Skip to comments.Lithuanian hoops team's Nazi 'prize': ten Jews to kill
Posted on 03/04/2004 11:52:39 AM PST by yonif
In 1941, a Lithuanian basketball team was awarded a dubious prize for its victory over a team comprised of members from the occupying German military each player was given the opportunity to shoot about 10 Jews.
Next week, the names of two suspected members of that Lithuanian team are expected be presented to a special prosecutor in Vilnius.
These events coincidentally come at a time when Israeli basketball teams travel to the Baltic nation in matches that, in the past, have been marred by expressions of anti-Semitism.
"It is so horrifying that the prize for winning a basketball game was to murder innocent men, women, and children," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office. "This certainly does add a different dimension and a certain resonance to the games being played now."
Although exact information is not available for the public, Zuroff said the two suspects are brothers living in the US, with at least one of the siblings residing in Waterbury, Connecticut.
"They are both in their early 80s," Zuroff said. "You have to keep in mind that these men were very young when this crime occurred. I'm sure many, not all, but many people in Lithuania remember this. Who would have thought that 56 years later we would discover that the likely perpetrators are living in the US."
The events surrounding the basketball game were detailed in a 1948 book by Josef Gar, a Lithuanian.
The book describes how the champion-caliber Lithuanian team engaged in a contest against the Germans in a town near the capital of Vilnius.
After the match, the victorious team was told that it had won the right to kill some Jews. According to the book, each player accepted the prize. The team reportedly herded Jewish residents near a tower, where each player took their turn shooting about 10 people. Statistics indicate that approximately 90 percent of Lithuania's nearly 220,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
After offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution and punishment of people suspected of murdering Lithuanian Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received 198 names, and 144 were credible enough to pursue, including the two brothers, Zuroff said. "A man who remembers the basketball game recently saw an interview in the Canadian/Lithuanian press and then tracked them down," he said.
Zuroff said Lithuania has not punished a Nazi-era criminal since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The only person convicted for the murder of Jews was Kazys Gimzauskas, last February, but he was not jailed because he has Alzheimer's disease. Gimzauskas's superior officer in those crimes died of a heart attack before his sentencing.
Still, Lithuanian prosecutor Rimvydas Valentukevicius maintained that a "historical justice had been done" and vowed to continue prosecuting the criminals.
To date, basketball and other sports continue to attract anti-Semitic rhetoric in Lithuania, often when local teams play clubs from Israel. For example, in March 2002, fans in Vilnius chanted "Jews get out" and other Nazi slogans as many waved Palestinian flags during a basketball game with an Israeli team. Similar reactions took place at two soccer matches in August 2001 between a Vilnius team and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"These chants were even heard on TV, but still the security at the game did nothing," said Simonas Alperavicius, a Jewish community leader in Lithuania.
Lithuanian officials, responding to public rebukes from Alperavicius, said at the time that the commotion was caused by a "small number of fans" and that measures would be taken to avoid any more displays of anti-Semitism at sporting events.
The Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team is set to play next Tuesday night in Vilnius in a ULEB Cup match. Maccabi Tel Aviv is scheduled for a basketball game March 11 in the Lithuanian capital as part of the Euroleague tournament.
Good riddance. I hope they're deported and prosecuted by Lithuania.
In Nazi-occupied Lithuania, local police, military and even ordinary citizens were all-too-willing to assist the Germans with the extermination of the Jews. Some of these war criminals escaped to Australia and we have the names. But is it too late to bring them to justice? Paul Daley reports.
Dobe Rozenberg-Most rubs her good hand vigorously against her thigh. It's a vain attempt to ward off the chill that permeates the walls of her tiny, neat flat at the end of a dank stairwell in this prefab concrete Soviet housing building. At least the bandage, the legacy of a recent fall, offers the other forearm and hand some insulation. She's 75 and, like most her age, she has the occasional fall. But her mind is still nimble and her hazel eyes burn: with life, with memories, with sadness.
