TORONTO (Mar. 17)
West Germany wants the Ontario Supreme Court to order a North York man, who was a Latvian police officer during the Nazi occupation, to tell what he knows of two mass executions of civilians in Latvia in the early 1940s. The testimony of Harold Puntulis, a builder, would be part of the persecution’s case in the trial against Albert Eichelis, a Latvian police chief who was Puntulis’ superior officer.
Eichelis is charged with murder and conspiracy in the mass execution of 270 men, women and children near the Latvian town of Rositten, now Rezekne about 140 miles southeast of Riga. This includes the execution of 170 imprisoned residents of the village of Odrini in January, 1942 and the execution of 100 Jews in September or October, 1941.
Eichelis was the district police chief for Rositten and Puntulis was in charge of one of the police stations. West-Germany wants the North York man to testify about what happened to the 270 persons. According to documents filed with the court, Puntulis will be asked whether he knows if Eichelis shot those who weren’t killed immediately in the execution.
West Germany says Puntulis’ testimony is “essential,” but that Puntulis refused to give any evidence seven years ago, even in a proposed hearing before the West German Consul General in Toronto. Puntulis, who has been in Canada since the late 1940s, is a Canadian citizen and can’t be forced to give evidence outside Canada. But he can be ordered to give testimony under oath before a special examiner in Toronto. A transcript of this testimony could be used in the West German trial.
Lawyers for both the West German government and Puntulis have agreed to ask the Ontario Supreme Court to keep the hearing secret. Eichelis was tried in absentia by a Latvian court in 1965 and was sentenced to death for war crimes during the Nazi occupation of Latvia. Funtulis was also tried and sentenced to death by the Soviet Latvian court, a fact not mentioned in the news reports here. Puntulis’ name has been widely mentioned in the last 15 years as a man charged with serious war crimes but he has not been charged in Canada or extradited.