Vilis Arveds Hā One on the KGB's Hit List

At face value, comparing "nationalist" protestations, surely biased, and activists' and scholars' accusations, surely informed and objective, one could rightly suspect that the charges against Vilis Hāzners were factual.

On the one hand, Brunis Rubess in reviewing Hāzners' book detailing the history of the first quarter century of Daugavas Vanagi ("Hawks of the River Daugava"), the Latvian soldier's welfare organization formed after WWII, writes [our clarifications]:

And what would be the relationship between the possibilities of defending Latvia's freedom in World War II, the incarceration of Latvian army officers in 1940 [by the Soviets], the partisans battling [retreating Soviets] on the outskirts of Rīga in June of 1941, the Latvian Legionnaires' positions [defending against the re-invading Soviets] at the Velikaya church hill in the winter of 1944, and the [Daugavas Vanagi] organization? Certainly, the founders of the Daugavas Vanagi were Latvian Legion soldiers imprisoned after World War II. Certainly, they had not fought for Nazi Germany or for Hitler's New Europe, but against the mortal enemy of our people, Russian Bolshevism.[1]

On the other hand, Bernhard Press, who himself escaped the Holocaust in Latvia, writes:

Latvian emigrant circles have claimed that the literature published in the U.S.S.R. and abroad concerning the bloodbath carried out by Latvians against their Jewish fellow citizens in Latvia is based on documents falsified by the Soviet regime, whose aim was to blacken the name of the Latvians who emigrated. This is nothing but an attempt to whitewash the facts. The contents of these documents match only too well what we saw with our own eyes and experienced with our own bodies. The fact that American courts have been unable to prove anything against such notorious persons as the Latvians Vilis Hazners and Edgars Laipenieks, who emigrated to the United States, only proves how difficult it is to convict someone of a crime after half a century has passed since the deed was done. [2]

Moreover, the former is published in a parochial Latvian language periodical, the latter, by a respected university publishing house. Nevertheless, our experience is that where allegations regarding the territories caught between Germany and Russia in WWII are concerned, the opposite of face-value expectations and "common knowledge" is just as likely: powerful outside interests promulgating fact-challenged biased histories serving their agendas versus nations and peoples attempting, largely in vain, to bring historical facts into public awareness and discourse.

There has never been any denial over the complicity or guilt of those Latvians, most notoriously the Arajs Kommando, who numbered approximately 300 to 500 at the time they participated in the Holocaust under direction and supervision of their German masters. Arājs himself was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted in Germany in 1979. What we question is the systematic smearing of all Latvian Legionnaires—the Latvian Waffen-SS—as Nazis and war criminals based on Russian propaganda, that any commemoration is not a remembrance and honouring of those who fought against the re-imposition of brutal Soviet Communist occupation, but a "glorification of Nazism."

Press, born in 1917, arrested while attending university in Rīga in 1951 and sentenced to 25 years in Siberia for high treason, released early in 1956, nevertheless appears to trust Soviet integrity where it applies to the purported guilt of others. Our assumption is that Press was innocent of fabricated charges. Why, then, place stock in Soviet charges against Latvians? Press fervently believes that Hāzners is guilty because of what Press insists he and others "saw" — except that Hāzners' deportation case proved conclusively that whatever it was, whoever it was, that was seen was incontrovertibly not Hāzners. The predilection to ignore facts and, instead, vociferously promulgate hearsay as evidence that Latvians are Nazis calls into question other overarching contentions Press makes.[3]

Personal memoirs are essential to understanding the individual experience. Aggregating those accounts grants us insight into events and history. Yet those same individual accounts are often painfully inaccurate when they incorporate contemporaneous hearsay and project personal experiences and perceptions to draw conclusions outside their direct experience about who, what, how, and why.

A conspiracy of silence and denial over propagandistic charges

Perhaps Press was unfamiliar with the Hāzners deportation case beyond its failure, or with the details regarding the KGB operatives who created and delivered the purported evidence which passed to the U.S. Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to its Special Litigations Unit (SLU) formed in 1977 and passed on to the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) which replaced the SLU.

Indeed, in the course of our research we uncovered that Fred Dicker, who in 1976 originally broke the Hāzners story which prompted the widespread vilification of Hāzners including multiple protests on his doorstep by SUNY Albany students wearing DEATH TO HAZNERS T-shirts, was never made aware until our contact nearly forty years later[4] that the information he broke had been

  • fabricated by the Soviets, the primary exhibit, Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? authored by former Nazi and now KGB propagandist Paulis Ducmanis, and
  • personally delivered by KGB Lieutenant and "Latvia Cultural Minister" Imants Lešinskis to Gertrude Schneider during her visit to the occupied Latvian SSR (both Schneider and Lešinskis recount that Lešinskis singled out Hāzners in conversation).

