Lithuania exonerating thousands of war criminals


VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuania's new government has begun issuing certificates of exoneration for thousands of people who had been condemned as Nazi war criminals by Soviet courts.

Among those who have already had their convictions as collaborators expunged by the chief prosecutor are people who confessed to mass murder in appearances before Soviet courts soon after the war.

For the Lithuanians, the fundamental aim of the rehabilitation of people, living and dead, is to challenge and revoke the authority of Soviet Communist courts to judge the behavior of Lithuanians during a war in which their country was first overrun by Soviet troops and then, two years later, was occupied by the Nazis.

The chief Lithuanian prosecutor, Artusas Paulauskas, said his office has issued more than 1,000 certificates of rehabilitation and expects to issue thousands more.

The certificates proclaim that the recipient is innocent in the eyes of the Lithuanian government and that he or his heirs are entitled to compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Mr. Paulauskas said the government normally issues the certificates without starting new investigations.

"These people were convicted not by courts of law, but by special commissions established in Moscow after the war," Mr. Paulauskas said.

Reports of the rehabilitations have provoked alarm among Jewish organizations.

"What they are doing is an insult to history and a very extreme miscarriage of justice," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"If they believe that charges against these people were trumped up, then let them have new trials," Rabbi Hier said.

The Wiesenthal Center appealed last week to Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis to halt the rehabilitation process. It described the people being rehabilitated as including "some of Hitler's worst collaborators."

There is evidence collected by historians of the Holocaust that some Lithuanians and people from other Baltic states took part in the most heinous war crimes, including operations at death camps and the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland.

Some of those convicted were members of the Lithuanian 12th (( Auxiliary Battalion, which was identified at the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal as devoted principally to mass murder.

According to information provided by the Wiesenthal Center, among the Lithuanians recently granted rehabilitation is at least one member of the 12th Battalion, Aloizas Juodes.

According to trial documents, Mr. Juodes confessed that he had taken part in mass murder. He recalled one incident in which, on a single day, the 12th Battalion killed 700 to 1,000 people near Minsk.

"The Jewish population, including old men, were driven into graves, alive, and then groups of our battalion approached and executed them by shooting," he told the tribunal. "I personally approached several times and executed by shooting from the rifle I had."

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