

The national security police here have said Mannil was not linked to any war crimes committed on Estonian soil during World War II, and that there had been nothing criminal in his activities.

"Claims to the opposite are completely baseless," Pihl said then.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on March 27 submitted the list to the Venezuelan Embassy in Tel Aviv. The center's director in Israel, Efraim Zuroff, noted that the center had found most of the suspects in the wake of new research carried out in the Baltics.

"The fall of the Soviet Union has resulted in greater access to the pertinent documentation necessary to track down the perpetrators of the crimes of the Holocaust. We are hopeful that the Venezuelan authorities will cooperate with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to ensure that their country does not continue to serve as a safe haven for Nazi war criminals," Zuroff was quoted in a press release as saying.

It would appear from documents kept in the Estonian state archive that Mannil served in the Nazi-sponsored security police in Estonia longer than the four months he has said he did, the daily Eesti Paevaleht wrote on March 22.

According to the documents, Mannil joined the security police on Sept. 3, 1941, in the first days after it was formed following the German occupation of Estonia.

He was released from service on June 10, 1942, the documents show.

It is namely during this period that the biggest wave of executions of civilians arranged by the security police took place, with some 2,000 people killed according to different sources, the paper said.

Mannil has repeatedly denied the charges.

Mannil's wartime colleague Uno Andrusson told the Sandler commission investigating Nazi crimes in 1945 that Mannil quit the force in the early fall of 1942, Eesti Paevaleht said.

Mannil himself claims he served with the security police for four months and was mainly doing paperwork, never actively taking part in operations. He said the security police were mainly targeting collaborators and agents of the Soviet NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB.

"There was a whole group of NKVD servicemen left in Estonia and it was our task to work against them," Mannil told Eesti Paevaleht.

Mannil's possible participation in the persecution and killing of Jews has been investigated by both the Soviet KGB and the national security police of the Republic of Estonia, but neither has found any concrete evidence proving his role in crimes against humanity.

The Nazi-hunting center on March 21 sent a letter to the Estonian prime minister, calling for a full-scale investigation into the activities of Mannil during World War II.

"You no doubt recall that during our meeting in your office you clearly indicated your unequivocal support for the prosecution of those who committed crimes against humanity in Estonia. In that context I am writing to you to urge your government to carry out a full investigation of the activities of Mr. Harry Mannil, who served as a member of the Estonian political police in Tallinn during World War II and was actively involved in the persecution and murder of innocent civilians," wrote Zuroff in his address to Laar.

"Many years have passed since Harry Mannil committed his crimes, but the passage of time in no way diminishes the horror of those atrocities or the culpability of the perpetrator. We therefore call upon you, as a person who is committed to justice and historical truth, to take whatever steps are necessary to see to it that his case is fully investigated and that justice is finally achieved."