Did you know?

Court trials and denaturalization and deportation proceedings differ in that hearsay is admissible as evidence when seeking to strip individuals of citizenship and then deport them.[5]

Hāzners' INS deportation proceedings and the basis of the OSI's motion to appeal ultimately document efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to destroy the lives of decent, honest, hard-working immigrant Americans who had lost their homeland—arriving at America's doorstep with only what they could take with them—by a host of individuals claiming the moral high ground who unquestioningly welcomed any and all Soviet "evidence" with open arms. That they did so indicates they accepted the "truth," per Efraim Zuroff, later Israeli representative of the OSI, that all Eastern Europeans "fanatically" supported Germany's industrialized annihilation of their Jewish neighbours, that under a gossamer veneer of civility the Eastern Europeans were "more Nazi than the Nazis." If Israeli authorities needed to drill witnesses to be able to identify Hāzners, so be it. Guilt was preordained. Superior morality blessed all paths to "justice."

For his part, "Alan A. Ryan, Jr., the director of OSI, fiercely denied that American judicial proceedings were corrupted in any manner by the use of Soviet evidence or witnesses. 'The Soviets have never attempted to tell OSI who to investigate. They do not send us unsolicited information; they respond to our inquiries,' Ryan asserted in his 1984 book."[6] In asserting no influence, Ryan failed to mention the original Soviet (KGB) source naming Nazis. That Ryan maintained no Soviet influence in his book written after unequivocal confirmation of Soviet subterfuge lays bare the Soviet-inspired witch-hunt for "Latvian Nazis" for what it was. Indeed, one of Ryan's first acts as OSI director in 1980 was to travel to Moscow to, as he recounts it, extract the concession[7] from Soviet authorities that they would provide evidence and witnesses for OSI denaturalization and deportation proceedings.

Certainly no one suggests that the OSI was simply a Soviet plot. The issue is that the OSI had no capacity to discern propaganda from fact because both gave them purpose. In another case, OSI attorney Neal Sher attempted, in vain, to persuade defected KGB Lieutenant Imants Lešinskis, the Soviet "minister" who handed over Soviet propaganda to the West, that the OSI could tell propaganda from fact—only proving the OSI's own incapability to do so. An OSI "document validity expert" even had to retract their testimony against the defendant on cross-examination in that same case.

Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? — the cancer of KGB lies that refuses to die

U.S. Congressional and Justice Department blind pursuit of "all Latvians are Nazis"[8] still reverberates today—Press is far from the only one to dismiss protestations of Soviet conspiracy as "white washing." Expressions of innocence are deemed lies covering guilt and denounced as further proof of guilt. Part of Nazi Germany's propaganda was to create the appearance of the "Germanless" Holocaust, complete with staging events for news reels and telegraphing of news reports out through collaborators in Sweden, and spreading accounts of horrified German officers forced to "save Jews" from the barbaric local Untermenschen. The meme that the Holocaust succeeded so thoroughly in Eastern Europe because of widespread local support presumes that what the Nazis were doing was widely and commonly known among the public, not the case. That the peoples of Eastern Europe were the "true" perpetrators of the Holocaust genocide is one of the greatest fictions of history.

Little could author Paulis Ducmanis his work of propaganda would some day be cited as a scholarly source. Even in the card catalogue of the United States Holocaust Museum we still found it categorized under the topics [our emphasis]:

  • Daugavas vanagi (Organization);
  • Waffen-SS;
  • World War, 1939-1945—Latvia;
  • Fascists—Latvia—Biography;
  • Latvians—Foreign countries—Biography; and last but not least,
  • World War, 1939-1945—Atrocities;

still listed under fake KGB pen names.

We wrote to the USHM inquiring as to the categories listed for Ducmanis' work and which we've bolded. It cannot be categorized as "Soviet propaganda", as that indicates a work about Soviet propaganda. They have updated their card catalog to refer to Prof. Andrew Ezergailis' revelation of the pamphlet's true author in the Library of Congress and Worldcat records: "Translation of: Kas ir Latvijas vanagi. J. Dzirkalis is the pseudonym of Pauls Ducmanis (1921-2000), who states the other two authors of this book were KGB (see page 69 in: Nazi/Soviet disinformation about the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Latvia / A. Ezergailis (Rīga : Latvijas 50 gadu okupācijas muzeja fonds, 2005))."

