Survivors of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania say they are not surprised by last week’s decision by the Lithuanian government to put aside the extradition of Aleksandras Lileikis to stand trial for alleged war crimes.
“What do you expect?” said Paul Bagriansky of Newton, Mass., when asked his reaction to the decision. “I expected nothing better. Don’t forget they are for Lithuanians, not for Jews,” he said, adding that “everybody protects his own.”
The reaction from Bagriansky, who was part of the Jewish Brigade in Lithuania in 1943 and 1944, was typical of Jews who survived the Nazi occupation of Lithuania and who have spent much of the last few years trying to see that Lileikis, 88, of suburban Norwood, Mass., stands trial for his alleged part in sending as many as 40,000 Lithuanian Jews to Nazi death camps.
Lileikis is accused of having been the chief of the Lithuanian Security Police, known as the Saugumas, for the entire Vilnius Province during the German occupation. The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit last September to have his American citizenship revoked.
“I knew the Lithuanians would do nothing” about Lileikis, said Miriam Webb of Brookline, Mass., another Boston suburb. Webb was a student at the university in Kaunas, Lithuania, when the Nazis invaded the country in 1941.
“We Jews have a very big account with Lithuania,” said Webb. “Even before the Nazis took over, the Lithuanians were committing atrocities against Jews. They took our property and they killed many of us.”
During the Nazi occupation, “the Nazis gave the orders, but the Lithuanians did the shooting, and they did it lovingly and enthusiastically,” Webb said. “How can we expect a nation like that to accept [for trial] someone they see as a patriot?”
The main concern now of those who survived the Lithuanian ghettos and camps is to find another way to ensure that Lileikis is brought to account for his alleged crimes.
“I am disturbed, but not very surprised” by the decision, said Israel Arbeiter of Newton, president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and a vocal proponent of Lileikis’ extradition.
“We know what happened; we know what he’s done; we strongly believe he must be brought to justice,” Arbeiter continued. “We must now explore other avenues to see what can be done.” Arbeiter said “Lileikis is a criminal of not much less a degree than (Adolf) Eichmann,” who was tried and executed in Israel in 1962 for his role in the Holocaust. “Why should he be allowed to get away with his crimes?”
The Lithuanian government said in a cable filed in U.S. District Court on Oct. 2, that even though an extradition treaty between the United States and Lithuania signed in 1924 is in force, it is not “legally effective” in the Lileikis case.
The decision by Lithuania “make it improbable” that Lileikis will ever face extradition, said Nathan Lewin, president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, in a statement last week. He called the Lithuanian government’s decision “inadequate and totally unacceptable under any rule of law.”
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is pursuing its case to strip Lileikis of his U.S. citizenship and then deport him.
Lileikis, who has admitted that he headed the secret police in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, during the Nazi occupation, is accused of signing orders that sent as many as 40,000 Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Lileikis has refused to answer charges that he signed the orders, claiming protection under the Fifth Amendment.
Federal authorities Oct. 2 filed copies of documents ordering Jews in Vilnius to be turned over to the Nazi Special detachment, the execution squads. The orders allegedly bear Lileikis’ signature.
Because Lithuania’s decision came the day before Yom Kippur, leaders of the effort to extradite Lileikis have not yet had time to plan their next step. “But we will not give up,” Arbeiter said. “We will not go outside the law, but we will definitely use every other method we can.”