It's only mid-afternoon, late autumn, in Kaunas, the once beautiful former capital of Lithuania, a city whose fairytale prettiness has been tarnished by the bleak, grey monstrosities of Soviet planners. But already this murky, never-quite-daylight state is deferring to blackness. Grubby kids wander indoors for borscht. Dogs follow. The flimsy glow from candles and low-watt light bulbs exude an eerie yellow light through curtained windows, high in the flats above. It's dark enough for the streetlamps. But the only light on the street belongs to cars and the fire in a 44-gallon drum over which a few hover, hands extended.
Rozenberg-Most draws her curtains and shuffles to an armchair. I give her the names of three men, all Lithuanians who allegedly collaborated with the Nazis in 1941 to murder Lithuania's Jews before migrating to Australia. They are Juozas L-------, Antanas S----- and Juozas G----.
She shifts her head quizzically.
"Yes, I remember," she says. "L, the older brother Mykolas, he took part in killing Jews. He was a teacher at the high school and became the police commander when the SS came. And he had a brother, Romualdas, a driver for the Germans and he wore the SS uniform. Romualdas, yes, he escaped to America when the Russians came. And the other brother, Juozas, I'm now told he was working for the police, too. I remember them especially the older ones, Romualdas and Mykolas, as people who took part in killing the Jews of Jurbarkas."
What about the others: Antanas S and Juozas G?
"G? Yes the G brothers owned a watch shop and S repaired telephones. I don't remember them as Jew killers ... but I was only a girl and I was taken to the ghetto in Kaunas. You must remember that many, many ordinary people in my town killed the Jews," says Rozenberg-Most.
She is one of a few surviving Jews who lived in Jurbarkas, a town 100km north-west of Vilnius, when Germany invaded then Soviet-occupied Lithuania on June 24, 1941. By the end of 1941, most of the town's 2000 Jews, including most of Rozenberg-Most's family, had been murdered in an orgy of shooting, beating and mass burial. The violence in Jurbarkas and in dozens of other Lithuanian towns and cities where more than 140,000 Jews were slaughtered, mostly in 1941 and 1942 marked the Holocaust's opening chapter. Many Lithuanians, at considerable personal cost, helped to save Jews. But it remains a shameful fundamental of the modern Lithuanian Republic's DNA that some Lithuanians resentful at their treatment by the Russians and the minority of Lithuanian Jews who supported them joined with the German SS to indiscriminately murder their Jewish neighbours.
Juozas L, Antanas S and Juozas G are just three of the alleged perpetrators of violence against the Jews of Jurbarkas. But more than 60 years after the killings, new evidence has been unearthed that they are among hundreds if not thousands of alleged Nazi collaborators who came to Australia amid the great post-war flood of migrant refugees from Eastern Europe. What's more, it seems they may have lived and perhaps died here, immune from prosecution, free to enjoy their new lives, for the past half a century.
The Australian government knows who they are, where they have lived and whether they are still alive. Indeed, their names are on a list of 22 alleged Lithuanian Nazi collaborators passed to the government, via Australian Ambassador to Israel Ross Burns, on May 28, 2002. The list was given to Burns by Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an organisation dedicated to tracking Nazi criminals and named after Zuroff's 94-year-old mentor. Wiesenthal, an Austro-Hungarian Jew, dedicated his life to catching the criminals of the Third Reich before retiring last year.
Under immense pressure from Zuroff, a dogged 55-year-old and by his own admission "pain in the ass" American Jew, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General had also asked Australia to help determine which of the 22 suspects still live in Australia.
On December 3, 2002, the then Attorney-General Daryl Williams tabled in parliament his response to a question on notice about the suspects. "The letter from the Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Lithuania states that the persons on the list are suspected of genocide and war crimes against civilians, including persons of Jewish nationality during World War II. Precise details of the alleged offences were not provided," Williams' response read.
