VILNIUS, Lithuania (Aug. 19)
An accused Nazi war criminal who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship before returning to Lithuania may finally stand trial here later this year. Legal proceedings against Aleksandras Lileikis were postponed last month after medical experts determined that he was not fit to stand trial. Under Lithuanian law, suspects cannot be brought to trial if medical experts rule that they are too ill.
Emmanuel Zingeris, the only Jewish member of the 141-seat Parliament, recently launched a campaign to change that law. His amendment will be introduced next month after Parliament returns from recess.
Lileikis, 90, is accused of having handed Jews over to death squads in Vilnius during World War II when he was head of the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian security police, known as the Saugumas, from 1941 to 1944.
Some 55,000 of Vilnius’ 60,000 Jews perished during the war. Leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish community say that the tragedy of Vilnius’ Jewry, one of Europe’s most vibrant Jewish communities, remains practically unknown in Lithuania.
“The Lileikis case has an important educational meaning for this country’s history and future,” Zingeris said.
Lileikis, who immigrated to the United States in 1955, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in May. He returned to Lithuania a month later, proclaiming that he was innocent.
He was to have been indicted for genocide shortly after his return. But no charges have been filed.
The Lithuanian prosecutor general’s statement last month that the case will go to court “as soon as Lileikis recovers” has outraged Nazi hunters abroad.
They maintain that the Lithuanian government has been moving too slowly in prosecuting Lileikis and other alleged war criminals.
According to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s office in Israel, Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas’ pledge, made during a 1995 visit to Israel, to prosecute alleged war criminals stands as a hollow declaration.
There are currently at least five Lithuanians living in their homeland who have been stripped of their American citizenship, and American prosecutors are building cases against several more.
One of the alleged criminals who returned to Lithuania from the United States several years ago is Kazys Gimzauskas, who served as Lileikis’ wartime deputy. His U.S. citizenship was revoked in June 1996.
The prosecutor-general’s office said it does not have any evidence that Gimzauskas participated in the genocide of the Jewish nation. More than two years ago Gimzauskas “denied that he had persecuted Jews” in a note submitted to the authorities, the prosecutor-generals’ office said in a statement.
Lithuanian prosecutors have complained that building cases more than 50 years after the crimes were committed is not an easy task.
Vytautas Landsbergis, chairman of the Parliament, told a visiting Anti-Defamation League delegation last week that such cases cannot be prosecuted “just because Jewish organizations, America have pressed us.”
Landsbergis swept aside allegations by Nazi hunters that the Baltic nation might still have a number of former Nazi collaborators that were responsible for massacring Jews.
“If it were not for the cases from the United States, we wouldn’t have known of people who are responsible” for helping Nazis to kill Jews, he said.
But one Lithuanian Jewish leader disagreed.
“The post-war generation of Lithuanians can not even imagine the level of collaboration” with the Nazis, said Simon Davidovich, chairman of the Jewish community of Kaunas, the second biggest in the country.
A source in Lithuania has recently indicated that the list of alleged Lithuanian war criminals who participated in the genocide of the Jews consists of about 3,000 names.
It is not clear how many of them are in Lithuania or abroad.