More worrisome is the precedent, set by Bernhard Press and others, that legitimate protests of innocence and propaganda smearing are shouted down as Nazist "whitewashing" of criminal peoples, and attempts at rectitude are labelled conspiracies to impede the bringing of Nazi war criminals to justice.[9] Such protests are viewed as rooted in fascist sympathies and anti-Semitism.[10]

The U.S. Justice Department's OSI, by the morality of its cause, was the recipient of unfettered support, as best exemplified in the 1985 letter by a group of Congressmen to their fellow legislators urging continued strong support for the OSI in the face of objections to its methods of employing Soviet evidence, a letter buying into a plague of escaped Nazis living in the U.S. under false pretences (our emphasis):

"Many of these individuals gained access to our country by purposefully withholding information from U.S. government officials regarding past involvement in Nazi criminal activities.... We are confident that you would agree that those who perpetrated crimes against the Jews and other victims of Nazism should not be afforded the privilege of residence in our country. This is why we so emphatically support the work of the Office of Special Investigations....

"Our concern, however, regards an effort in some quarters to discredit the achievements of the Office of Special Investigations. In light of the recent attacks on the OSI, we believe it is time to reaffirm our commitment to sustaining the work of this agency...."[11]

One could not find a more carefully crafted derision of legitimate complaints or of casting a mantle of conspiracy and marginalization—"some quarters"—over objections to the modus operandi of the OSI.

Justice may be "blind," but the pursuit of justice based on a prejudgement of collective guilt is prejudice. At its heart we find an unspoken "truth" that rather than a centuries-old cradle of Jewish life, the territory between Germany and Russia was a den of rabid anti-Semites who only needed the news Hitler was on his way to unleash their savage bludgeoning to death of their Jewish neighbours. A "truth" that even today serves the geopolitics of Germany and Russia.

Bringing this back to the case of Vilis Hāzners, activists still speak of the "failure" of the INS's prosecution of Hāzners, accusing the INS of ineptitude and "botching" the Hāzners case, and all—as does Press—bemoan and fulminate over his escape from justice. Then OSI Director Allen Ryan blames the INS for mishandling the Hāzners case.[12] As for Martin Mendelsohn, heading the INS's efforts, his reaction to Hāzners' possible acquittal at the time was that regardless of the outcome, at least they had the satisfaction of ruining Hāzners' life.[13] In the hearts and minds of his accusers and prosecutors—once having accepted fabricated evidence as legitimate, there was no room for the possibility that Hāzners was innocent. In the midst of the Cold War, the OSI found unity of purpose with Soviet authorities in the hunt for "Hitlerites" guilty of war crimes and atrocities. Post-war immigrant communities' concerns over fabricated charges were denounced as attempts to close down the OSI.[14]

Reports in the mainstream press or Holocaust activism describing the INS's loss or OSI's denial on appeal[15] as a vindication of Hāzners are few and far between.[16]

More than a year had passed since German authorities confirmed to the INS that they had terminated their investigation of Hāzners, a former Waffen-SS officer, for lack of any evidence.

It was suspicious enough that the INS preferred to swallow propagandistic Soviet accusations at face value and engineered a "witness hunt" with Israeli investigators to have hundreds of Holocaust survivors—recent Soviet Jewish émigrés—scour through photographs, advertised as seeking to identify Arājs Kommando collaborators, until some indicated they recognized Hāzners—his photos also having been included with the lie they were of a known Nazi war criminal.

Yet far more damning was the INS's post-trial brief. Attorneys Mendelsohn and Boylan cut off a citation of a German operational report in mid-sentence to substitute their "version" of history that the report stated Latvians ran amok killing Jews before the Germans even arrived. The report—dated July 16th, more than two weeks into the occupation—actually indicated how many Jews the German extermination squad Einsatzkommando 2 and their collaborators under Rudolf Batz had killed since their arrival. There was no"Germanless" Holocaust in advance of the German occupation as the INS affirmed. Moreover, the very same report went on to complain of Latvian indifference ("passivity") in the face of Nazi attempts to incite anti-Semitism.

We examine the U.S. Department of Justice's case in detail: the origin of accusations against Hāzners and the lengths to which U.S. authorities would go to attempt to convict Hāzners as a war criminal.