"The AFP has located addresses in Australia for nine persons on the list. The Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Lithuania has been informed ... At the request of the Attorney-General's Department, the AFP has conducted inquiries to ascertain the whereabouts of persons on the list. Those inquiries are continuing."
Williams also volunteered that the Lithuanian government had made no request to begin deportation proceedings against the men and that there was "insufficient evidence to lay charges against them".
While Williams' answer was straight enough, it tells but part of the story.
The Bulletin has established that seven of the alleged war criminals still live in Australia. Of the 22 names given to the Australian government, there is no record of two having entered the country (although it can't be ruled out they did); nine are confirmed dead; the Australian Federal Police have been unable to find another two who definitely came here, and police were unable to accurately establish the identity of one man who was traced to South Australia. One returned to Lithuania.
This leaves seven suspects, all aged 85 or older and who enjoy varying standards of health. Most live in nursing homes or supported accommodation across four states and territories. The Bulletin has established that one suspect lives in Victoria, three are in Western Australia and two live in Queensland. The last, an 87-year-old who left Europe for Australia aboard the passenger ship General Black on 14 November 1949, lives in the ACT.
Like another nine on the latest list of Nazi collaborators who became Australian citizens after escaping the Soviets, he belonged to a Lithuanian Police Auxiliary Battalion or Schutzmannschaften killing units drawn partly from former anti-Soviet partisan units and run by the SS, that proved so efficient at exterminating Jews in Lithuania, they were later dispatched to other countries to do so. Another nine of the 22 belonged to local police units that were known to have supported the German SS persecution and killing of Jews in towns across Lithuania, mostly in 1941 and 1942.
The first mass murder site at Jurbarkas is easy enough to find. Just off the main highway into town, the 300 bodies lie in a mass grave about the size of two tennis courts. It's the place they were dumped after the SS shot them in the old Jewish cemetery next door on July 3, 1941. The local police, led by the eldest L, Mykolas, marched the Jews there. The next massacre site, like most others in Lithuania, is much less obvious.
No sign points to it from the main road leading from Jurbarkas. Even my guide, Chaim Bargmann, the son of a Holocaust survivor and a Byelorussian soldier who has been there many times with Jews from all over the world, takes us down several wrong paths. At first it feels like we're driving straight into the forest. The track, thickly carpeted with lichen, is barely visible before us. Huge, ancient pines and Christmas trees grow so tall and densely, their lower branches block the sky, limiting visibility to 10 or 15 metres. There are no birds or animal noise no sound at all, save for our breathing. We stop at a small stone monument, the only sign that something terrible happened here.
In this place on September 8, 1941, the Nazi killers and their local helpers ferociously killed close to 500 Jews, reads the Yiddish inscription.
This is the site of the biggest single atrocity in Jurbarkas the murder of about 500 women and children. Many of the children their fathers already buried in the pits had been hidden by Lithuanian families. But they were caught after other Lithuanians told the SS and the local police where they were. After being driven into the yard of the women's ghetto in Jurbarkas, German and Lithuanian policeman surrounded them. According to Ruta Puisyte, a young Vilnius historian: "The waiting women were to be driven to 'work', but in fact their journey ended at the seventh kilometre, near Kalnenai. Their torment was the same: the women were ordered to beat one another, to kick and bite, to tear their hair. Questions of 'why?' or 'because of what?' were answered by automatic shooting or beating."
Were it not for Puisyte, the full extent of the systematic annihilation of Jurbarkas' Jews would not have been documented.
What's more, had it not been for Puisyte, the names of Juozas G, Juozas L and Antanas S would not have been passed to the Australian authorities as suspected war criminals. Like Anna Rosmus a German schoolgirl who won a national essay competition and the label "The Nasty Girl" (which subsequently became the name of the movie made about her) in 1981, after exposing her townsfolk as Nazi sympathisers and persecutors of Jews during the Third Reich Puisyte has also made her share of enemies.
