Estonian PM rejects charge he isn't prosecuting Nazis

Wiesenthal Center says Eastern Europe won’t hold its Nazis accountable due to "absence of political will to proceed, lack of resources, expertise."

May 19, 2011 06:05
2 minute read.
Estonian Prime Minister Ansip

Estonian Prime Minister Ansip_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

BRUSSELS – Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on Wednesday rejected the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s recent charge that his country was completely failing to investigate and prosecute Nazi war criminals, calling the accusation “unfair” and stating that his country was doing its utmost.

Ansip's statements came after a meeting with European Jewish religious and lay leaders in Brussels, organized by the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE), in which the Estonian leader not only noted the importance he saw to the recent resurgence of Jewish communal life in his country, but even took the pains to apologize over the fact that some Estonians, under Nazi occupation, “took part in the horrible crimes of the Holocaust. I'm very sorry about that,” he said.

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But a Wiesenthal Center report from earlier this month gave Estonia an F2 grade, placing it in the category of countries that can legally investigate and prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals, but who have failed to do so “primarily due to the absence of political will to proceed and/or a lack of the requisite resources and/or expertise.”

Besides Estonia, Austria, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine received that mark.

The claim that today’s Estonia is not doing enough to apprehend and try Nazi criminals is wrong and unfair, Anisp told The Jerusalem Post.

He cited the case of Mikhail Gorshkow, which he said is the only accused in Estonia undergoing investigation.

“In fact, we are doing our best... but unfortunately there are no documents and it’s very difficult to investigate this case,” Ansip said.

But documents are available that would move the stagnant case along, said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem and researcher of Nazi war crimes.

“The Mikhail Gorshkow case has been going on for over eight years, and there appears to be absolutely no progress,” he said.

Gorshkow was tried in the US “for concealing his WWII service with the Nazi forces and returned to Estonia after losing his US citizenship,” Zuroff said.

“There are documents which were utilized in Gorschkow’s denaturalization trial in the US, which clearly prove his service with the Gestapo in Belarus and his alleged participation in the mass murder of Jews in Slutzk, and which were sent to the Estonians.”

Zuroff said this case is indicative of “the general reluctance of the Baltic countries to hold their own Nazi war criminals accountable.”

He added, “not a single Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian Nazi war criminal has been punished since these countries regained their independence. The failure in this regard is part of a much larger issue of the failure of the post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe to honestly face their widespread and particularly lethal collaboration with the Nazis in the implementation of the Final Solution.”

Some 4,500 Jews lived in Estonia before World War II. In June 1940, the country was occupied by the Soviets, who in mid-June 1941 deported some 10,000 Estonians, among them close to 500 Jews, to Siberia. By the end of 1941, over 900 Jews had been murdered and Estonia was declared as the first Judenfrei (country free of Jews).

As of 1942, tens of thousands of Jews from all over Europe were deported to concentration camps and forced labor camps in Estonia.

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