Nazi-hunters cast critical eye over world

  • 2001-04-26
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - In a new report published this month on efforts to bring suspected Nazi war criminals to justice the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem singles out Estonia for particular criticism, slightly above bottom-placed Sweden and Syria. Latvia and Lithuania come out little better, being described as having had "minimal success that could have been greater."

Estonia's "insufficient or unsuccessful efforts" make it worthy of a "grade D" in the center's five-tier system. Estonia has "not taken any active steps to investigate crimes committed by Estonians during the Holocaust," reads the report.

In particular, it highlights the case of Harry Mannil, who, it says, served in the Estonian Political Police in Tallinn between 1941 and 1942, and allegedly participated in the murder of approximately 100 Jews and communists.

Speaking to The Baltic Times Efraim Zuroff, director of the Center's Nazi-hunting operations, said that despite the greater involvement of Latvia and Lithuania in the Holocaust, Estonia's hands were not clean.

"The Holocaust was so much smaller in Estonia than anywhere else, so Estonia feels less motivated to investigate," he said. "But Lithuanian Jews were deported to Estonia and there were many concentration camps there. Conditions were terrible and many people died."

Both Latvia and Lithuania earn a "grade C" in the report.

Zuroff added, however, that on the day of the report's publication he had received a letter from Prime Minister Mart Laar indicating that Estonia will approach the U.S. Office of Special Investigations, which is thought to have evidence relating to Mannil's wartime activities.

This message seems not to have reached the Estonian Justice Ministry. Staff at both the ministry and the Prosecutor General's Office seemed unprepared to answer questions on the subject. Tristan Ploom, an attorney at the Justice Ministry's Courts Department, would only say that prosecutors had investigated Mannil, but had been unable to come up with any evidence against him.

The report criticizes the slowness with which both Latvia and Lithuania have moved to prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals. "Latvia could have been more proactive," said Zuroff. "They have had to be forced into this."

Latvia is urged in the report to follow Lithuania's lead in appointing a special prosecutor for such cases, given what it describes as the "extremely large number of Latvian Holocaust perpetrators still alive all over the world."

It goes on to criticize the payment of financial benefits by both Latvia and Lithuania to those found guilty of war crimes by Soviet-era courts.

More recent initiatives by the two states are praised. These include attempts by Latvia to prosecute Konrads Kalejs, formerly a Latvian citizen now awaiting extradition hearings in Australia, and Lithuania's indictment of Alexandras Lileikis and Kazys Gimzauskas, as well as its request for Antanas Gecas to be extradited from Scotland.

Gregory Krupnikov, head of Latvia's Jewish Community said he welcomed the report. "This is definitely useful, but the reality of what happened is more important than such assessments. The steps by the Latvian Prosecutor General's office to seek help in the case of Kalejs speak for themselves."

Sweden is categorized as a "total failure" in the report for its decision "not to investigate, let alone prosecute Swedish Nazi war criminals and/or Nazi war criminals ... who found refuge in Sweden after World War II."

Countries to which alleged Holocaust perpetrators fled were also named in the report.

Australia has long been criticized both internationally and within its own government for failure to pursue alleged Nazi war criminals within its borders.

"Australia is the only country in the Western world to which large numbers of Nazi collaborators and criminals emigrated after World War II, which has failed to take successful legal action against a single one," the report reads.