For her 1997 University of Vilnius bachelor's thesis, Puisyte conducted a forensic and painstaking examination of events in Jurbarkas in 1941. "My father liked to tell stories about his younger days and one day I asked him a question: 'Daddy, what happened to all of the Jews?' I was a bit afraid of asking this question because I was thinking about what his reaction might be," Puisyte explains in her office behind the Jewish Museum in Vilnius. "I already knew that the reaction about Jews and what happened to them in the German occupation could be very negative from Lithuanians. He said he'd heard people talking about killing the Jews and my father spoke about a Jewish survivor from one town, Jurbarkas."
Puisyte tried to contact the survivor, Chayim Joffe. But he had died a few years earlier. Joffe, however, had left behind a valuable resource: extensive notes and archives that documented some of the crimes against Jews in Jurbarkas. He also named some of the perpetrators. For the next two years, Puisyte interviewed other survivors, many of them old and infirm. Most have since died. But she also tapped another invaluable font of information: the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCSA) and the KGB's extensive files, which had become available after Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the KGB files, Puisyte found detailed transcripts of Soviet trials, conducted after the second Soviet occupation in 1944, of Lithuania's Nazi collaborators, thousands of whom the Soviets executed or dispatched to Siberia. While crimes against the Jews were well-chronicled in the archives, they were secondary to the primary interests of Russia's secret police: crimes against the Soviet state. The LCSA files, meanwhile, held extensive Lithuanian and German security records of the names of all members of the Lithuanian security forces and the Auxiliary Police units. After combing through the archives for months, she cross-referenced the names given in evidence to the Soviet authorities with the names of those who, survivors claimed, had killed the Jews of Jurbarkas.
As a result of her investigations, Puisyte was in a position not only to publish a near complete list of the dead Jews. She also published a list of 31 people who "participated in torturing and shooting" them.
The Australians Juozas G, Juozas L and Antanas S were among them. Antanas S, it was noted, "began to work in the office of the Jurbarkas police station in June 1941".
"I can assure you I had good reason to include every name on that list I did not do it lightly," she says. "I had corroboration from at least three places either witnesses or from the Central Lithuanian State Archive or the Special archive [the KGB] files."
Efraim Zuroff, built like a gridiron player, is a commanding presence as he rests his big frame on a sofa in the foyer of the Conti Hotel in central Vilnius where, between sips of green tea, his large hands fiddle with his skullcap. Zuroff is a passionate, engaging and tenacious man who is now regarded as the world's leading Nazi hunter. He'll be out of a job soon enough; if not yet dead, most of his quarry soon will be. And so he is, literally, in a big hurry to track the last Nazis and their collaborators, to tear them from the suburban comfort of their twilight years, have them de-naturalised, deported, charged and imprisoned. He suffers no fools and speaks no bullshit. Zuroff impatiently prefaces many of his statements with the word, "Listen", as if to underscore his urgency or on the very off chance that you're not attending to his every word.
The waiters scuttle about the Conti Hotel's foyer around us, emptying ashtrays and carrying beers to a few patrons at nearby tables. They stop suddenly. Other customers look awkwardly towards us as Zuroff's voice rises.
"Listen, it's very damned simple: these people are the ones who had no sympathy for their victims. The elderly, women and children ... why should they get any sympathy whatsoever? OK, so someone murdered your mother, and he got away with it for 50 years, and you discover the bastard. And he's living in some suburb, what is it Thomastown? in Melbourne, and he's in reasonable health living a reasonable life, and he's enjoying his grandchildren, pruning his roses. Why should he have this privilege?" Zuroff is yelling.
"Listen we exposed him. He was the chess champion of Victoria. And he was a fucking murderer a commanding officer. He was a fucking scumbag."
