Lithuania Denies It Has Pardoned War Criminals but is Investigating

The president of Lithuania has strongly denied a report that his newly independent government is pardoning citizens who collaborated in Nazi war crimes.

But the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles says it has the evidence to prove it.

In a letter to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, Vytautas Landsbergis called “particularly provoking” claims made last week in The New York Times that Lithuania is exonerating war criminals.

He denied “the insinuations, that there are thousands of Holocaust suspects living here, who now are being legally absolved as patriots of Lithuania. Such an image is not only false, it is unjust.”

The charges were made by the Wiesenthal Center, which reiterated Sunday that it has trial records showing that the Lithuanians “have, in fact, exonerated at least three individuals” who “confessed to participation in mass murders against Jews.”

In his letter, Landsbergis stood by his proclamation of May 1990 that there is no statute of limitations for crimes committed by either Nazis or Bolsheviks.

But he underscored that the Lithuanian prosecutor general is investigating sentences set down by the KGB.

He said he has asked the Lithuanian chief prosecutor, Arturas Paulauskas, to investigate “material pertaining to those individuals who were mentioned” in the Times article.

MEETINGS WITH LITHUANIAN OFFICIALS

Concerned American Jewish leaders held meetings last Friday in person and by telephone with Lithuanian representatives in Washington and New York.

A U.S. Jewish leader who met with the Lithuanian ambassador to Washington came away feeling the Vilnius government is being sensitive to Jewish feelings.

Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said that more meetings would be held with Lithuanian representatives in Chicago and Los Angeles after the Rosh Hashanah holiday. The meetings had originally been scheduled for last Friday.

The Washington meeting included representatives of the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Religious Action Center of Union of American Hebrew Congregations and survivors of the Kovno and Vilna ghettos.

Bayer said the survivors presented painful memories of Jews in Lithuania being killed by neighbors and people with whom they had gone to school.

The Lithuanian ambassador, Stasys Lazaraitis, “sat there stunned,” Bayer said.

The Jewish representatives told the ambassador “that no Lithuanian will be permitted to come into the United States unless his record is clear,” said Bayer. “No Nazi war criminals in Lithuania must go unpunished.”

Another leader, Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, also stipulated that the Lithuanians must cooperate with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.

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