MOSCOW (Nov. 23)
Lithuania has launched an investigation of a suspected Nazi war criminal living in the Baltic nation.
The decision to investigate Kazys Gimzauskas was given a cautious welcome by Jewish leaders, who said similar moves in the past against suspected war criminals had failed to lead to convictions.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, said in a statement that the move was “long overdue.”
But, he added, “In such cases, every day that passes without judicial action against Nazi murderers only increases the likelihood they will never be forced to pay for their crimes.”
The statement continued, “The question at present is whether the opening of this investigation represents a sincere attempt to achieve justice or is merely a ploy to gain points in Western public opinion.”
Lithuania’s willingness to move against suspected war criminals living in their midst has long been questioned by Jewish officials.
Nazi hunters say Lithuania is reluctant to move against suspected war criminals because it would dredge up the issue of local collaboration with the Nazis during the war, and Zuroff said earlier this year that Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas’ pledge to prosecute alleged war criminals was a hollow declaration.
Brazauskas made the pledge during a 1995 visit to Israel.
Germany occupied Lithuania from 1941 to 1944, during which time approximately 94 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish community of 240,000 died in the Holocaust.
Historians say that ordinary Lithuanians helped with the killings.
Gimzauskas, 89, is suspected of having handed Jews over to death squads in the capital of Vilnius during World War II, when he was deputy head of the Nazi- sponsored Lithuanian security police, known as the Saugumas.
Some 55,000 of Vilnius’ 60,000 Jews perished during the war.
Gimzauskas moved to the United States in 1956 and lived in St. Petersburg, Fla.
His U.S. citizenship was revoked in June 1996 for having concealed his wartime past.
He returned to Lithuania prior to being deported.
Gimzauskas categorically denies his guilt.
In an interview this week, he described himself and his former superior, Aleksandras Lileikis, as “Lithuanian patriots.”
Gimzauskas was the wartime deputy of Lileikis, 90, another suspected war criminal now living in Lithuania.
The Lileikis case has drawn considerable attention, particularly after legal proceedings against him were postponed in July when 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. Lithuania’s Parliament delayed action last month on an amendment that would change that law.
Jewish activists fear that the Parliament may never vote on the measure.
“They are waiting for Lileikis to die,” Simonas Davidavicius, chairman of the Jewish community of Kaunas, the Baltic nation’s second largest city, said recently.
During a recent discussion of the amendment, some Parliament members said passing the measure would be tantamount to caving into pressure from Jewish groups.