Latvian newspaper refuses ad seeking Nazi war criminals


By Elli Wohlgelernter

Operation: Last Chance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's special campaign offering a $10,000 reward for information that assists in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, has reached a snag in Latvia, where one local newspaper has refused to publish the center's advertisement.

Kurzemes Vards, a newspaper in the port city of Liepaja, about 200 kilometers southwest of the capital, Riga, is the only one of several newspapers in the country of 2.5 million residents to not publish the war-crimes ad, which are sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

" The Holocaust was too horrifying to try to find those who are to blame by using such methods," Kurzemes Vards editor Andzils Remess told The Associated Press. "There are proper investigative offices for this purpose."

Remess said the paper would consider printing the ad if the reward offer is removed.
" This really takes the cake," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Israeli director of the Wiesenthal Center. "The excuses in the Baltics are getting sillier by the day.

The reason that we are offering financial rewards for such information is that the Latvian authorities who are supposed to be doing this without using such 'innovative' methods have absolutely nothing to show for their efforts over the past 12 years since Latvia became independent."

The Operation: Last Chance ad campaign was kicked off in July in Vilnius to help identify as many potential witnesses as quickly as possible, thereby facilitating bringing to justice Holocaust perpetrators.

It was designed and implemented by Zuroff and Targum Shlishi, a charitable foundation founded and headed by Aryeh Rubin of Miami, who conceived of the project.

Lithuanian newspapers ran similar ads in December, but Estonian papers refused to run them. Newspaper editors said the ads incited racial hatred, since they noted that Estonians had participated in the murder of Jews. Police officials complained that having their phone numbers appear in the ad intimated they had sponsored the campaign.

" These feeble attempts to prevent the ads from running clearly reflect the fact that far too many people in the Baltics are in deep denial regarding the cardinal role played by their nationals in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as in other countries in Europe," said Zuroff. "The fact of the matter is that not a single Baltic Nazi war criminal has sat a single day in jail since these countries gained independence during the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.

" While they probably think that this problem will be solved on its own as the criminals die out, we have absolutely no intention of ignoring these murderers while they can still be brought to justice, and that is still the case today," Zuroff said.

The ad that Kurzemes Vards refused to run includes a grainy, black-and-white picture of two nude Jewish women, their hands bound with rope, being led to the edge of a sand pit on a Liepaja beach to be shot. Most victims were buried in mass graves near the beach, just outside Liepaja.

"This is about your Jewish neighbors... the ones who were murdered," boldface text above the photograph states.

Some 7,000 Jews from Liepaja were killed during the Nazi occupation, with both Germans and Latvians taking part in the killings.

Approximately 80,000 Jews in Latvia 90 percent of the prewar Jewish population were killed during the Holocaust. Approximately 20,000 Jews were deported to Latvia from Central Europe and killed there, and Latvian police units played an active role in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Belarus and Poland.