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Latvian official targets Jews for aiding Soviet persecutors

MOSCOW, Sept. 23 (JTA) – A Latvian state prosecutor has accused Jews of helping to organize repression during the years of Soviet rule. Uldis Strelis said mass deportations of citizens from the Baltic nation were sanctioned by a state security official who was Jewish. In a letter published in the nation’s leading daily newspaper, Diena, or The Day, Strelis also presented a list of Jewish KGB officers who he maintained were responsible for persecuting Latvians. Last week, Strelis announced that Latvia had found no evidence to support allegations against a suspected Nazi war criminal now living in Australia. Some Jewish officials in Latvia believe it was not a coincidence that the prosecutor’s statement about the Jewish involvement in the KGB came after his earlier statement about Kalejs. “The two statements are clearly connected,” said one Jewish official who asked that he remain anonymous. After Latvia and other Baltic countries regained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, local Jews were accused of collaborating with the communist authorities during the 50 years of Soviet rule. Jews were charged especially with having participated in the 1940-1941 campaign to exile tens of thousands of Baltic citizens to the east. Such charges were sometimes used by Baltic nationalists as a veiled justification for the collaboration of the local population with the Nazis. Konrad Kalejs, 84, is alleged to have been a member of the mobile killing squad known as the Arajs Kommando, or Latvian Auxiliary Security Police, that collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II. He is accused of having participated in the killing of 20,000 Jews in Latvia during World War II. He claims that he was a university student at the time. About 75,000 Jews, or more than 90 percent of the country’s prewar Jewish community, were murdered during the war by the Nazis – with help from local residents. Strelis said last week that the investigation into Kalejs’ past included an examination of records and testimony originally gathered during the 1950s and 1960s by Soviet KGB officials who had investigated Kalejs and other alleged Nazi collaborators. He said the investigation indicated that “several Latvians had participated in the persecution of Jews during World War II,” but that it had no convincing evidence about Kalejs. Several dozen Latvians were tried in this former Soviet republic after World War II for collaborating with the Nazis. But some of them were pardoned as “victims of the KGB” after Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Kalejs moved to Australia after the war and later relocated to the United States. He was ordered deported from the United States to Australia in 1994, but he subsequently fled to Canada, where he lived for three years. He was deported by Canada to Australia in August.