Setting the record straight

  • 2002-09-12
  • Efraim Zuroff
Reading Janis Bolsteins' tirade against the Simon Wiesenthal Center's offer of financial rewards for information leading to the prosecution and punishment of Nazi war criminals in the Baltics ("Chasing phantoms," Aug. 22-28 issue) several things are immediately apparent.

One is that Bolsteins is genuinely frightened that the Baltics' abysmal failure to bring local Holocaust perpetrators to the bar of justice might impede their entry into NATO. The second is that he has no understanding whatsoever of the essence of the issue and its moral significance and the third is that he obviously has no compunction about seriously distorting the facts to help create an ostensibly convincing argument.

How else, for example, are we to understand his deliberate misrepresentation of the Wiesenthal Center's often stated position that we do not seek revenge but rather justice. How many times do we have to repeat the fact that what we are seeking is the prosecution in local courts of law of those who committed the crimes of the Holocaust.

Revenge, on the other hand, would be to take the law into our own hands and punish people we thought were guilty without a trial or legal process of any sort. Time and again we have reiterated our commitment to justice, but it hasn't stopped Bolsteins from accusing the Wiesenthal Center of seeking revenge, for the simple reason that doing so discredits our campaign for justice and turns us into the problem.

Instead of investing his energies into helping convince reluctant Baltic governments to prosecute Nazi war criminals (whom even he acknowledges to be bad people), Bolsteins tries to turn us into the villains of a situation which is clearly not our doing.

With the Baltics' failure to prosecute Nazis a possible obstacle to NATO membership, Bolsteins tries to delegitimize our efforts to facilitate prosecution dubbing them a farce with "occasional traces of a witch-hunt."

But since when does a quest for justice become worthy of ridicule of this sort? Have the historical facts changed now that they are problematic for NATO entry? The simple truth is that Bolsteins simply cannot bear the fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia might actually have to pay a heavy price for their moral and judicial failure to hold local Nazi war criminals accountable and under these circumstances chooses instead to belittle Operation: Last Chance (The Simon Wiesenthal Center's program to pay for information leading to a prosecution).

To make matters worse, Bolsteins distorts the facts that do not suit his arguments and dismisses or mocks the others making comments that display his ignorance of the history of World War II and the Holocaust, not to mention his intellectual dishonesty.

Thus, for example, he mockingly refers to my assessment that the number of Nazi war criminals in Lithuania is higher than the number in Latvia, which in turn is higher than the number in Estonia, ridiculing my lack of "precision and exactness."

What did he expect in that regard, the exact figure which everyone realizes will never be known? By virtue of the size of the local Jewish population in each country and the role played by local police units outside their borders, it is obvious that Lithuania will have the most criminals and Estonia the least.

Or his snide comment about my reference to the high rates of collaboration with the Nazis in the Baltics.

The sad truth is that the three Baltic countries rank extremely high in terms of collaboration with the Nazis on any and every scale available to a historian of World War II, but especially in terms of participation in the crimes of the Holocaust.

In fact, the Baltics are the only region in which the following three elements were present: local collaborators murdered a highly-significant percentage of the local Jewish community, if not a majority; foreign Jews were brought to each of the three countries to be murdered; local police units from each of the countries were sent outside their borders to help implement the "Final Solution."

Those are the basic historical facts.You do not need a Ph.D. in the history of the Holocaust to know that but in the Baltics you obviously require a rare dose of integrity to fully internalize them.

If we add Bolsteins' patently false comments about (U.S. Ambassador to Estonia) Joe DeThomas' op-ed piece in Eesti Paevaleht, which he insists related to Lithuania and Latvia as well, although neither was mentioned in the article which dealt solely and exclusively with Estonia, we get a piece which more than anything else truly reflects the heart of the problem — the inability of far too many Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians to face their bloody Holocaust past and the terrible complicity of their people in the crimes of the worst genocide in the annals of mankind.

So instead of accusing America's ambassador to Estonia of arguing from a "Jewish perspective," (He is, after all, the American ambassador, not the Israeli ambassador) Bolsteins would do well to go back to the history books and take a more honest look at the Baltic past. Perhaps then he will direct his complaints to those who really deserve them rather than to those who are part of the solution not part of the problem.

I cannot refrain from setting the record straight on the case of (accused KGB murderer Nachman) Dushansky.

Israel has refused to extradite Dushansky for two reasons. One is that more than 20 Lithuanians with a higher or equivalent rank to Dushansky who were ostensibly involved in the same alleged crimes as he was were never even questioned, let alone indicted and prosecuted, leading Israel's Ministry of Justice to conclude that the basis for the investigation is political rather than judicial.

The second reason has to do with the nature of the alleged crimes which Dushansky is accused of committing. In fact, there is no statute of limitations in Israel on crimes against humanity or genocide, which is exactly as it should be.

The alleged crimes which Dushansky is accused of, however, do not fit either of these definitions, which is why under Israeli law a statute of limitations does apply.

In short, Mr. Bolsteins, study the facts, learn them and confront them honestly. Don't try to twist them to suit your needs.