NEW YORK (Dec. 24)
A wartime member of a pro-Nazi killing squad in Latvia who had been slated for denaturalization proceedings has agreed to give up his U.S. citizenship.
In exchange, the U.S. government has agreed not to pursue deportation efforts against Mikelis Kirsteins, 74, of Utica, N.Y., who has admitted to serving during World War II as a member of the elite Arajs Kommando, the Latvian Security Auxiliary Police.
The agreement, which was signed in the federal district court in Binghamton, was reported by Shelly Shapiro, director of Holocaust Survivors and Friends in Albany, a group that has closely followed the case.
The Justice Department later confirmed the report.
The agreement was apparently sought because of the declining health of Kirsteins, who suffered a stroke in July, shortly before long-delayed denaturalization proceedings against him were to have begun.
Kirsteins had been slated to appear at a denaturalization hearing Aug. 1. After he was hospitalized, the hearing was postponed until January.
The nine-page consent agreement was signed Monday evening and filed Tuesday morning. In it, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations agreed not to bring deportation proceedings or expel Kirsteins “unless there is substantial improvement in his medical condition,” OSI said in a statement.
“OSI is entitled to appoint a physician to re-evaluate defendant’s condition at periodic intervals up to twice yearly,” the statement said.
OSI initiated denaturalization proceedings against Kirsteins in July 1987, based on his having lied about his wartime past when he entered the country in 1956 and became a U.S. citizen in 1965.
SHOT CHILDREN ‘IN COLD BLOOD’
OSI attorneys say that in a 1987 interview, Kirsteins voluntarily admitted he had been a member of the Arajs Kommando, which operated under the German Security Police and SD, the SS Security Service. The group traveled through Latvia, carrying out mass executions of Jews and others.
Kirsteins participated in an “aktion” in the Birkinicki Forest in Riga, in which Jewish men, women and children were lined up in front of a mass grave and shot to death.
The group’s commander, Viktors Arajs, was convicted by a West German court in 1979 for the murder of at least 13,000 people during the Nazi occupation of Latvia. He served a life term in a West German prison, where he died in 1988.
In September 1989, U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy suppressed Kirsteins’ admissions, since he was not accompanied by an attorney at the interview.
Justice Department officials contended that Kirsteins had done so by his own choice, despite OSI’s advice in writing. Moreover, they said that a civil case did not warrant telling him he could bring counsel.
Reacting Tuesday to news of the consent agreement, Elliot Welles, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Nazi Task Force, said, “I still feel he should be deported to Latvia and face trial by a Latvian court.
“The Arajs Kommando had no pity on women and children. They shot them in cold blood,” said Welles, whose own mother was killed by the Arajs Kommando.
The group “enjoyed killing Jews even more than the Germans,” said Welles, who survived the Riga Ghetto, where the Arajs Kommando operated. “We look forward to the Latvian court putting him on trial, regardless of his reasons of health. I do not think there should be any pity.”
OSI Director Neal Sher said in a statement, “There is nothing in the consent judgment that would prevent a foreign government having criminal jurisdiction from seeking Kirsteins’ extradition to stand trial abroad.”