Suspected Nazi war criminal dies in Australia

  • 2001-04-12
  • TBT staff
RIGA - Karlis Ozols, who has been the target of an investigation into Nazi war crimes, died in an Australian nursing home two weeks ago and was cremated in a secret ceremony in Melbourne, the Australian newspaper The Age reported on April 8. Ozols was 88.

None the less, the Latvian prosecutor general's office says it will continue its investigations into Ozols and could even press charges.

Dzintra Subrovska, spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office said: "Criminal law requires that investigation of genocide cases continue even if the suspect dies, because other suspects may emerge."

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the Australian government for what he called its "absolute incompetence" in prosecuting war criminals, according to the Baltic News Service. Latvia has also shown a lack of interest in war crimes, he said.

Zuroff earlier told The Baltic Times the evidence against Ozols was "even stronger" than that against Konrads Kalejs, currently facing possible extradition from Australia to face charges in Latvia of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

As part of the investigation against Ozols the Latvian authorities recently asked Belarus to provide information that could help determine if he had committed any crimes on the territory of that country.

The head of the Jewish community in Latvia, Grigory Krupnikov told BNS: "There is no sense in judging people after their death if there is no actual person who is answerable."

He also doubted the Australian authorities would act fast enough to make it possible to extradite Kalejs, who is 87.

Ozols spent his last years in a nursing home in Thomastown and suffered advancing dementia. He died on March 26 and was cremated on March 29 in Melbourne.

The ceremony was attended by about 50 people, mainly local Latvians and other émigrés.

Local Reverend Elmars Kocins of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church told The Age that no war crimes were mentioned at Ozols' funeral and added that his death "would close a chapter."

Kocins recalled an old Latvian principle that no one can be judged after his or her death since he or she is already before a higher judge.

Ozols is suspected of being an officer in the Latvian death squad the Arajs commando, responsible for murdering tens of thousands of Jews, Gypsies and other "undesirables" during World War II, and he is suspected of committing crimes in Belarus. He emigrated to Australia after the war and became an Australian citizen.

He was investigated by the Australian authorities but never faced trial.

The Australian government closed its special investigative unit after it failed to secure a single conviction against alleged Nazi war criminals. Ozols later appeared in the Australian media, which obtained war-era photos of him dressed in a Nazi uniform.

Gary Wastell, president of the Victoria Chess Association, said Ozols told him he had been an interpreter during the war. Ozols won nine chess titles in the state of Victoria between 1949 and 1971.

"We hadn't heard anything of him in chess circles, but people heard of him via the media," Wastell said.

"Normally when a great player dies, you would have a tournament or something to mark his passing, but because these allegations have arisen, you wonder what to do," Wastell told reporters.

According to fresh evidence in a soon-to-be published book, Ozols escaped justice because the then Australian government was concerned about the cost of securing a conviction.

"What the death of Ozols reminds us is that successive Australian governments have turned a blind eye to mass killers, despite substantial evidence of the guilt of people like Ozols," said Mark Aarons, author of War Criminals Welcome.

"In Ozols' case, there is no doubt at all that he personally took part in not only ordering his men to shoot people but shooting them himself," said Aarons.

From July 1942 to September 1943, during the Nazi occupation, Ozols was one of 100 officers if the Arajs commando and he took part in killings near the Belarusian capital of Minsk, Aarons claims. His name first appeared in connection with war crimes in the 1960s in Soviet intelligence reports.

Aivars Saulitis, an Australian Latvian, told BNS in a telephone interview that Ozols' death was not a secret, but the obituary notice had not been published to avoid "unnecessary attention."

Saulitis also said Ozols had poor health not only because of his age but also because a car ran over him in a traffic accident several years ago from which he never fully recovered.