Zuroff is referring to Karlis Ozols, a lieutenant in Latvia's feared Arajs Commandos who, witnesses maintained, took part in the murder of thousands of Jews in Byelorussia in the early 1940s. He migrated to Australia from Europe in 1949 and died, aged 88, in Melbourne in 2001. His name was on a Wiesenthal Centre suspect list given to the Hawke Labor government in 1986 and, although the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions once considered charges against him, he was never prosecuted.
He was among the 841 alleged Nazi collaborators pursued by the ill-fated Australian Special Investigations Unit (SIU), established in 1987 to criminally prosecute Nazi war criminals. There were other notable failures due to evidentiary problems, claims that poor health impeded the ability of some suspects to testify and, ultimately, lack of will (prosecutorial and political) to run further cases.
The charges against Australian Heinrich Wagner, accused of killing 123 Ukrainian Jews in 1942, were eventually dropped due to his ill health (he lived another eight years), while another Australian, Ivan Polyukovhich, was acquitted in May 1993 of charges relating to the murder of 850 Jews in the Ukraine.
In June 1992, Mikolay Berezovsky was acquitted at committal of killing 102 Ukraine Jews in 1942. Then there was Antanas Gudelis, investigated first by the SIU, which ruled there was not enough evidence to charge him and, second, by the Lithuanian government on the basis of evidence in the LCSA files showing he was a member of a Lithuanian Police Auxiliary. He, too, escaped prosecution. The SIU closed ingloriously, without notching a conviction, in 1992.
(It is a curious and compelling aside that Ozols arrived in Australia aboard the passenger ship Mozzafari in 1949. His friend, Konrad Kalejs another Latvian-born member of the Arajs who used his Australian citizenship to avoid criminal prosecution internationally for genocide, and died before he could be deported to Latvia, also arrived aboard the Mozzafari in the same year. So, too, did Vladas K----------, another of the 22 men on the most recent list of Australian immigrants from Lithuania who, by the Lithuanian government's admission, is "suspected of genocide and war crimes against civilians".)
Earlier on the day we met in Vilnius, Zuroff had held a frustrating meeting with Rimvydas Valentkevicius, Lithuania's Special Prosecutor of Genocide Cases. As part of the Wiesenthal Centre's "Operation Last Chance", Zuroff is lobbying Valentkevicius to extradite alleged war criminals from countries such as Australia and charge them with genocide in Lithuania where, he maintains, there is ample evidence in the archives and, in some cases, witnesses available to testify. The Wiesenthal Centre has even offered monetary rewards for information about war criminals.
Despite Zuroff's assurances that there is ample evidence in the KGB and the LCSA files to prosecute many of the Australians, Valentkevicius says he needs more.
"Regarding the latest 22 [Australian] cases, the Lithuanian government maintains it does not have enough evidence, despite the fact we have shown them that much of the evidence is in the KGB archives and the LCSA files," Zuroff says. "For its part, Australia has lost any will, any political will, to do anything about this.
"Listen, I love Australia ... it's a great country, OK? I've been there and you know, Australia is one of those countries where there is a concern for human rights and there is a sensitivity about these kinds of issues. But part of the problem is that they totally blew it ... on those three cases [Wagner, Polyukovhich and Berezovsky].
"They closed down the SIU and once the SIU was closed down, the expertise was squandered. The AFP in principle had the jurisdiction [to prosecute war criminals], but no budget for it ... the SIU was disbanded. It was a joke. And now I don't understand why. For the life of me, I don't understand it, except that Australia has lost any political will to bring these people to justice."
Zuroff is not urging Australia to lay criminal charges against any of its alleged Nazi war criminals. On the contrary, he is recommending a less complicated route of denaturalisation and deportation proceedings against them on the basis that when they entered Australia, they did so without accurately disclosing their backgrounds.
From April 1, 2002, until March 31, 2003, the United States criminally convicted five Nazi collaborators and began deportation and denaturalisation proceedings against 11 others. Germany achieved one criminal conviction and began deportation proceedings against another. Australia remains the only haven to hundreds, if not thousands, of Nazis and their collaborators, which has failed to take a successful legal action against one.
