..TX.-NEW YORK (Dec. 6)
Responding to an outcry from Jewish groups, the Lithuanian government has reversed the rehabilitation of six former prisoners who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported.
The six names were submitted last year by the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish groups to Lithuanian officials after it was made known that Vilnius had embarked on a project to reverse prison sentences meted out by the Soviet Communist government.
The Lithuanian government had proceeded with the pardons in its first birth pangs as an independent country shucking off the legal and penal encumbrances of Soviet rule.
Some 35,000 Lithuanians convicted of war crimes by the Soviet regime were exonerated of any wrongdoing by the democratically elected Lithuanian government.
Information about the reversal of pardons for six of those individuals was given to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israeli office, by the new Lithuanian president, Algirdas Brazauskis.
Zuroff was in Lithuania on behalf of Knesset Speaker Shevach Weiss, himself a Holocaust survivor, to arrange an upcoming visit by an Israeli delegation that is to negotiate the terms of a joint Lithuanian-Israeli commission of inquiry.
A commission to review the rehabilitations was agreed upon last year by then- President Vytautas Landsbergis. He told American Jewish communal leaders at the time that his government was working to determine which cases should not have been rehabilitated in the mass amnesty.
Landsbergis’ party, Sajudis, was defeated in the recent Lithuanian elections and he now heads the opposition.
At the meeting with Zuroff, Brazauskis, a former Communist who broke with Moscow early on, indicated that his government is willing to play an active role in the investigation of Nazi war criminals.
But he said Vilnius has been noncommittal about his specific complaints regarding the reluctance of Lithuanian nationals to testify against Lithuanian war criminals living abroad.
This phenomenon, which has developed with Lithuanian independence, has been a major obstacle to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals living in Canada, Australia and Britain.
“Unfortunately, in many cases fellow perpetrators are the sole witnesses, and without their testimony, some of the worst of Hitler’s henchmen will never be brought to trial,” Zuroff said in a statement released in Jerusalem.
Zuroff also visited Estonia and met with Prime Minister Mart Laar, who indicated that his government would participate in efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazi collaborators in cases in which sufficient evidence could be found.
At his request, Zuroff was granted access to the former KGB archives and was able to examine the files of suspected Nazi war criminal Evald Mikson, who lives in Iceland under the name Edward Hinriksson.
Mikson is alleged to have been a Gestapo investigator at the Tartu concentration camp who carried out executions near the camp.
In October, the Icelandic government recommended that no action be taken in the Mikson case. Zuroff said the Icelandic judicial commission that examined Mikson’s background failed to sufficiently look into it.
He maintained that it “made no effort to ask the governments of Estonia and Sweden for the pertinent documentation.
Zuroff said the KGB files “contain numerous witness statements regarding Mikson’s participation in murder (which) should finally convince the Icelandic government to prosecute him.
Zuroff told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there are “three charges against Mikson, the main being that he was the deputy head of political police in Tallinn,” Estonia, in 1941.
“He was also involved in organizing fascist vigilante squads, called Omakaitse, in Vonnu, Estonia,” Zuroff said.
Mikson escaped to Sweden in 1944, where “he was kicked out in 1946 because of his crimes during World War II,” said Zuroff.
Mikson is on the U.S. “watch list” of undesirable aliens.
Yuri Reshetov, the Russian ambassador to Iceland and former head of the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s human rights division, wrote an op-ed piece in the leading daily in Iceland, Morgunbladd, calling for Mikson to be fully investigated by that country.
Following this, Reshetov was summoned by the Icelandic Foreign Ministry and upbraided for intervening in internal matters, Zuroff reported.