LONDON (Sep. 6)
Jewish leaders are criticizing Scotland’s decision not to extradite a suspected Nazi war criminal because of his poor health.
“It is appalling that” Anton Gecas “would escape without trial,” Lord Janner of Britain’s Holocaust Educational Trust told JTA. “He is getting the sort of justice the Nazis never gave their victims.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Lithuania to try Gecas in absentia.
Gecas, who now lives in Edinburgh, is accused of having been a platoon commander of a pro-Nazi police battalion responsible for the deaths of some 30,000 civilians, including Jews, in what are now Lithuania and Belarus.
“We’re not talking about petty crimes,” Janner said.
More than 90 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish community of 250,000 died in the Holocaust — and historians say the number would have been far lower had ordinary citizens not participated in the killings.
Gecas, 85, suffered a stroke in May, a month after Scotland received an extradition request from Lithuania, and has been hospitalized in Edinburgh since.
Following an independent medical report, Scottish Justice Minister Jim Wallace ruled on Tuesday that Gecas was not well enough to be extradited or to stand trial.
Gecas has lived in Scotland since 1947.
In 1992, a documentary on Scottish television alleged that Gecas had taken part in the murder of Jews and other civilians during World War II. Gecas sued for libel and lost.
The judge, Lord Milligan, ruled that he was “clearly satisfied” that Gecas had “committed war crimes against innocent civilians.”
Scotland considered bringing war crimes charges against Gecas after the libel case, but decided that there was insufficient evidence against him.
The burden of proof in a criminal case, like a war crimes trial, is higher than in a civil case such as the libel action. But Britain’s Jews say the libel case proves that Gecas committed atrocities.
“We know that he is a war criminal,” said a spokeswoman for the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews. “War criminals should be tried.”
The Board’s director-general, Neville Nagler, criticized the Scottish authorities for taking so long to make the extradition decision.
“It is inexcusable that the process of his extradition has been so slow,” Nagler said.
Lithuania started working on extraditing Gecas in February 2000, after receiving information from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.
A spokesman for the Scottish authorities said the extradition case had raised “complex legal issues” and that the Justice Ministry “had to go through it as thoroughly as possible.”
Scotland received the extradition request in April, the spokesman said, but had to request additional information from Lithuania before making a decision.
Scottish Justice Minster Wallace said there was a slim chance that Tuesday’s decision was not the end of the matter.
“In the unlikely event that Gecas recovers, the warrant could still be executed at a further date,” he said.