It is an astonishing, shameful and almost inexplicable result considering that, in the past 18 years, the Wiesenthal Centre has given the Australian government the names of 462 people for whom there exists evidence of involvement in Nazi-associated genocide.
The government has received 126 of the names including the latest 22 Lithuanians since the SIU's closure in 1992.
Then there is the question of precedent. In June 2000, then-immigration minister Philip Ruddock made it clear that war criminals from recent conflicts were still finding their way to Australia. "... We nevertheless fail to identify some people whom it is said are significant war criminals," Ruddock said.
What message, one wonders, might those "significant war criminals" draw from Australia's record on Nazis?
Now we are careening down muddy sheep tracks in a Blair Witch forest of tall, spindly birches outside Simnas, a small, picturesque town south-west of Vilnius. The original synagogue still stands next to the market square in the middle of town. But today it's a gymnasium. No Jews live here anymore. We're looking for another mass grave and Chaim Bargmann, my guide, is furious. "These Jewish graves you see, there's no markings from the road at all. There's no mention on the maps: the Lithuanians don't want to advertise them. These maps, they're anti-Semitic," he declares.
The clearing opens before us. The monument a woman's face in stone, her eyes cast forlornly at the earth, which hides all those bodies demands a closer look.
On this place ... Hitler's killers and their local helpers shot approximately 1000 innocent citizens of the Village of Simnas men women, old persons and children, reads the Lithuanian inscription. Another less ambiguous inscription in Yiddish refers more directly to "Hitler's killers and their local helpers" killing "1000 Jews".
Among the collaborators were the local police, headed at the time of the biggest mass killing in September 1941 by a Jonas V------. While there is some uncertainty about his birth date, the Jonas V who was in charge of the Simnas Police from June 1941 departed Europe for Australia aboard the passenger ship Svalbard on December 11, 1948.
Aba Gefen and his brother Joseph were among a few Simnas Jews to survive the local pogrom. Gefen, who settled after the war in Israel, where he became an esteemed diplomat and member of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, thinks he may remember Jonas V. "One of the anti-Jewish activists in Simnas on September 1, 1941, [the day of the biggest massacre] was a man of that name. But I think it was spelt [differently]. He was among those who ordered the Jews to the pits," he tells The Bulletin.
"The Germans ordered all Jews to assemble near the town hall before the Germans and the activists marched them to the pits. I didn't go. But then the activists came to get us and this V came to my house and this same V let me go because he had been an employee of my family's business."
When the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania in 1944, they gave priority to re-establishing the KGB's interrogation cells in a narrow side street, Auku Gatve, in the middle of Vilnius. For the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians snatched from their homes, workplaces or off the streets over the next 46 years of Soviet rule, the cells were the start of years of torture and interrogation ending in death or, at best, deportation to Siberia or other Soviet territories.
It is here, in the dimly lit, dank and cold cellars of the KGB building, that the Soviets held many of the trials for those accused of "anti-Soviet activity". If you'd been a member of a non-communist organisation, a civil servant under the Nazi occupation, a police officer, a member of the military, a post-war freedom fighter or a member of the Catholic clergy, you'd almost certainly find yourself inside the dungeons of Auku G.
Today the KGB building houses the Lithuanian Genocide Victims' Museum, an unsettling, malevolent place. It mainly focuses on the undeniably enormous suffering inflicted upon Lithuanian nationals (20,000 partisans murdered, 140,000 citizens sent to Siberia, another 48,000 deported to other parts of the Soviet Union by 1953 alone) under the second Soviet occupation. It refers to the German occupation, with a nod to moral equivalence, as a "dark period in history" where "some Lithuanians participated in the killing of Jews" while correctly pointing out that "another 45,000 non-Jewish people also suffered at the hands of the Nazis".
