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U.S. Gives Papers On Nazis To Holocaust Museum

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U.S. Gives Papers On Nazis To Holocaust Museum


U.S. Gives Papers On Nazis To Holocaust Museum

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Next we're going to learn about some of the stories contained in thousands of documents given to the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum. It's here in Washington, D.C. The documents came from the U.S. Justice Department, and those pages chronicle the trials of Nazis who were found living in the United States over the last three decades. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: These are the ultimate cold cases, says Eli Rosenbaum. He directs the Justice Department office that hunts down and tries former Nazis hiding in the U.S.

Mr. ELI ROSENBAUM (Director, Office of Special Investigations, Justice Department): If one remembers how hard it is to prove a crime that took place down the street a week ago, imagine what it is to prove crimes that took place decades ago.

SHAPIRO: Crimes that took place on the other side of the world. Rosenbaum spoke during a program yesterday at the Holocaust Museum. He said ordinary prosecutions tend to start with a crime scene and lead to a perpetrator. These cases move in a different direction. Justice Department historians started with documents. They identified thousands of names of Nazi leaders.

Mr. ROSENBAUM: We ran every single one of those names through domestic databases to see who was here, who was still alive. And when we got a match and found a suspect still alive, the investigation in chief, so to speak, began...

SHAPIRO: In 1982, investigators found a man named Alexandras Lileikis living in Massachusetts. He'd been a Lithuanian police chief responsible for mass murder of Jews. Rosenbaum went to see him.

Mr. ROSENBAUM: He let us in. He readily admitted that he had had this job during the war. But he said he hadn't had anything to do with the Jews.

SHAPIRO: Rosenbaum showed Lileikis a document, a list of 52 Jews to be killed. Lileikis' name was at the bottom. Lileikis told Rosenbaum he'd never seen the document in his life.

Mr. ROSENBAUM: I said, well, are you saying this is a forgery? He said, no, it's possible that it's authentic and that my men did things without telling me over my name. And he then uttered words that would stick in my craw for the better part of a decade. He said, show me something that I signed.

SHAPIRO: Prosecutors had nothing. Almost 10 years later, the Soviet Union collapsed. A Justice Department historian ran to Lithuania's archives.

Mr. ROSENBAUM: And he found many, many documents signed by Lileikis, including this one, which is the death warrant for a 6-year-old girl and her mother.

SHAPIRO: They were named Gita and Fruma Kaplan. Attorney General Michael Mukasey picks up their story.

Attorney General MICHAEL MUKASEY (Department of Justice): No pre-war photos or other documents about this mother and daughter have ever been found. Nor have any family records been identified. All that we know about them is in the court documents - how they had escaped from the ghetto in Vilnius, how they were hidden in the countryside by two brave Lithuanians, how they were discovered and, ultimately, sent to their deaths by Lileikis.

SHAPIRO: Gita and Fruma Kaplan were shot before a mass grave on December 22, 1941. More than half a century later, a Massachusetts judge stripped Lileikis of his citizenship and sent him back to Lithuania.

Attorney General MUKASEY: That decision, which is among those that we are donating today, is Fruma Kaplan's memorial. And though she no longer lives, her story does in these documents, and through them now, in this museum.

SHAPIRO: The donation includes more than 50,000 pages, documents from more than a hundred successful prosecutions of Nazis living in the U.S. Some were not public until now. Fred Zeidman is chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. At yesterday's event, he said these documents become more important with the passage of time.

Mr. FRED ZEIDMAN (Chairman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council): Because right now, we are blessed with the authentic witness of the survivors, but at some point we know that these historic documents will be the only authentic witnesses.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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