January 21, 2000

Konrad Kalejs is back in Australia after leaving Britain while under suspicion of war crimes in Nazi-occupied Latvia. He has again denied any involvement in the events.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in the United States has alleged Kalejs was responsible for killing 30,000 inmates at the Salaspils concentration camp in Latvia. However Andris Ezergailis, professor of history at Ithaca College, New York, doubts this.

The Latvian-American specialist on the Holocaust says Salaspils was not an extermination camp. There was a "whole spectrum of camps". Salaspils internees certainly died - of hunger, cold and disease. But its purpose was forced labour, not extermination.

Professor Ezergailis says that on the evidence to date, Kalejs spent most of the time in question in a unit fighting Soviet partisans in northern Russia, although he needs to explain his membership of the Arajs Commando "at a moral level". But the evidence so far made public, he stresses, is in no way sufficient to convict Kalejs.

Professor Ezergailis's views cannot be dismissed as "Holocaust denial". He is the author of the definitive study of the Holocaust in Latvia. The Bern-based Holocaust Fund, which aids Jewish victims of Nazism, confirms that Salaspils was not a death camp.

Kalejs admitted being a member of the collaborationist Arajs Kommando, some members of which did kill Jews in Latvia and Belarus. Another Holocaust specialist, Konrad Kwiet of Macquarie University, Australia, maintains that this alone is sufficient to put Kalejs on trial.

However, Professor Ezergailis says there were more than 1,500 members of the Arajs Kommando. A maximum of 300 were involved in the annihilation of Latvia's Jewish community. Another 200 were sent to Belarus with no chance to take part in genocide operations. Kalejs has questions to answer about his membership, but in a criminal case, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution.

Although expelled from the US for concealing his membership in his visa application, it was a civil offence. US and Canadian courts did not find evidence of criminal activities.

Vera Rich

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