Besides being every bit as repressive and cruel as the Nazis (and more paranoid), the Soviets were also meticulous record-keepers. While they undertook a massive shredding exercise before vacating Auku G in 1991, they concentrated on recent files. The files left behind included the transcripts of Soviet trials of those involved in anti-Soviet activities after the second occupation among them the trials of thousands of members of the Lithuanian police and Auxiliary Police Battalions, including many who had committed crimes against Jews. Those under interrogation often implicated others in their units. They, too, are named in the files. The Lithuanian Central State Archive, meanwhile, contains Lithuanian security force records and the Third Reich's own detailed lists of the battalion memberships, the orders given to them and the numbers of Jews they killed.
In the early 1990s, Zuroff and his researchers (which later included Ruta Puisyte) began sifting through both sets of archives for names of those who had persecuted the Jews. "There's not too many good things you can say about the communists," says Zuroff. "But one good thing you can say is they made an effort to screw these Nazi collaborators. You can criticise the Soviets for all kinds of things but they kept these amazing records of the trials ... and then there's the LCSA records of those who'd served in the auxiliaries."
At first the auxiliaries the Schutzmannschaften carried out pogroms against Jews in the villages, such as Jurbarkas and Simnas. As the German SS became more strategic about killing Lithuania's Jews, so too did the mobile and stationary auxiliaries. Indeed, by the end of 1941 when most of Lithuania's Jews had been murdered there were 15 auxiliary police units, each with four companies of 300 to 400 men. In 1941 and 1942, the 4th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion committed genocide against Jews and others in both Lithuania and the Ukraine. The 2nd later became the most feared of the battalions, the 12th Schutzmannschaften, which killed 30,000 civilians, many of them Jews, in Byelorussia in late 1941. The Schutzmannschaften later participated in the end stages of the Final Solution, guarding death camps and overseeing production-line murder at the gas chambers.
The 1st Battalion, meanwhile, committed extensive crimes against Jews in Kaunas and Vilnius before many of its members joined the 2nd and the 12th battalions. Among those on the most recent list of 22 suspects given to the Australian government, the LCSA records indicate five had been members of the 4th battalion, while four had been members of the 1st. Another nine were members of regular Lithuanian police units that were controlled by the German SS and which are known to have committed crimes against Jews.
But how do we know any of them came to Australia? We know because Zuroff cross-referenced the names of the policemen against the records of the International Tracing Service at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. The ITS, which aimed to track the immediate post-war movements of all European migrants, holds 15 million names. Where possible, biographical details of the Lithuanian suspects were matched against the ITS records which gave departure dates and even the vessels boarded of those heading to Australia and elsewhere.
All the suspects departed Europe for Australia between November 1947 and April 19, 1950, on a range of vessels, including the Wooster Victory, SS Goya, the Anna Salem, the General Stewart, the Nelly, Mossafari, the Fair Sea, the General Black, Dundalk Bay, Castelbianco, Svalbard and El Sudan. On arrival, most were transferred to a range of what were then known as Migrant Reception Centres, including the first and the biggest, Bonegilla, just outside Wodonga in north-east Victoria and which opened in 1947. That some of Australia's new guests could have been Nazi sympathisers or collaborators was no surprise at the time and was referred to often, publicly and privately, for many years before the federal government set up the SIU in 1987.
Down at the old KGB cells in Auku G, a woman behind the reception desk sells several books, most in Lithuanian, about the Soviet oppression of Lithuania. One book Whoever saves one life ... The efforts to save Jews in Lithuania between 1941 and 1944 stands out, not least because it is published in English. It includes correspondence dated March 11, 1977, from Matas Janusauskas, a Lithuanian migrant in South Australia, to a "compatriot".
