One who got away 166629

Last week, suspected Estonian Nazi war criminal Harry Mannil died unprosecuted in San Jose, Costa Rica at the age of 89.

Mannil, who served for the first year of the Nazioccupation in the Estonian Political Police in Tallinn - which wasresponsible for the arrest and murder of numerous Jews and communists -was ranked No. 10 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most recent "MostWanted" list.

His case came to my attention in the early 1990s as abyproduct of the investigation of his superior, Evald Mikson, anotorious murderer and rapist, whom I exposed living in Iceland and whodied suddenly after the local authorities opened up a murderinvestigation against him.

Mannil escaped after the war to Venezuela, where hebecame a multimillionaire. This is the story of our efforts to bringhim to justice.The Evald Mikson case was not our onlyinvestigation that related to Nazi war crimes in Estonia, but it is ofspecial significance for two reasons.

The first is that it clearly reflected the ambivalent attitudeof the Estonian government to the issue of local Nazi collaborators. Onthe one hand, I was granted access to the KGB files, where I foundextremely incriminating testimony against Mikson. On the other hand, ifI recall correctly, the Estonian Foreign Ministry issued an officialstatement that asserted that Mikson was not guilty of any crimes, andleast of all against the Jewish people, a total distortion of thehistorical facts.

A second reason for the case's significance is that it led meto two additional suspects who had worked under Mikson in the Estonianpolitical police - Martin Jensen, who had immigrated to Toronto,Canada, and Harry Mannil, who had escaped to Caracas, Venezuela.

Jensen died on August 8, 1992, not long after I had notifiedthe Canadian War Crimes Unit of his presence in Toronto. Mannil wasstill alive, and his case proved to be one of the most difficult I everdealt with.

In theory, everyone is supposed to be equal in the eyes of thelaw, but being one of the richest Estonians in the world and a generousdonor to Estonian cultural institutions apparently can help protect asuspected Nazi collaborator from prosecution in Estonia. Thus, all ourefforts to facilitate the prosecution of Mannil for his alleged role inthe arrests and interrogations of Jews who were murdered by the Nazisand their Estonian collaborators were unsuccessful.

Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that we were neverable to prove that Mannil personally committed murder. While there wastestimony recorded by the Sandler Commission (which investigated theBaltic refugees who escaped to Sweden) that Mannil had killed as manyas 100 Jews, we were unable to corroborate this accusation.

Still, over the years, we were able to record several victoriesagainst him. For example, I made sure that he was put on the Americanwatch-list of individuals barred from entering the United Statesbecause of their purported Nazi past. Mannil was actually kicked out ofthe country upon arrival at a Florida airport at least once. (The listis secret and he had no idea that he was on it.)

Another victory was the resignation of Henry Kissinger from theboard of the Baltic Institute for Strategic and International Studies,which Mannil established in Tallinn. After I brought Mannil's past tothe attention of the former secretary of state, he resigned from theboard on January 24, 1994, and thanked me for informing him of thematter and bringing the relevant documentation to his attention.

A third such victory, which was unfortunately shortlived, wasMannil's expulsion on February 4, 2003, from Costa Rica, where he hadbusiness interests and often visited, because according to theimmigration director Marco Badilla, "His presence could compromisenational security, public order, or way of life."

Nine months and three days later, however, Badilla secretlyrescinded his original order, allowing Mannil to reenter the country.

In early 2001, I decided that our best bet to bring Mannil totrial was to try to convince the Estonians to do so. That summer, I metwith the Estonian prime minister Mart Laar in Tallinn to discuss thepossibility that the Estonians would open an official investigationagainst Mannil and to persuade him to seek the assistance of the OSI(the US Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations), which Iunderstood had obtained new documentation in the case.

The investigation was eventually opened, but the visit, myfirst to Estonia in almost a decade, was marred by several ugly run-inswith the local media. In the course of an interview with the Estoniandaily Eesti Paevaleht, I was asked whether any Estoniancivilians had murdered Jews during the Holocaust. I answered in theaffirmative, noting the murders carried out by the Omakaitse during theinitial weeks following the Nazi invasion.

