MONTREAL - Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) will next week release what it calls a "powerful case" against a member of a Nazi military unit that was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews in Lithuania and Byelorussia (now Belarus).
Juozas (Joseph) Kisielaitis, faced with deportation from the United States for concealing his wartime association, has been living in Canada since the mid-1980s with the knowledge of the government, CJC says.
At a Sept. 12 press conference, national executive director Jack Silverstone and other CJC officials will be joined by New York private investigator Steven Rambam who has prepared a 130-page report on Kisielaitis, who moved in the past year to Montreal from Ontario. The report, plus certain attachments that will not be made public, have been turned over to Canadian authorities. Silverstone said CJC is highlighting this case as a "glaring example" of what it regards as the reluctance of the Justice Department's War Crimes Unit to act against certain suspected Nazi war criminals, even a man like Kisielaitis on whom the U.S. has a lengthy file.
Kisielaitis has admitted under oath to being a member of the battalion, but said he served in a non-combatant role as a tailor and did not accompany the unit on its killing sprees. Rambam's research alleges that Kisielaitis was listed as a rifleman and that he was sent on a mission in Byelorussia. The report, an advance copy of which was released to The CJN, alleges that Kisielaitis, now 80, volunteered for the Lithuanian 2nd Auxiliary Police Service Battalion (later known as the 12th Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft Battalion) in 1941. During 1941-42, this battalion assisted in the execution of at least 130,000 people, primarily Jews, Rambam says.
In the report, Rambam reproduces two original 1941 Lithuanian documents and their translation, whose source is the U.S. government. The first lists a Juozas Kisielaitis as a recruit and rifleman of the battalion. The second lists 464 members, including a Juozas Kisielaitis, who "left" for the Minsk-Borislov-Slutsk region of Byelorussia on Oct. 6, 1941, ostensibly to fight the "Bolshevik" army and partisans. Historians have recorded that the battalion killed at least 30,000 civilians in Byelorussia that month, Rambam says. Both documents bear the authentication of the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius in 1993.
Kisielaitis has claimed he remained behind in Lithuania. The report reproduces Kisielaitis' 1981 handwritten statement to the U.S. government that his company, made up of tailors, shoemakers and other "helpers," did not go with the rest of the battalion that day, but stayed in Kaunas. The report also includes the transcript of his 1982 deposition to U.S. District Court in which he again acknowledges he joined the unit. According to Rambam's information, Kisielaitis and his family immigrated to Canada in 1948, and he became a Canadian citizen in 1953. In 1963, he moved to Massachusetts to accept a job. He was granted permanent residence, but never became a U.S. citizen.
In 1981, staff attorney Eli Rosenbaum of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) interviewed Kisielaitis. The United States had already denaturalized and deported at least three other 12th Battalion members.
On May 24, 1984, the OSI formally accused Kisielaitis of "assisting the Nazis in the persecution of persons because of their race, religion, national origin or political opinion." He was ordered to appear before an immigration judge to show cause why he should not be deported for misrepresenting his membership and activities in the 12th Battalion upon his entry to the United States.
Rambam says Kisielaitis fled to Canada in 1985. "The U.S. Justice Department, after confirming Kisielaitis' presence in Canada, provided the Canadian Department of Justice and the RCMP with a complete copy of their files on Kisielaitis," according to Rambam's findings.
On March 5, 1985, Joseph Krovisky, U.S. Justice Department public affairs officer, told the media: "We confirmed that Kisielaitis was a war criminal living in the U.S. He entered the U.S. under false pretenses, concealing his service in a Nazi unit." On April 30, 1985, then Canadian solicitor general Robert Kaplan said: "If the Americans have compiled a dossier of evidence, as they seem to have, the Canadian government should move to obtain it and take immediate action. I would hope they don't refer this one to the commission on war criminals in Canada."
From what he considers reliable sources, Rambam learned that the Canadian government informed Kisielaitis in 1987 that no evidence in their possession would allow his deportation from Canada as a war criminal.
In 1996, Rambam, going undercover as a university professor, interviewed Kisielaitis at his Burlington, Ont., home. He later moved to Cornwall. Rambam says he interviewed him again in July, going to his Montreal home, unannounced, as his true self. A seven-page transcript of that interview is included in the full report, but will not be made public.
Silverstone said CJC has raised the Kisielaitis case with the government on "numerous occasions" over the years since the '80s. "The government has told us nothing. Like all individual cases, it cites privacy considerations. It's frustrating."
Rambam told The CJN that he hopes publicizing his research on Kisielaitis will put the War Crimes Unit "on the spot." He feels the Canadian Jewish community should "demand that the War Crimes Unit be more transparent. It makes decisions without providing the slightest clue as to why they made those decisions. They say 'we don't have to explain our decisions'. "