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[1]"Kāds gan sakars Latvijas neatkarības aizstāvēšanas iespējām 2.pasaules kaŗā, Latvijas armijas virsnieku apcietināšanām 1940. g., partizānu cīņām 1941. g. jūnijā pie Rīgas vai latviešu leģionāriem pozicijās pie Veļikajas baznīckalna 1944. g. ziemā ar DV organizāciju? Protams, Daugavas Vanagu dibinātāji bija Latviešu leģiona kaŗavīri gūstā pēc 2.pasaules kaŗa. Protams, viņi nebija cīnījušies par Lielvāciju vai Hitlera Jauno Eiropu, bet pret mūsu tautas nāvīgo ienaidnieku, krievu boļševismu." at Jaunā Gaita, Number 106, 1975, retrieved 03-January-2016
[2]Press, Bernhard. The Murder of the Jews in Latvia: 1941-1945. Northwestern University Press, 2000. page 58.
[3]Both Max Kaufman and Bernhard Press, in their memoirs on the Holocaust in Latvia, assert an anti-Semitic "Latvian center" orchestrated the murder of Jews independent of the Germans. Both associate this center with Pērkonkrusts ("Fire-cross"), an anti-Semitic fascist organization of the 1930's. However, Pērkonkrusts ceased to exist as an organization already prior to WWII—after it was outlawed and its leader exiled. Accounts that the Pērkonkrusts ran amok killing Jews before the Nazis arrived, that the notorious Arājs Kommando and their "leader" Viktors Arājs were Pērkonkrusts members, that they continued to independently murder Jews during the Nazi occupation, are all hearsay.
[4]We corresponded with Dicker in December, 2015.
[5]Admissibility is based on the provision in the Administrative Procedure Act that all evidence that is not irrelevant, immaterial, or unduly repetitious is admissible.
[6]From declassified draft documents on the history and operation of the OSI.
[7]Ryan, Allan. Quiet Neighbors, at page 68 and following.
[8]Elizabeth Holtzman, quoted
[9]For example, we have the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith publishing "The Campaign Against the U.S. Justice Department’s Prosecution of Suspected Nazi War Criminals", in their ADL's 1985 Special Report.
[10]viz. Daugavas Vanagi described as exhibiting "openly racist and pro-Fascist political behavior," and, "Their [Daugavas Vanagi members, Hāzners et al.] associate Ivars Berzins is most recently noted as a leading proponent of the campaign to halt prosecutions of fugitive Nazi war criminals in the United States." in Christopher Simpson, Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War.
[11]House members seek support for OSI, appearing in The Ukrainian Weekly, June 30, 1985
[12]Ryan faults the INS' Special Litigation Unit for its poor handling of the case, which the OSI finally "dropped" in 1981. Ryan, Quiet Neighbors, pages 60 and 355. Note that the OSI did not drop the case. Ryan's motion to appeal was summarily rejected.
[13]"Mendelsohn seemed determined to prove that Hazners should be deported, but whatever the outcome of the case, he said he believed that the hearing already served a twofold purpose. 'First of all,' he said, 'the media coverage has given residents of the Albany area, and Americans in general, an education about Nazi war criminals. In addition, Hazners is no longer the secure and happy man that he was five years ago. Now he's worried about being deported, and this in itself is an accomplishment,' Mendelsohn said." Saidel, R. The Outraged Conscience: Seekers of Justice for Nazi War Criminals in America. 1984. 2012 edition, page 127.
[14]viz. "'The Ukrainian and Baltic community organizations are single-issue groups devoted to closing the O.S.I.,' Mr. Ryan said. The émigré groups met this month with Mr. Meese and asked for new prosecution procedures that would essentially call for the abolition of the O.S.I.
'We believe you should not deport a man based on a [Soviet show] trial in absentia,' said Anthony Mazeika, president of the California-based Coalition for Constitutional Justice and Security."
at A NAZI PAST AND THE PRESENT, By PHILLIP LUTZ, March 29, 1987, The New York Times, retrieved 29-January-2016.
[15]The original denaturalization case was opened by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), later taken up by its newly formed Special Litigations Unit (SLU). The SLU was eventually transferred to the Justice department, where it formed the foundation of the OSI. After the INS case was denied, the OSI under Ryan filed a motion to appeal, also denied.
[16]For example, The World Reacts to the Holocaust by David S. Wyman, Charles H. Rosenzveig, indicates Hāzners as acquitted (p. 386) and references his memoirs, Towers of Tyranny, which include a recounting of the INS proceedings. More typically, see Holocaust Survivors and Friends in Pursuit of Justice, 1985: "Our dissatisfaction began when Vilis Hazners of Riga, Latvia escaped justice when the government mishandled the case." (p. vii)

Updated: June, 2017

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