November 30, 2001  
  Dr. Efraim Zuroff  

Konrad Kalejs will not attend today’s dedication of a memorial monument to the Jews and other innocent civilians murdered at Bikernieki Forest in the summer and fall of 1941, but the memory of his wartime crimes will no doubt hover like a shadow over the ceremony. That is because the unit he served in, the infamous Arajs Kommando, were the chief perpetrators of the murders which took place at Bikernieki. They were the ones who kidnapped thousands of Jews off the streets of Riga and later took them to the tranquil woods where members of the unit, all volunteers, executed them in cold blood. To this day, it is not certain whether Kalejs personally participated in those murders, but there is no doubt that his fellow Arajs Kommando members were the major culprits in the terrible atrocities being commemorated today at Bikernieki.
Last year Kalejs himself was indicted in Riga for crimes committed at the Salaspils concentration camp, and Latvia, to its credit, sought his extradition from Australia. Yet before he could be brought to trial, Kalejs died in Melbourne, leaving the question of his guilt unresolved in judicial terms. Despite the fact that Kalejs himself admitted that he had served in the Arajs Kommando (after the publication of incriminating evidence to that effect) and that he had been deported from the Untied States and Canada for concealing his wartime activities and was kicked out of Great Britain as an undesirable, there are still many people in Latvia who accepted his protestations of innocence at face value.
In that respect, over the years Kalejs has become an international symbol of the ongoing struggle over the prosecution of Latvian Nazi collaborators between those seeking to bring Latvian Holocaust perpetrators to justice and those who, usually for patriotic or chauvinistic reasons, either deny Latvian culpability or prefer, in these cases, to let bygones be bygones. These self-proclaimed Latvian patriots no doubt breathed an enormous sigh of relief when Kalejs died in Australia, sparing Latvians the spectacle of his trial in Riga, but in reality, such a position is extremely short-sighted.
For such a trial would actually have been extremely beneficial for Latvian society. Besides helping to clarify the nature and extent of Latvian participation in the crimes of the Holocaust, it would have assisted Latvian society in coming to grips with the full implications of those crimes and how they impact on Latvia’s present and future.

It is true that there are additional ways for Latvia to confront its Holocaust past and that the government has already begun to do so. Indeed, this week’s events – the seminar on Holocaust research, the exhibition on Latvian Jewry and the dedication of the memorial at Bikernieki – are all proof that Latvia is not ignoring this extremely difficult period of its history. Yet as long as the Latvian authorities have never initiated a single investigation of a Latvian Nazi collaborator (Kalejs was only indicted after considerable pressure from the United States, Israel and international Jewish organizations), as long as not a single Latvian Nazi Holocaust perpetrator has ever been brought to trial in independent Latvia, as long as Arajs Kommando members and other Nazi killers are granted rehabilitations accompanied by substantial financial benefits, Latvia’s attempts to deal with the Holocaust will obviously be seriously flawed. If we add the fact that since independence, Latvia’s judicial authorities have on their own initiated numerous investigations against Communist criminals, almost a dozen of whom have already been tried and convicted, it is clear that while Latvian society has reached the point where it is able to commemorate the victims and mourn their fate, it is still reluctant to grapple with Latvian complicity, which is probably the most significant aspect of this complex problem.

Under these circumstances, it is extremely important that today’s ceremony and this week’s events serve not only as a means of commemoration and education but also as a stark reminder of what remains to be done – the prosecution of Latvian perpetrators and the cancellation of the rehabilitations and financial benefits given to Nazi killers convicted by Soviet courts. If that will also be achieved, and time is rapidly running out in that regard, it will be clear that today’s Latvia has not only faced its tragic Holocaust past but has made significant strides toward ensuring its democratic future.