"... in 1949, in the transit camp at Bonegilla a young Jew came up to a group of Lithuanians and said: 'Good afternoon, Captain Simkus, do you remember the time when you supervised the shooting of Jews? I managed to run away from the very edge of the ditch. I remember you very well.' I have to add that according to the narrator, Captain Simkus 'evaporated' from the camp the very same day."
Just like Captain Simkus, it seems the past also vaporised for the latest 22 suspects when they, too, arrived in Australia. Australia's Justice Minister Senator Chris Ellison told The Bulletin Australia had fully co-operated with the request from the Lithuanian government for information on the whereabouts of the suspects. He would not confirm which of them are still alive.
"The Lithuanian government has indicated it does not have enough evidence to lay criminal charges against these men. We do take matters such as this very seriously and if further evidence is discovered it will be handled appropriately," Ellison said. "Australia has a strong record when it comes to helping to prosecute war criminals and we have done this over a long period of time and in relation to various conflicts, including Rwanda, Cambodia and East Timor. I note the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is now offering cash for information about Nazi war criminals as part of Operation Last Chance. Our position is the correct authorities will take appropriate action if relevant information comes to light."
But it is clear that, after the SIU's failed prosecutions, the current government like the last federal Labor government, which was responsible for establishing and scrapping the SIU has no intention of actively pursuing any more Nazi war criminals in Australia.
But in a radical departure from Hawke and Keating government policy, there are bold signals that Labor under Mark Latham intends more actively to pursue war criminals including Nazis in Australia (see box, pages 20-21). The ALP recently changed its platform with a vow to close legal loopholes which allow alleged war criminals to escape justice here, and a Latham Labor government will consider establishing a war crimes investigations unit within the Attorney-General's Department or the AFP. Labor also plans to introduce a private member's bill on the issue.
Shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon says: "There's a question of historical precedent here. When you consider what has happened to alleged WWII criminals who've come here, what does it say to war criminals who are coming here from other modern conflicts? It's something we're looking to seriously address." But for now, the last Nazis can expect to die in peace with their families, the secrets of their pasts largely intact, in Australia, the land that took them after they fled the Soviets.
Which brings us to an expansive retirement village on the edge of an Australian city. For many of his later years, this 87-year-old lived in the security of the village with his wife. His children have lived nearby and he has been a caring grandfather. Life in Australia has been good. But lately his health has failed, he's been unable to look after himself and he's been moved to the hostel section of the retirement village, where nurses will attend to him until death. His last days will be comfortable and calm. He's too sick to see strangers.
Sixty-three years ago, like so many young Lithuanian nationalists who were oppressed by the Russians, he joined the 1st Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, a unit which killed thousands of Jews around Kaunas and Vilnius. His name is in the Lithuanian Central State Archive. His crimes will die with him. So, too, will the crimes of the other six Lithuanian Nazi collaborators on the most recent list given to Australia.
Perhaps the last word belongs to Dobe Rozenberg-Most, who sits in her cold Soviet flat in Kaunas, leafing through books containing sepia images of the family she lost all those years ago.
"The story was always that the Jew-killers from my town escaped to places like Australia and Canada," she says. "Yes, we always thought they'd gone to Australia."
No, it's not. These are murders.
I'm curious, what connection are you making between Mel Gibson and Nazis.
Or are you trying to delegitimize the criticism of Jewkillers?
Only these who knew that some 10,000 Nazis settled in the U.S.A. after WWII.
Disgusting that this sort of attitude is still in play there.
I wouldn't go near the Athens Olympics if I won a full paid trip there. The Greeks are notoriously pro-Palestinian, and sympathetic to the Arab terrorists.
She's no anti-semite, but acts like a Nazi, especially at her time of the month.
That was 59 years ago.
Assuming the youngest Nazi war criminal in 1945 was 25, that would make any living Nazi war criminals at least 84 years old today.
It is reasonable that there still are a number of Nazi war criminals at large today, but the number likely is less than a thousand, probably far less.
It is always a fresh wind though when one of them is finally (at least in this world) brought to justice.
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