The Pursuit, Prosecution, and Punishment of Viktors Arājs
Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 40:2
The Pursuit, Prosecution, and Punishment of the Latvian War Criminal Viktors Arājs
Richards Plavnieks reveals the story of the pursuit, prosecution, and punishment in West Germany of the Latvian war criminal Viktors Arājs, who with the infamous Arājs Kommando unit that he commanded was involved in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Latvia and Belarus. Arājs escaped justice for decades, although West German investigators knew in the 1960s of his and his unit’s murderous activities. Arājs himself was finally arrested in 1975 and convicted in 1979. The German police ignored information from a Latvian regarding Arājs’s location and alias in the 1960s, and at the same time whereas the key individual ultimately responsible for his capture was a Latvian, other, similarly implicated Latvians attempted to defend Arājs during the court proceedings. This in-group Latvian solidarity was apparently accompanied by the sense among many Latvian émigrés that Arājs was an embarrassment best forgotten. Plavnieks argues that the Arājs case sheds light on both the successes and the shortcomings of West Germany’s legal efforts to come to grips with the Nazi past, as well as exposing the attitudes of Latvian émigrés in West Germany toward the Holocaust in their country and in which their countrymen took part.