NEW YORK (Jun. 17)
The Justice Department has charged a retired Philadelphia area architect with having been a high-ranking officer who helped Nazis murder Lithuanian Jews and others during World War II, and said he lied about his past when he applied for a U.S. visa and for his American citizenship.
The Office of Special Investigations, the Justice Department’s special Nazi-hunting unit, and U.S. Attorney Michael Baylson, charged in documents filed in U.S. District Court that Jonas Stelmokas, 75, “advocated, assisted, participated or acquiesced in the murder and other persecution of Jews and other unarmed civilians in Lithuania.”
Stelmokas has denied the charges. He told a Philadelphia television news program that “it was all Soviet fabrication.” OSI charged that Stelmokas concealed his wartime past when he applied for a visa in 1949 and misrepresented his war-years activities when he applied for citizenship in 1954 and was naturalized in 1955.
The Justice Department unit has moved to revoke Stelmokas’ citizenship and, if successful, will seek his deportation.
Stelmokas, a resident of the Philadelphia suburb of Landsdowne, is a former chairman of the local chapter of the Lithuanian-American Community of the U.S.A., Inc., which he has served for some forty years.
OSI charged that Stelmokas was untruthful when he swore that the only organization to which he belonged prior to 1945 was the Lithuanian Boy Scouts.
STELMOKAS WAS A PLATOON COMMANDER
OSI alleges that from 1941 to 1942, Stelmokas was a platoon commander in the Third Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft (Protective Detachment) Battalion, which was responsible for mass murders of Jews and others.
The battalion forcefully confined Jews to the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto, in which thousands of Jews died either from the extremely poor conditions or by execution.
OSI said Stelmokas made no reference to this, in his 1949 visa application, 1954 citizenship application or in a 1955 sworn statement to a naturalization examiner.
Nor did he mention that he served in the 91st Light Flak Battalion of the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, in which he was a member from 1944 to 1945, according to the OSI complaint.
OSI officials said the Lithuanian government has been making its archives available to war-crimes investigators.
The charges against Stelmokas are the second against a Philadelphia area man in two months. On April 21, the Justice Department began proceedings to revoke the citizenship of Johann Breyer, charging the 66-year-old man had been an armed guard at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
Justice Department officials say recent access to documents in the republics of the former Soviet Union is responsible for the opening of some cases by the OSI.
“We’re filing cases at a record clip,” said a Justice Department official who asked not to be identified.
The charges come, however, at a time of controversy, as the OSI has come under investigation for its prosecution of John Demjanjuk, extradited in 1986 to Israel to stand trial as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious death camp guard at Treblinka.
Although Demjanjuk was sentenced to death, the Israeli High Court has recently expressed doubt that it has the right man.
The Justice Department has, additionally, come under scrutiny for its handling of the case against Andrija Artukovic, who was extradited to Yugoslavia to stand trial for wartime atrocities. An OSI historian may have overlooked information pointing to conflicts in key evidence in the case. Artukovic died in prison in Zagreb, Croatia.
The OSI has vigorously defended its following of correct procedures in these cases.