CASE FILE

Vilis Arveds HāznersPress Coverage

Hearing Against Accused Nazi War Criminal is Entering Third Week

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 8, 1977
unattributed
Archived at JTA.org, retrieved 11-January-2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 7)

An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) deportation hearing against accused Nazi war criminal Vilas A. Hazners went into its third week here today, it was reported by Frederic Dicker, reporter for the Times-Union. Several witnesses from Israel have testified that Hazners, 73, of Dresden, N.Y., some 70 miles north of here, “led the whole operation” at the Riga police station in Latvia during the Nazi occupation.

Witnesses also testified that they saw Hazners pushing and beating Jews and forcing Jews to move inside the burning Choral Synagogue in Riga, where as many as 1000 Latvian Jews may have died.

WITNESSES PROVIDE TESTIMONY

Jacob Wagenheim, 59, of Herzliya, said he heard Hazners giving orders to punish people in the Riga Jewish ghetto. “They were beaten according to his order and many disappeared,” he said. Wagenheim, who said he was a prisoner in the ghetto, often saw Hazners there. “He didn’t talk, he screamed,” the Israeli, speaking softly in Yiddish, testified. Last year in Israel, police authorities showed Wagenheim several pictures of suspected war criminals. He said he “immediately recognized” two pictures of Hazners, Dicker reported.

Meyer Loewenstein, 63, of Yaffo Daled, said he was taken to the ghetto with his family from his Riga home in early August, 1941. While returning to the ghetto from a forced work detail in October, 1941, he was forced to stand in line as guards searched the prisoners for food. While there, Loewenstein testified, he saw Hazners dressed in a Latvian army uniform with a revolver at his side. “It was just seconds but I succeeded in seeing him (Hazners) pushing and shaking the people,” Loewenstein said.

Ber Mandelkorn of Tel Aviv, testified that Hazners was the Latvian police officer who, in July 1941, beat him so hard that “two or three” of his teeth fell from his mouth a few days later.

In addition, Mandelkorn, speaking in Hebrew, testified he saw Hazners, armed with a revolver and dressed in a military uniform “push people inside” the burning Choral Synagogue. “He pushed the people inside. People went out and he yelled at them and pushed them back into the synagogue,” Mandelkorn said. The INS provided an interpreter for translations from Hebrew and Yiddish.

JUDGE REFUSES LINE OF QUESTIONING

Hazners is a nationally prominent Latvian emigre who once made broadcasts for the U.S.-sponsored Voice of America and for Radio Liberty. He is accused by the INS of having entered the United States in 1956 from Hamburg, Germany by failing to declare his role in Nazi-sponsored war crimes during World War II. If found guilty, Hazners, who is not a citizen, but who holds permanent resident alien status, could be deported.

Hazners’ attorney, Ivars Berzins of Babylon, L.I., has attempted to link the three witnesses to Soviet Communist authorities and to the Soviet secret police, KGB. He claimed the government’s charges have “made in Moscow” written all over them. However, the IRS Judge, Anthony De Gato, has refused to allow Berzins to pursue that line of questioning.

REPORT SLOPPY INS PREPARATION

Meanwhile, the Times-Union, which has given extensive coverage of the trial, reported that the INS’ nationwide effort to deport suspected Nazi war criminals has been severely damaged by sloppy preparation of cases and those responsible for the breakdowns may be disciplined. Among the cases endangered are those of Hazners and two who are alleged to have been his subordinates in Latvia: Boleslav Maikovskis, now on trial in New York City, and Karlis Detlavs, whose trial is scheduled to begin today in Baltimore.

The government’s principal problem, the Times-Union reported, is believed to be a lack of coordination of the various prosecutions which may eventually number more than 20 and the incompetence of some of the INS authorities.

Attempts are now underway the INS Washington headquarters to correct the situation and disciplinary action may result against the lawyers, investigators and administrators responsible, it was learned. Martin Mendelsohn of Washington, a lawyer in private practice, was named last month special chief prosecutor by David W. Crosland, the INS general counsel, to spearhead the effort. The government has been preparing the cases for more than a year.

“I am dismayed at what has been happening,” Mendelsohn, who attended the Hazner hearing last week, said from his Washington office. Crosland said he was unfamiliar with Mendelsohn’s view but would speak to him soon about it, the Times-Union reported. Crosland conceded the INS had suffered from “diffused responsibility” in the war crimes cases but he said he had taken several steps, including the appointment of Mendelsohn, to correct the problem.

Analysis

As Andrew Ezergailis writes regarding Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They?, the originating evidence[1] against Hāzners:

The most interesting aspect of the booklet is that much of the logic and collective accusations against the Latvians are based in large part on three statements that Gen. Friedrich Jeckeln allegedly made at his trial in Riga in 1946. "Truth No. 1" is the assertion that Latvians killed a large, indeterminable number of Jews before the Germans arrived in Latvia. The second is that the Latvians had more nerve for killing Jews than did the Germans. And the third is that Jews from the West were brought to Latvia "because the Latvians had created the proper conditions for it."

The unraveling of these three statements is more than just a matter of passing importance. In Western works treating the subject of the Holocaust they are the most frequently cited "truths" about the Latvian involvement.[2]

The actual truth is that Jeckeln never made any of those statements, never said anything at his trial about the Latvians at all. The upshot of the false "truths" is that any Latvian accused of being a Nazi must be one, Elizabeth Holtzman having declared "all Latvians are Nazis." There was no need for proof — anyone accused was immediately convicted in the court of Nazi-hunting fever. And failure to convict in actual court was not a vindication based on evidence or lack thereof but symptomatic of prosecutorial ineptitude.

As Hāzners' lawyer, Bērziņš, was not allowed to pursue the KGB origin of allegations against Hāzners, guilt or innocence rested on the reliability and believability of the witnesses' testimony. At face value, the testimony of Ber Mandelkorn appeared to be the most damning: having been beaten so badly by Hāzners that his teeth fell out, he would certainly recognize his attacker herding Jews into a burning synagogue. That burning of Jews alive in the synagogue is the most oft-repeated accusation against a host of alleged Latvian accomplices of the Nazis beyond the actual Latvian accomplices. We deal with witnesses and specific allegations against Hāzners in our discussion of the evidence. However, we will note here that Hāzners was conclusively proven not to be in Rīga at the time of the burning of the synagogue. (Neither was Herberts Cukurs, also similarly accused based on witness accounts.)


[1]Simon Wiesenthal was quoted regarding the Hāzners case that he had provided Hāzners' name on a 1949 list of suspected Nazis to U.S. authorities. As far as we can tell, this was simply a list of former Latvian Legion officers Wiesenthal compiled by visiting DP camps.
[2]From Ezergailis' introduction to "The Holocaust in Latvia".

Updated: October, 2016

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