CASE FILE

Vilis Arveds HāznersThe Hunt for Witnesses

The method by which the INS found Soviet and Israeli witnesses differed only in the manner by which the accused's guilt had already been pre-ordained. Soviet authorities were completely unencumbered by facts, for example, accidentally publishing transcripts of the Linnas trial in absentia before it took place.

While the Israeli authorities' hunt for Holocaust witnesses did not fabricate evidence, it was nevertheless conducted on the basis that anyone accused was guilty. Survivors were asked to come forward to assist in the search for Arājs Kommando members and to look through albums of photographs—including Hāzners'. Photos were labelled with the individual's name, each was introduced as a "war criminal" and potential witnesses then asked if they recognized them participating in the Holocaust.

In this context of pre-determined guilt, it is not unsurprising that two years after German authorities informed the INS that possible proceedings against Hāzners were dismissed for lack of evidence, the INS's Israeli and Soviet partners identified at least eighteen possible witnesses.[1]

Per a declassified cable regarding judicial assistance in the VILLIS [sic.] HAZNERS matter, sent to the INS office in Burlington, Vermont, the following individuals were flown in from Israel (our numbering, witnesses appearing in the Hāzners proceedings records highlighted—Editor):

  1. SARAH LEICHTER;
  2. M ROSENWALD;
  3. DAVID GELBHAUER;
  4. M ROSANSKI;
  5. E GLICKLICH;
  6. J KOENIGSBERG;
  7. B NEUHAUS
  8. ABRAHAM LIPCHIN
  9. BORRIS ZESMAN ... "ZESWIN [sic.] PREFERS TO TRAVEL ON OCTOBER 14 IN ORDER THAT HE MAY VISIT RELATIVES IN TORONTO PRIOR TO HEARING."

    ALL WITNESSES PREFER TO TESTIFY IN YIDDISH.

U.S. authorities also solicited witness assistance from the U.S.S.R.—recall Trifonov was the Soviet official who complained the U.S. wouldn't punish the KGB's victims beyond deporting them (witness #10):

COUNSELOR V.I. TRIFONOV DECEMBER 8 TO CHECK WHETHER SOVIET AUTHORITIES CAN LOCATE LEIB WAGENHEIM[2] AND DETERMINE WHETHER HE WOULD BE WILLING AND ABLE TO COME TO U.S. TO TESTIFY IN DETLAVS AND HAZNERS CASES

The INS had earlier requested, in September via cable to Tel Aviv and Moscow, a number of individuals for testimony against both Vilis Hāzners and Kārlis Detlavs, the Hāzners witnesses including (our numbering, continued):

  1. IDA TRAEGER;
  2. CHAWA LJAK;
  3. JAKOB WAGGENHEIM;
  4. MEIR LOWENSTEIN;
  5. SHABTAI DOLGIZER;
  6. JAKOB NOY;
  7. MENDEL WULFOWITZ AND
  8. BERL MENDELKORN. FIRST THREE [i.e., Traeger, Ljak, Waggenheim] ALSO NEEDED AT DETLAVS HEARING.

Also appearing for the OSI was Maria Radiwker, the Israeli investigator who found and prepared the witnesses, and William Strasser, who handled the Hāzners case prior to Martin Mendelsohn.

The extent of the fishing expedition the INS conducted is typified in this cable to the INS's Mendelsohn from Menachem Ruse, director of Israel's police unit investigating Nazi crimes:

1. EMBASSY NOTIFIED BY RUSEK'S OFFICE THAT ISAAC NIEDEL'S STATEMENT WAS NOT SENT TO ATTORNEY MENDELSOHN ON JANUARY 1. FOLLOWING LETTER SIGNED BY RUSEK WAS SENT TO MENDELSOHN ON JANUARY 2:

DEAR MR. MENDELSOHN.

THE STATEMENT OF MR. ISAAC MIEDEL REFERS SPECIFICALLY TO THE ACTIVITIES OF THE NAZI CRIMINAL VICTOR ARAJS DURING THE PERIOD OF THE NAZI OCCUPATION. THE NAME HAZNER WAS INDEED MENTIONED BY THE WITNESS BUT ONLY IN CONNECTION OF PARTICIPATION IN ACTIVITIES AGAINST JEWS, TOGETHER WITH ARABS. THE WITNESS HAS NEVER SEEN HAZNER AND THEREFORE IS NOT ABLE TO GIVE ANY GENERAL DESCRIPTION OR EXPLANATION CONCERNING HIS FUNCTION WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE SERVICE TO THE NAZIS. HE HEARD THE NAME HAZNER FROM ONE OF HIS FRIENDS WHOSE IDENTITY HE CAN'T REMEMBER. THE STATEMENT OF MR. NIEDEL WAS RECORDED WORD FOR WORD AS IT WAS TOLD TO ALL INVESTIGATORS MR. ORBACH, BUT AFTER A PERSONAL TALK I HAD WITH THE WITNESS I WAS CONVINCED THAT HE WON'T BE ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE ANYTHING IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THE JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST HAZNER. IN CASE YOUR OPINION IS DIFFERENT, PLEASE LET ME KNOW AND I WILL BE GLAD TO ACT ACCORDING TO YOUR DIRECTIVES. SINCERELY YOURS, MENACHEM RUSEK, SUPERINTENDENT

Witness knows nothing about Hāzners, has never seen Hāzners, but, if hearsay is useful, being admissible in administrative hearings, Israeli authorities are glad to oblige.

With witnesses in hand—Soviet witnesses provided by authorities who staged Hāzners' show trial and Israeli witnesses uncovered by authorities through prejudicial and questionable practices—the INS was ready to go to trial, a "trial" in which the accused has no right to representation—they will not be appointed a lawyer if they cannot afford one, and hearsay is admissible as evidence. Lastly, and most damning with regard to Soviet witnesses and documentary evidence is that there was no access to relevant archives to verify the accuracy and completeness of evidence, or any possibility to search for exculpatory witnesses within occupied Latvia or the U.S.S.R. proper.[3]


[1]One might get the impression that dozens of Israeli witnesses got on the INS-will-pay-to-fly-you-to-the-U.S.-feel-free-to-bring-your-spouse-and-visit-relatives-while-you-are-here bandwagon. Not included among the names here are Schalom Kohn, Josef Czarny, and Eugen Turowski, whose travel arrangements are also listed under the Hāzners case—"TAGS: CGEN (HAZNERS, VILIS)." We found them mentioned regarding presentation of "medical notes" that they needed to have their wives travel with them. We should make clear we have no information on how many witnesses actually came to the U.S. with their spouses or conducted extra-curricular travel.
[2]We assume this is a relation to Jakob Waggenheim in the list, following.
[3]For a detailed discussion of issues regarding the OSI–Soviet partnership, viz. THE LITHUANIAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY OF THE U.S.A., INC., National Executive Committee Public Affairs Council. MEMORANDUM OF CONCERNS REGARDING THE CONDUCT OF THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS, LITUANUS, LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, 1985, accessed 18 May 2016. LINK

Updated: October, 2016

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