KIRCHBERG, Germany - A Lithuanian citizen convicted of collaborating with the Nazis and persecuting Jews during World War II is living peacefully in a small town in Germany.
As a member of the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian Security Police, Algimantas Dailide arrested Jews who were trying to escape the Vilna ghetto and handed them over to the Germans. He lied about his wartime activities on his U.S. immigration application after the war, was stripped of his American citizenship in the 1990s, and was ordered deported in 2003 following an investigation and legal proceedings that lasted more than a decade. Dailide fled arrest and settled here in Kirchberg, Saxony, where he has been living ever since.
Dailide is in ninth place on the the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most recent list of the 10 most wanted Nazis. A Vilnius court convicted him of war crimes in a trial that began in 2005, but he has remained free. Last month a high court in Lithuania ruled that he would not go to prison, partly because of his frail health. However, this Haaretz reporter saw him walking around town last week and carrying home his groceries.
Dailide, 87, lives with his wife in a modest apartment at Torstrasse 13, across the street from the town hall. His name is on the mailbox and intercom at the entrance. Dailide's German-born wife, whom he met in 1945 after escaping Lithuania, has relatives in Kirchberg, a town of 7,000 in what was formerly East Germany.
They live on his wife's German pension of 300 euros a month, and the remaining profits from the sale of their house in the U.S. Dailide's American Social Security privileges were revoked.
Dailide's conviction for war crimes relied on documents and testimony concerning a certain October 1941 night, when Dailide arrested 10 Jews who were attempting to escape from the ghetto, and another occasion on which he arrested two Polish Jews. What happened to those he arrested is not known, but it is safe to assume they were murdered along with 94 percent of Lithuanian Jewry, which numbered 220,000 people before the war.
Dailide's name surfaced in documents found in Lithuania's archives, which were examined after the Baltic state won independence. The Vilnius court rejected Dailide's protestations of innocence, and ruled he had lied in his testimony. Despite that, the court refrained from sentencing him to prison, as is permissible by law. The prosecution appealed this leniency, but the appeal was rejected last month. Jewish organizations say this is typical of Lithuania's refusal to punish Nazi collaborators.
Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, yesterday called the court's failure to sentence Dailide to prison scandalous, "and attests to the manner in which the Lithuanian government refuses to deal with the past."
Zuroff, who worked steadily to bring Dailide to trial in the U.S. and later in Lithuania, said the case is "a classic example of how a lack of political willingness to contend with the crimes of the past, along with extenuating circumstances stemming from advanced age, are letting Nazi criminals off the hook."
More than a dozen Lithuanian collaborators have been tried, but not one has gone to prison, a fact Zuroff says contributes to rising anti-Semitism in the Baltic country.
Last Wednesday, Dailide opened the door to his apartment and invited this Haaretz correspondent and a local reporter to come in. Dailide's wife, who suffers from Alzheimer's and cancer, was reclining in her bedroom. Taking care of her is one of the reasons Dailide has remained free. He said he uses a tube to feed her.
During our hour-long meeting Dailide exhibited an excellent memory for details, but had trouble concentrating at times. The walls of the darkened apartment are decorated with photos of his family in the U.S. - his two sons live there - and of himself and his wife during the decades they spent in Cleveland, Ohio, and Florida. On the couch were numerous self-help books, a daily newspaper and dictionaries.
Dailide insists he is innocent. The documents used against him are misleading, he contends, based on a colleague's erroneous record in October 1941. In the other case, he had signed an arrest warrant on behalf of a policeman who was illiterate, he said.
He recounted his escape to Germany in 2004, when he was afraid U.S. authorities were going to arrest him. "I took my car, packed a few things and fled the house. I slept in motels and used phone cards to contact my family. A neighbor drove my wife to meet me periodically. A priest from Cleveland contacted a priest in Toronto, who agreed to put me up. I didn't use credit cards, I put our house up for sale, and I managed to cross the border into Canada using my Lithuanian passport. My wife met me in Toronto, and we flew from there to Frankfurt, took a train to Zwickau and arrived in Kirchberg."
Dailide revealed that despite the Lithuanian court's ruling that he undergo a new medical examination following his conviction, he has never been reexamined. "Last year my lawyer in Lithuania received a letter from the court demanding that I come to Lithuania for medical examinations. They noted that the trip would cost about 500 euros. We replied that we do not have the money - and they dispensed with the examination."
All of the information regarding the state of Dailide's health evidently stems from a few check-ups he had at his lawyer's recommendation during the trial in 2005. "Naturally I wanted to be acquitted in the trial, but nobody wants to go to prison in any case," he said.
He claims he suffers from chronic back pain and arthritis, and that he takes medication for high blood pressure.
A spokeswoman for the Lithuanian court said in response: "A medical board that convened for two years ruled that Dailide's state of health does not allow for his incarceration."
She said she would need to check whether the court had refrained from reexamining him. The results of her inquiry had not arrived as of press time.
How is it that someone convicted of collaborating with the Nazis can live in Germany?
A German lawyer who specializes in immigration cases explained that the European Union's Nice Treaty gives everyone - even if convicted - the right to choose where to live. The treaty stipulates that Germany can deport an EU citizen only if he or she is causing "significant damage" to the public. Dailide apparently does not meet this criterion.
Dailide's neighbors became familiar with his story six months ago when a local paper ran a photo of the house under the banner "War Criminal in Kirchberg." A store owner in the adjacent building said she was shocked at first, but calmed down after she inquired into the details.
"He didn't shoot anyone, right? So he collaborated, so what? Everyone collaborated in that period," she said.