SYDNEY, Australia, April 10 (JTA) An Australian citizen who allegedly helped kill thousands of Jews during World War II died recently without ever facing trial.
Jewish community leaders say the death of Karlis Ozols is a reminder of the failure of successive Australian governments to deal with alleged Nazi war criminals who immigrated to Australia after the war.
Ozols, who became Australia’s chess champion in 1958, was a senior officer in the Arajs Kommandos, a pro-Nazi Latvian militia held responsible for the deaths of some 100,000 civilians, including 30,000 Jews.
According to Australian author Mark Aarons in his forthcoming book “War Criminals Welcome,” Ozols was one of about 100 Arajs Kommando members who carried out mass executions of Jewish and Gypsy civilians and others in what is now Belarus.
“In Ozols’ case, there is no doubt at all that he personally took part in not only ordering his men to shoot people, but shooting them himself,” Aarons said.
Ozols’ name figured prominently in 1986 during a public debate that eventually led to the establishment of Australia’s Special Investigations Unit. Between 1987 and 1992, that unit probed allegations about the wartime actions of people who moved to Australia after the war.
In May 1992, Ozols’ case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which concluded that there was a case against Ozols. No prosecution took place, however.
With that decision, the Australian government was saying that “it would cost too much to conclude the search for justice,” Aarons said.
In March of last year, the Latvian Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into Ozols’ activities. This week, the office confirmed that the probe would continue, as evidence relevant to other cases could emerge from it.
Meanwhile, Ozols’ death has had reverberations in Australia’s chess community.
Ozols, who competed for Latvia in the Munich 1936 and Stockholm 1937 Chess Olympiads, tied for the Australian National Championship in 1958 and was awarded the title of International Master in 1972.
After Ozols’ death last month, the Australian Chess Federation sent its condolences to his widow, family and friends.
Chess player Michael Baron criticized the federation.
“Ozols will always be remembered as a person responsible for killing thousands of innocent people,” he said.
Polish-born Holocaust survivor Harry Redner, an academic who was one of many Jewish chess players taught by Ozols in the early 1950s, was a prominent voice in past calls to bring Ozols to justice.
He said Ozols’ death means that “this man has escaped any accounting for his wartime behavior.”
Meanwhile, Australian officials are following up on an extradition request involving a more junior officer in the Arajs Kommandos.
An Australian court last week ordered Konrad Kalejs to attend his extradition hearing next month, despite his ill health. Ozols was Kalejs’ commanding officer during the war.
Kalejs’ lawyer told the court last week that his client suffers from health problems, including prostate cancer and dementia.
Latvia has asked for the extradition of Kalejs.