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Karl Linnas Deported

April 22, 1987
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At 8:06 p.m. Monday, a Czechoslovak airliner left New York with accused Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas aboard. This put the cap on a long-drawn-out procedure to effect the deportation of the man who was commandant of the Tartu, Estonia, concentration camp where over 12,000 men, women and children were murdered during World War II.

Linnas was flown to Prague, and from there to the Soviet Union, following a refusal Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Linnas’ deportation. The high court voted Monday morning 6-3 against granting the stay. Justices William Brennan, Harry Blackmun and Sandra Day O’Connor registered the dissenting votes in favor of the stay.

Before boarding the plane, the 67-year-old Linnas, a coat covering his handcuffs, shouted to the press: “Tell the American people what they are doing is murder and kidnapping.”

(In Moscow, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said Tuesday that Linnas may be allowed to appeal his 1962 Soviet death sentence.)


Linnas was sentenced to death in absentia in the Soviet Union in 1962 for wartime atrocities. Since 1951, Linnas lived quietly in Greenlawn, Long Island. He was granted U.S. citizenship in 1960, after concealing his wartime activities upon entering the country under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.

Linnas was charged by the U.S. Justice Department of directing firing squads at prisoners kneeling before pits that served as mass graves, and of personally shooting camp inmates.

Following investigations by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Linnas was stripped of his citizenship in July 1981 by U.S. District Court in Westbury, L.I., a decision he appealed numerous times through several courts. He was ordered deported on May 29, 1983. After losing a bid to the Board of Immigration Appeal, he took his case to the Supreme Court, which refused four times since last December to hear his appeal.

Representatives of Jewish organizations blamed U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese for refusing to sign off on the deportation papers. Linnas was represented by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

There had been charges in some quarters that Soviet evidence used in the Linnas case may have been fabricated, but FBI experts and the courts which examined the evidence verified its authenticity, Elan Steinberg, World Jewish Congress executive director, pointed out.

“There has never been one instance when a document (in a war crimes matter) supplied by the Soviet Union has been fabricated or forged,” Steinberg said. He added that the OSI and the WJCongress had requested the documents, the Soviets never offered them voluntarily. Last week, Linnas came within hours of receiving political asylum from Panama, which retracted its offer after the swift intercession of the World Jewish Congress and other leading Jewish legal activists, including Menachem Rosensaft, chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, who as a Congresswoman authored legislation for the deportation of Nazi war criminals.

WJC officials, who learned during the first Passover seder last Monday night of the decision by Meese to deport Linnas to Panama, immediately contacted Panamanian officials in the U.S., as well as members of the Panama Jewish community. On Tuesday, WJC general counsel Eli Rosenbaum, together with Holtzman and Rosensaft, flew to Washington to meet with officials at the Panamanian Embassy.

Early Wednesday, the Panamanian Embassy announced that the deportation plans would be delayed, and later that day the Panamanian Consul General in New York issued a second statement saying that Linnas’ request for asylum had been denied. This brought to 17 the number of countries that rejected Linnas’ bid for asylum.


According to Rosensaft and Rosenbaum, on Monday Linnas’ lawyers went through a flurry of last-minute appeals. They first tried to block his deportation a final time in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. before Judge Thomas Hogan.

Turned down, they appealed to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and were again refused, and Monday night, while Linnas was already on the plane, minutes before departure, a final appeal for a stay made to Chief Justice William Rehnquist was denied, bringing Linnas’ total court appearances to 13.

“He has gotten every possible benefit of due process of law,” said Rosensaft, a sentiment echoed by Holtzman, who said, “Karl Linnas has had more than due process. He’s exhausted the entire justice system.”

Within moments of hearing of Linnas’ deportation, a Holocaust survivor, Ernest Zelig, president of Bnai Zion, notified the Jewish Telegraphic Agency of his satisfaction on the case’s outcome, saying, “I am grateful at the Supreme Court’s decision to deport the convicted Nazi war criminal, Karl Linnas. He has received due process, something he denied his 12,000 innocent victims at the Tartu concentration camp.”


Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering and Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, who was preparing to mention the case Sunday at a commemoration in New York of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, said, “Thank God. I think we should be proud of the action of our government. It’s not enough, and it’s quite late, but better late than never. I would say that this will probably encourage further actions against Nazi war criminals in the United States.

“This is not a question of vengeance; it’s a question of going through the judicial process. The books of the U.S. should remain open, so that we can’t say that we did not take action against known war criminals, Nazi collaborators and Nazi murderers.” Meed praised the “devotion” of OSI director Neal Sher in seeing through the process.

Rosensaft said he was “glad it’s over. I feel relief. I don’t feel any joy, I certainly don’t feel a sense of victory, but a sense of having done the very least and perhaps the only thing we can do for Linnas’ victims and for all the other victims of the Holocaust, which is to bring their killers to justice. We can’t bring them back to life, we can’t make their agony and their suffering any less.

“The only thing we can do for them is to make sure that their murderers are brought to justice and are not able to live out their days in freedom knowing they have gotten away with it. We talk a great deal about keeping alive the flame of remembrance. But we never forget that that particular flame cannot exist without the flame of justice.”

Rosenbaum, a former war crimes prosecutor for the OSI, said it was “a great relief that Karl Linnas’ four decades as a fugitive from justice have at last come to an end. And that history has finally caught up with Karl Linnas. But it’s inappropriate to say that anyone is happy, because it’s not going to bring back any of his victims.”

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