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War crimes suspect dies before trial

NEW YORK, Nov. 12 (JTA) — A Nazi war crimes suspect has died before he could be extradited to stand trial. Konrad Kalejs, 88, who was appealing his extradition to Latvia, died Nov. 8 in his nursing home in Australia. He reportedly suffered from dementia. For years, Kalejs has faced charges of being involved in the wartime slaughter of civilians when he was an officer in Latvia´s pro-Nazi Arajs Kommando unit. The militia is held directly responsible for the deaths of some 100,000 civilians, including 30,000 Jews, between 1941 and 1943. About 75,000 Jews, more than 90 percent of Latvia´s prewar Jewish community, were murdered by the Nazis, with help from local residents. Kalejs had said he was ordered by German officers to head an Arajs Kommando unit, but he denied being present when civilians were shot. Reacting to the death, Britain´s Lord Janner, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said, "I regret that Kalejs died before he was put on trial for his hideous crimes. He should have received the justice that he and his Nazi collaborators never gave to their victims. "He was personally involved in mass murder and his death will not be mourned." U.S. and Jewish groups pressured Latvia to extradite Kalejs for trial after he was found in 1999 by Nazi hunters in a retirement home in Britain. Kalejs was deported from the United States and Canada in the early 1990s for lying about his wartime record. He fled in January 2000 from Britain to Australia, where he has had citizenship since 1957. For more than 15 years, Australian Jews have sought his prosecution in Australia or deportation to a country where he would face trial. Because some Jews served in the Soviet secret police in Stalinist times, Latvia´s nationalists have frequently scapegoated Jews, charging them with taking part in Soviet atrocities against the Latvian people when Russia occupied the country between 1940 and 1941. To these nationalists, Kalejs was nothing less than a national hero for fighting alongside with Nazis, who overran Latvia in 1941, against Communist domination.

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