Legal Actions against Nazi Collaborators in Kupiskis

Beyond Konrad Kalejs, by Tzvi Fleischer, The Review, February, 2000

Antanas Gudelis - genocide charges still pending

The only case in Australia currently facing live charges, Lithuania ’s Prosecutor General filed Genocide charges against Gudelis in July of last year and sought Australian assistance in pursuing the case. Gudelis, who lives in South Australia , is accused of having shot a number of civilians in the town of Kupiskis when he commanded a pro-Nazi military unit in 1941. While Gudelis was investigated by the SIU (Special Investigation Unit)  in 1989-1991 and given the case number PU 562, the SIU concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, saying "Although the SIU held the view that this allegation had substance, it was unable to gather enough admissable evidence to refer this case to the DPP."

However, new evidence in the case was made public by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in 1994 and it is this evidence which led to the laying of charges in Lithuania . This new evidence has never been reviewed by Australian authorities.

The charges against Gudelis relate to a period when he was allegedly serving as head of a punitive section in Kupiskis where Soviet trial records claim that as many as 7,000 people were executed. One witness claimed "from the beginning of July [1941] every morning and every evening one could hear the firing of guns at the Jewish Cemetery." Soviet era sources claim that when the Kupiskis jail became overcrowded, on at least three occasions, prisoners, largely Jews and ex-communists, were beaten and tortured and taken to the Jewish cemetery of the town, where pits had been dug. The Soviet sources, as repeated by the SIU, allege that Gudelis issued the command to start shooting. A list made by the German appointed commandant of Kupiskis lists three major group executions in July and August 1941.

The SIU was able to find witnesses that affirm that Gudelis was in Kupiskis in July and August of 1941, that he was joined by other ex-Lithuanian soldiers in working for the Germans, and that some of their duties included working on the execution squads.

There are also allegations relating to Gudelis’ actions after August 25, 1941, when he went to the city of Kaunas and was made an officer in the Auxiliary Police Service Battalion, a pro-Nazi collaborator unit. Documents obtained by the Wiesenthal Centre show that in early September, Gudelis was sent as an officer in the 3rd Auxiliary Police Battalion to several provincial towns in Southern Lithuania , including probably Leipilingas, Sierijai, and Simna. At the time Gudelis was supposed to be in the area, the Jewish communities of all three towns, over 800 people, were shot, acccording to wartime German documents. Two separate men have testified in two separate overseas investigations that they served under Gudelis on this mission and that the unit actively participated in the murder of Jews.

Gudelis admitted to the SIU that he was at Kupiskis and at Kaunas , but not to participation in war crimes. He came to Australia , via Germany , in 1949, and became a citizen in 1958.

Peter John Bernes (A/K/A Petras Bernotavicius)

Department of Justice Seal Department of Justice
For Immediate Release
Monday, January 14, 2002

Justice Department Moves To Revoke U.S. Citizenship Of Former Deputy To Nazi Official Responsible For Mass Killings

WASHINGTON , D.C. The Department of Justice today initiated proceedings to revoke the U.S. citizenship of a Lockport , Illinois man based on his participation in the persecution and murder of Jews and other civilians during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941.

The complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, alleges that Peter John Bernes (a/k/a Petras Bernotavicius), 79, worked during the summer of 1941 as the deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned to Kupiskis, Lithuania.

The complaint alleges that Bernes participated directly in the process of removing condemned prisoners from jail so they could be taken to nearby killing sites. During those months, more than 1,000 Jewish men, women, and children (approximately one-fourth of the town's population) were murdered in Kupiskis by armed men under Loew's command. More than 300 other local residents, among them a nine-year-old boy, were arrested and murdered as political prisoners. Bernes worked in an office near the overcrowded jail where victims were held without adequate food and beaten before being shot to death.

Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, said, "The case against Bernes demonstrates the Justice Department's commitment to ensure that individuals who participated in genocide and other crimes against humanity find no refuge in the United States, regardless of when those atrocities occurred."

OSI Director Eli M. Rosenbaum added, "Although more than 1,000 Jews were living in Kupiskis when the Nazis arrived, not a single man, woman or child survived their murderous spree." During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania , some 190,000 Jews, approximately 94% of the Jewish population, were killed by the Nazis and local collaborators.

Bernes immigrated from Germany in 1947 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in Chicago in 1954. The complaint states that he was not eligible to immigrate to the United States under visa regulations that barred the entry of any person who had "acquiesced in activities or conduct contrary to civilization and human decency" on behalf of the wartime Axis powers.

The proceedings to denaturalize Bernes are a result of OSI's ongoing efforts to identify and take legal action against former participants in Nazi persecution residing in this country. Since OSI began operations in 1979, 66 Nazi persecutors have been stripped of U.S. citizenship, and 54 such individuals have been removed from the United States .

Additionally, more than 150 suspected Nazi persecutors have been stopped at U.S. ports of entry and barred from entering the country as a result of OSI's watchlist border control program. OSI has nearly 200 U.S. residents currently under active investigation.

Lithuanian Collaboration in the “Final Solution”:  Motivations and Case Studies (Excerpt) – Michael MacQueen.

An excerpt follows from the presentation entitled Lithuanian Collaboration in the “Final Solution”:  Motivations and Case Studies, by Michael MacQueen, which was printed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, July, 2005, as part of it’s The Holocaust Chapter, Symposium Presentations, 2004. 

The materials in the presentation covered several case studies and the one noted below for “The Composite Rural Killer” mentions Petras Bernotavičius   and his motivation for participating in the killing of the Jewish population of Kupiskis.

Case Study #4: The Composite Rural Killer

A substantial part of the killing occurred in the shtetls outside of the larger cities, in places such as Darbenai, Kupiškis, Švenčionys, Joniškis, and others. Who did the killing at these places? It varied.

In Kupiškis it was Petras Bernotavičius, a youth who graduated from high school on June 21, 1941, and a week later became adjutant to the German commandant of the town, a former teacher at that high school. In this role he helped coordinate the smooth flow of mass executions -- first of some 400 Lithuanians, alleged Communists, and sympathizers, and then of the town’s remaining 1,400 Jews. He may have become a participant for revenge; a number of his schoolmates had participated in an ill-timed insurrection in nearby Panevežys, before the Germans arrived, and had lost their lives.

As a footnote to the above, McQueen stated that . . . “The local newspaper, Panevežio Apskričio Balsas (Panevežys district voice), carried lurid articles on the murders of two surgeons and a nurse at the Panevežys hospital on June 25, 1941, by Komsomols and NKVD men, and on the shootings of the doomed rebels at the sugar factory on June 26, 1941.”

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