Imagine my consternation the next morning when someonetranslated the headline of the interview. It read, "Nazi-hunter AccusesEstonian Nation of Murders" - precisely the type of assertion that,besides being patently false, was certain to infuriate Estonian publicopinion and increase its opposition to the prosecution of Harry Manniland any other suspected local Nazi war criminals.

Another manifestation of the deep-seated local resistance to myefforts to hold Estonian murderers of Jews accountable was the mostoffensive caricature of me ever published anywhere, which appeared inthe August 23, 2001, issue of Eesti Ekspress, Estonia's most popular weekly newsmagazine.

It portrayed me as the devil, complete with horns, and holding apitchfork upon which were impaled several discs with swastikas on them.In my other hand, I was holding a cup emblazoned with the inscription"Wiesenthal Keskus" (Center), into which prime minister Laar was seenpouring Harry Mannil's blood. The caption read, "Kutsumata Kulaline"("Unwanted Guest").

A year later I clashed with the Security Police Board, theagency responsible for the investigation of Estonian Nazi warcriminals. In 1998, Estonia, like its Baltic neighbors, had establishedan International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes AgainstHumanity, which was mandated to examine all crimes committed under theCommunist (1940-1941; 1944-1991) and Nazi (1941-1944) occupations ofEstonia.

One of the surprising initial findings of the commission, whichwas published in 2001, was that on August 7, 1942, the 36th EstonianSecurity Police Battalion participated in the mass murder of the Jewsof Nowogrudok, Belarus.

Several months later, based on this information, I submitted toJuri Pihl, the director-general of the board, a list of 16 members ofthe unit who had been awarded the Iron Cross second class by the Nazisin December 1942 on the assumption that those decorated might haveexcelled in the murder of Jews.

Less than two weeks later, the board informed the media thatthey had no information regarding the participation of the 36thBattalion in the murder of the Jews of Nowogrudok, a directcontradiction of the findings of the Estonian international historicalcommission.

I used this example in an op-ed piece I published in Eesti Paevaleht onAugust 7, 2002, the 60th anniversary of the murders, to demonstrate howEstonia was not facing its Holocaust past, and urged the government todesignate a day to commemorate the annihilation of European Jewry.

A date was decided on that same day, but the date chosen wasJanuary 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, which, consideringthe fact that no Estonian Jews had been deported to that camp, onlystrengthened the opinion of many Estonians that there was no connectionbetween their country and the Holocaust. An opinion poll held rightafter the decision confirmed the problem. Ninety-three percent of thosepolled opposed a Holocaust memorial day in Estonia.

In the conclusions of the International Commission, there wasan unequivocally negative evaluation of the activities of Evald Mikson,who was "particularly singled out," along with six other Estonian Nazicollaborators, as being "actively involved in the arrest and killing ofEstonian Jews."

He and three others - Ain-Ervin Mere, Julius Ennok, and ErvinViks - were named as the ones who "signed numerous death warrants." Notthat these findings in any way convinced his children that their fatherhad done anything wrong during the war.

As far as Mannil is concerned, as could be expected, theinvestigation was finally closed by the Security Police Board onDecember 30, 2005, after several years of investigation, with nocharges brought against him.

What made this decision particularly infuriating was that theEstonian investigation confirmed not only that Mannil had worked forthe dreaded Estonian political police, but that at least seven persons(all named) whom he had arrested and interrogated had been executed byEstonian Nazi collaborators. This confirmed an important component ofour original accusations, albeit with the exact opposite conclusion.

In other words, those findings would have almost certainly beensufficient to have Mannil prosecuted in any country that treatsHolocaust crimes seriously, but clearly Estonia is not such a country.

Excerpted and adapted by Efraim Zuroff from his bookOperation Last Chance. Copyright © 2009 by the author and reprinted bypermission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan PublishersLimited. All rights reserved.