August 19, 2012 Canberra Times
It's too late to serve justice now
Paul Daley

It's nearly a decade since I traipsed along sheep tracks, poked around dark forests and visited elderly residents in grim Soviet-era housing tenements while searching for clues about alleged Nazis in Australia. Before that trip to Lithuania - where police and auxiliary units collaborated with the Nazis to murder thousands of Jews after the German invasion of June 24, 1941 - I was open-minded about the moral and legal merits of pursuing ageing war criminals.
But my experiences in Lithuania - including meetings with witnesses and pursuers, visits to the secluded forest sites where Jews were massacred and a perusal of the extensive archival evidence against the perpetrators - made me less equivocal. I came away believing that when the evidence was compelling, Australia should not only co-operate with deportation applications, but it should also at least pursue suspects and, where possible, attempt to prosecute.
I went to Lithuania to trace the alleged crimes of seven former Lithuanians who had collaborated with the Nazis in exterminating Jews, before fleeing to Australia in the late 1940s and early '50s. Their names were included on an initial list of 22 suspects who had resettled in Australia after the war. Efraim Zuroff, the famed ''Nazi hunter'' and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, passed the list to Australia in 2002. The Wiesenthal Centre called this ongoing search Operation Last Chance. For that was what it was.
I ascertained seven still lived in Australia. Most had belonged to Lithuanian Police Auxiliary Units or Schutzmannschaften - units drawn from the anti-Soviet partisans and run by the German SS. The archival evidence against them was compelling: a young historian had cross-referenced their names against Lithuanian and Soviet records of Nazi-collaborating police and auxiliary members, and against the statements of witnesses. Some witnesses were still alive. All were at least 85 or older.

Australia had already abandoned actively pursuing alleged Nazi war criminals. It disbanded the Special Investigations Unit after five years in 1992 after it failed to successfully prosecute even one. Australian political will and investigatory resources had evaporated. Meanwhile, in the year to April 2003, the US convicted five Nazi collaborators and began deportation proceedings against 11 others. Europe also made successful prosecutions.
Last week, the push to bring such alleged collaborators who live in Australia to justice in effect ended when the High Court ruled against the extradition to Hungary of 90-year-old Charles Zentai, who was accused of beating to death a Jewish teenager in Budapest in 1944. The High Court ruled Zentai should not be extradited because the charge of ''war crime'' (for which he was sought) did not exist in wartime Hungary.
Zentai is free to live his final years in Australia. He and his family are apparently taking vindication from the High Court judgment. But it neither clears his name, which has been besmirched by the allegations, nor adds to the evidence against him.
Which is a tragedy for everyone involved.
Australia must reconsider how it handles such cases. Not that we are likely to receive another request for the extradition of an alleged Nazi war criminal. It's more a question of precedent.
Australian authorities have long been aware that alleged war criminals - including participants in genocide and group killings in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia - have made homes in Australia.
In Lithuania in 2003, I visited the old Soviet archive, where so much of the evidence against Nazi war criminals was kept. It was an austere, malevolent place where Nazi sympathisers and anti-Soviet activists were tried and tortured before being dispatched by firing squad - or to Siberia.
I found a book - Whoever Saves One Life … The Efforts to Save Jews in Lithuania between 1941 and 1944. It recounted the story of a Lithuanian Jew at Bonegilla processing camp, northern Victoria, in 1949. He approached a group of Lithuanians and addressed one thus: '' … do you remember the time when you supervised the shooting of Jews? I managed to run away from the very edge of the ditch. I remember you very well.''
In early 2004, I discovered one of the alleged Nazi collaborators whose crimes I had inquired into in Lithuania (for an article), lived within walking distance of my house. I visited, intent on asking him about the evidence against him. He was in his final days. The nurses told me he could no longer speak or understand.
It was too late.