Death warrant, Nazi documents donated to Holocaust museum
50,000 papers from trials add to archive
WASHINGTON - The paper had yellowed, its edges frayed. But it clearly bore the signature of Lithuanian policeman Aleksandras Lileikis, ordering a Jewish woman and her 6-year-old daughter to be shot in a Nazi death pit in 1941.
With that, the US Justice Department was able to prove that an elderly Massachusetts man had decades earlier committed Nazi war crimes and ordered him from the country.
The death warrant was one of about 50,000 Justice Department trial documents donated yesterday to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The bound copies of evidence papers, hearing transcripts, and court orders show how the department's Office of Special Investigations hunted down Nazis hiding in the United States over the last three decades and deported them.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey called the documents "the largest body of English-language primary source materials relating to the prosecution of Nazi criminals publicly available anywhere in the world."
"The documents we donate today perpetuate the memory of those men, women, and children who perished, by ensuring that the truth of their fate - that their stories - survive in paper and ink for future generations," Mukasey told an audience at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
"The documents are a permanent record of what happened, and a safeguard against those who might forget or, even worse, deny," he said.
A second copy of the papers will be donated to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Since 1979, Justice investigators, attorneys, and historians have studied immigration papers and pored through archives throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union to track down Nazi officials living in the United States. The Office of Special Investigations does not have the authority to prosecute war crimes against non-Americans outside the United States. But as of this year, it has won the right to deport 107 Nazi officials, concentration camp guards, and so-called "trigger pullers."
Eli Rosenbaum, who heads the Justice unit, said his investigators work regularly with museum historians to interpret records and unearth pictures for trial that clearly show the horrors of the Nazi regime.
In Lileikis's case, Rosenbaum recounted, the Massachusetts man initially denied he was part of the Nazi-allied Lithuanian security police's "mobile killing units" that rounded up Jews and brought them to forest pits, where their bodies were left after being shot.
"Show me something I signed," Lileikis told investigators in June 1983, disputing records that he was among those who carried out the killings.
Years later, after digging through Soviet archives, investigators did just that, using the December 1941 death warrant against Gitta Kaplan and her 6-year-old daughter Frumaas as proof that Lileikis should be deported.
"We found the bureaucratic documentation reporting that they had been, quote, 'handled according to orders,' unquote - a Nazi euphemism for murder," Mukasey said.
Investigators also gave the trial judge a picture of a death pit, showing a crowd of people gathered around a pile of bodies at the bottom of a crater in the forest.
Lileikis was stripped of his US citizenship and returned to Lithuania, Rosenbaum said. He was briefly put on trial there, but legal proceedings ultimately were suspended because of his failing health, Rosenbaum said. Lileikis died in Lithuania in 2000.
The Justice Department decided to donate the records to the Holocaust museum as the number of surviving Holocaust victims - and the Nazis who sought to kill them - dwindles with age.
Two Holocaust survivors were among the crowd that gathered yesterday to watch Mukasey hand a three-inch stack of papers - a sampling of the Justice document trove - to museum Memorial Council director Fred S. Zeidman. Zeidman said saving and displaying such records "has to be one of our top priorities."
"Because right now we are blessed with the authentic witness of the survivors," Zeidman said, with a nod to the two in the audience. "But at some point, we know that these historic documents will be the only authentic witnesses."