Juozas Kisielaitis, a former member of the battalion, has been the subject of a planned mass demonstration and a story that appeared on a Canadian national news program. The organizers of the demonstration, the Jewish Defense League, hope it will happen in February. It has already gone through several postponements.
The 12th Battalion (later known as the 12th Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft Battalion), established during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, is known to have committed many atrocities during World War II. Kisielaitis, now a Canadian citizen, joined it in 1941.
He claims to have only been the battalion's tailor, but has been accused of being a rifleman. Documents and a report obtained by The Baltic Times support this accusation.
According to the 130-page report, prepared by Steve Ramban, an independent war crimes investigator from the U.S.A. who has played a significant role in the case against Kisielaitis, the battalion not only assisted in the killing of 94 percent of the Lithuanian Jewish population, but was also active in Belarus.
The battalion left Lithuania on Oct. 6,1941 for the Minsk-Borisov-Slutsk region of Belarus. While in Belarus it was responsible for the murder of at least 30,000 civilians.
Kisielaitis claims that he was in Kaunas working as a tailor at the time of the battalion's missions in Belarus. But documents detailing the names of the members of the 12th Battalion and their jobs show Kisielaitis was indeed a rifleman. These documents have been authenticated by the Lithuanian authorities.
Kisielaitis could not be reached for comment.
His case first gained special attention from the U.S. Department of Justice 20 years ago while he was a resident of the United States. The Department of Justice's office of special investigations was given the task of investigating Kisielaitis.
After reviewing the evidence against him, the office formerly accused Kisielaitis of "[assisting] the Nazis in the persecution of persons because of their race, religion, national origin or political opinion" and served Kisielaitis with papers ordering him to appear before an immigration judge and show why he should not be deported.
He opted to move back to Canada rather than appear before the judge in 1985.
Joseph Krovisky, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of Justice, revealed his department's findings to the media that same year. "We confirmed that [Kisielaitis] was a war criminal living in the U.S. He entered the U.S. under false pretenses, concealing his service in a Nazi unit," reads a statement from Krovinsky.
The file on Kisielaitis was then given over to Canadian officials, who have yet to begin any proceedings against him.
Ramban believes there is compelling evidence against Kisielaitis. "We all assumed that the government would be proceeding," he told The Baltic Times. "The amount of documents with evidence against him is overwhelming."
According to Ramban, Kisielaitis has actually admitted under oath that he was in Minsk, confessed on tape to Ramban of his role in the battalion, and even showed a young girl his bullet wounds from the war.
Ramban says he feels that incompetence and a desire not to offend the Lithuanian community in Canada is the most likely reason why Kisielaitis has eluded a deportation order in Canada.
"The incompetence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is mind boggling," he said.
His report says Kisielaitis had told an investigator that he had been twice interviewed by the RCMP a few years after his return to Canada. They had referred to him as "a good Canadian citizen" even though they were fully aware of the U.S. Department of Justice's findings.
The responsibility for looking into Kisielaitis' past is now in the hands of the war crimes unit of the Canadian Department of Justice. But asked repeatedly by The Baltic Times for information about the case, the department and the war crimes unit remained tight-lipped.
Lynn Lovett, counsel with the war crimes unit, cites privacy concerns as the reason for the lack of information.
"Unfortunately, we cannot confirm or deny whether Mr. Kisielaitis is being investigated. We are aware of the allegations against him, but for privacy reasons we can never talk about it," she said.
Lovett rebuffs Ramban's criticisms. "We take allegations of war crimes very seriously to make sure that Canada isn't a safe haven for war criminals," she said.
The department recently released an annual report in July 2001 boasting about the effectiveness of the war crimes unit. The report detailed the results of the work of the war crimes unit and the effectiveness of the department's policy to work closely with the RCMP and the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration on war criminal issues.
The war crimes unit was established in 1987 shortly after the completion of a report into suspected war criminals living in Canada by a government commission. This commission, formed in 1985, later produced a list of 883 suspects for the government to act on.
Former Solicitor General of Canada Robert Kaplan said he hoped the government would take immediate action on these cases, including Kisielaitis'. "If the Americans have compiled a dossier of evidence, as they seem to have, the Canadian government should move to obtain it and take immediate action," he said.
On the day of the annual report's release, the government was known to have brought its sixth World War II case before the courts since 1987. The minister of citizenship and immigration at the time of the report said the report had demonstrated the government's commitment to ensuring Canada was not a safe haven for war criminals.
Ramban, who has brought over 150 names of suspects to the attention of the Canadian authorities, believes the Canadian government has no intention of taking action against them.
"The Canadian government looks at the evidence and shrugs," he said.
He plans to open a fresh investigation into Kisielaitis, but has faint hopes the he will ever be deported.
After adding that there are 26 other members of the 12th Battalion living in Canada, Ramban commented that, "Canada is an old people's home for war criminals." He hopes the members of the battalion will cooperate. He is also looking for further witnesses.