Slow Progress Being Made in Effort to Undo Lithuanian Exonerations

Some progress is being made toward undoing the wrongful exoneration of Nazi collaborators in Lithuania, according to a Simon Wiesenthal Center official who just returned from the Baltic state.

But it is “an uphill battle,” waged against a government “reluctant to admit the scope of the problem or to deal with it in a forthright manner,” according to the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office director, Efraim Zuroff, who visited Lithuania from Oct. 22 to 28.

Zuroff also serves as director of the Wiesenthal Center’s research on Nazi war criminals.

Some 35,000 Lithuanians who were convicted of war crimes by the Soviet regime have been exonerated of any wrongdoing by the newly independent Lithuanian government.

Some Lithuanians who actually aided in Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews have been awarded financial compensation for time spent in Soviet prisons and have had confiscated property returned to them or their estates.

There is some support among members of the Lithuanian parliament for passage of an amendment allowing for the rescission of wrongful exonerations, but that support is far from universal, Zuroff said in an interview from Israel.

The Holocaust research center has appointed a permanent representative in Vilnius, attorney Faina Kuklianskyte, to work on the effort.

The law the Wiesenthal Center wants amended, passed in May 1990, prohibits the rehabilitation of individuals who participated in genocide.

But the procurator general, the country’s chief prosecutor, “is interpreting the law in its most narrow sense,” Zuroff said, and is interested “only in people who pulled the trigger,” not those “who led Jews to their slaughter.”

Until the law is amended, there is no way to reverse the process of exoneration and restitution.

JUDGE NOW TAKING DIFFERENT STANCE

The only Jewish member of the 141-person Lithuanian parliament, Emmanuel Zingeris, was to introduce the issue into the legislative body for discussion on Tuesday, Zuroff said.

While in Lithuania, Zuroff met with President Vytautas Landsbergis, Procurator General Arturas Paulauskas, Supreme Court Justice Aristides Pestininkas and members of parliament.

“We found a certain degree of understanding,” Zuroff said. “But not everyone agrees.”

One of the major obstacles, he said, is that the Lithuanian government has not decided whether or not to establish an independent commission of review to examine all cases of alleged crimes involving collaboration with the Nazis.

They are also undecided about whether or not to make public the names of those exonerated so that Holocaust survivors can come forward if they recognize the names of their tormentors.

“The Lithuanians are interested in rehabilitating as many people as possible,” Zuroff noted.

Complicating the picture is the fact that Lithuanian Supreme Court Justice Genadijus Slauta, who, in an Oct. 17 New York Times article, said that the court would reverse any miscarriages of justice, is apparently distancing himself from that position.

Slauta, who was “nowhere to be found” during Zuroff’s visit, now says he was misquoted.

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