MOSCOW, June 24 (JTA) — Once again, Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania has managed to raise the hackles of many of that Baltic nation’s politicians. And once again, he touched on the same hot-button accusation: that Lithuania’s poor record of prosecuting suspected Nazi war criminals proves that the country has turned into a haven for Nazi collaborators. Oded Ben Hur, who is based in the Latvian capital of Riga and serves as Israel’s envoy to the three Baltic nations, said Lithuania — as well as Latvia and Estonia — would find it difficult to integrate into the new Europe if they fail to cope with their wartime past and publicly acknowledge their roles in the Holocaust. His comments, made this week at a dinner organized by the Lithuanian Jewish community for a visiting U.S. Jewish delegation, prompted some Lithuanian politicians to call for his removal. The vice chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament, Romualdas Ozolas, later told reporters that Ben Hur was attempting “to pit Jews and Lithuanians against each other and to discredit the Lithuanian state.” The lawmaker also urged Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas to ask the Israeli authorities whether they could find a “more suitable” candidate for the position. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and President’s Office declined to comment. Ben Hur’s accusation echoed a statement made last week by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which charged that Lithuania has become Europe’s leading haven for Nazi collaborators. The head of the center’s Jerusalem office, Efraim Zuroff, called on the Baltic nation to try nine suspected war criminals who recently lost their U.S. citizenship and returned to Lithuania. The accusations against Lithuania are far from new. In September 1997, when Ben Hur made a similar call for Lithuania to stop dragging its feet on war crimes prosecutions, a comparable furor erupted. At that time, Lithuania’s Parliament delayed action on amendments to the country’s criminal code that would have facilitated the investigation of alleged World War II criminals. Prominent Lithuanian politicians issued calls not to cave into pressure from international Jewish organizations and also demanded that Ben Hur be stripped of his diplomatic credentials. During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania from 1941-1944, approximately 94 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish community of 240,000 died in the Holocaust. Historians say the scale of the tragedy could have been smaller had ordinary Lithuanians not helped with the killings. Since Lithuania regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it has not prosecuted any of the alleged Nazi collaborators living there.
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