Another Lithuanian Nazi suspect beats hangman's noose

  • 2001-09-20
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
VILNIUS - Eighty-five-year-old Lithuanian war-crimes suspect Antanas Gecevicius died at an Edinburgh clinic last week shortly after the Scottish executive informed the Lithuanian prosecutor general that his failing health would not allow them to honor an extradition request.

Gecevicius, known in his adopted land of Great Britain as Anthony Gecas, served as an officer in the 12th Auxiliary Lithuanian Police Battalion under Nazi command in World War II. This police force has been widely implicated in wholesale massacres of Lithuanian, Belarusian, Jewish and other civilians as well as what one witness described as a "conveyor-belt slaughter" of Russian prisoners of war.

As Red Army troops drew near Nazi-occupied Lithuania, Gecevicius fled west, even fighting with the Polish allied troops as the war wound down. He was eventually decorated for his service to the Polish state. After the war, he settled in Britain in 1947.

Forty years later, the Soviet prosecutor in Vilnius brought a case against Gecevicius, by then living in Scotland, but it was dropped for unknown reasons a few months later.

In a question to British Prime Minister John Major in the House of Commons on May 23, 1995, one MP wrote, "To ask the prime minister for what period Antanas Gecas was employed by British intelligence."

Major replied, "It remains the government's policy not to provide information on the operations of security and intelligence agencies."

Many observers in Scotland pointed to Gecevicius' past with British intelligence as having been the main hurdle against his extradition to Lithuania to face justice. But Scottish executive officials countered that the man's health conditions were too serious to allow extradition, which was apparently born out by his death last week. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem chapter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and probably the most active pursuer of justice in the Gecas-Gecevicius case, told The Baltic Times, "Needless to say, I am very upset and frustrated that Gecas eluded justice and died unprosecuted."

Asked what he made of the man's unexpected death and whether he had thought Gecas was feigning illness to escape extradition, Zuroff said, "Since I do not know the exact details of his condition, and given the fact that I am not a doctor of medicine, I really had no idea whether he would die soon. In light of what happened, it seems that he apparently was indeed quite ill."

Queried about Gecas' past in British intelligence, Zuroff said, "I only know what I read in the British and Scottish newspapers, which quoted documents that indicate he worked for British intelligence. The information he provided supposedly related to his work in coal mines, as far as I know. His job was to spy on his fellow miners and report to the British authorities."

Gecas went to work in the mines near Edinburgh shortly after arriving in Britain. He eventually rose in his profession to become a qualified mining engineer after studying at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

In 1959 he was granted British citizenship. Later, he married a young nurse named Astrid. Together they operated a small bed-and-breakfast out of their home near Edinburgh after Gecas' retirement.

The daily Scotsman newspaper's Sunday edition reported in July, "Gecas' reinvention as a mining engineer in Scotland is said to have been aided by his recruitment as a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service and Special Branch. The links are so sensitive that they will never be acknowledged publicly and only a handful of government ministers at the time knew of them."

Zuroff said he had no idea why the Soviets dropped the case against Gecas in 1987. "This is totally incomprehensible to me," he said.

Post-World War II British intelligence operations in the Baltics were notoriously full of Soviet double agents working in double-blind operations for Moscow.

Asked whom he was pursuing in the immediate future to face the music for committing genocide in World War II, Zuroff said, "There is no shortage of suspects. Just last week I gave in the names of 97 Lithuanian suspects to the general prosecutor's office in Vilnius. There are suspects in Australia, Canada, the U.S.A., Great Britain, Venezuela and other countries, not to mention the Baltics."

What are the prospects for successful prosecutions in the future? "Needless to say, the suspects are not young, but that is inevitable in my line of work."

Zuroff is currently the world's most active Nazi hunter.