An Israeli dental technicians testified at an immigration trial here yesterday that he recognized the face in a 23-year-old photograph as "a face that was very familiar to me when I was in the Riga ghetto," in Latvia, during World War II.
The face he recognized, said Boris Tsesvan, now 64, was that of a man he had seen wearing a Nazi SS uniform and beating an elderly Jew in 1943, and a man he had seen beating Jews on three other occasions in 1941.
Immigration lawyers from a special litigation unit recently formed to prosecute alleged Nazi war criminals now living in the United States, claim the face staring out of the old black-and-white photograph is that of Karlis Detlavs, a 67-year-old Latvian who came to Baltimore in 1650.
The immigration service wants to deport Detlavs for the alleged war crimes. The INS charges that Detlavs lied on his American visa forms, saying he had never participated in any war crimes.
Detlavs and his attorney, Ivars Berzins, refused to talk about the case now. But in an interview two years ago Detlavs said he was on the Russian front during the Nazi occupation of Latvia and denied the allegation that he had beaten Jews in Riga, a Baltic seaport on the western edge of the Soviet Union.
Tsevan's testimony yesterday covered much of the same ground he had gone over when he first took the stand in this case. Exactly one year ago, Detlavs' deportation hearing started and Tsesvan and two other elderly Jews now living in Israel said they recognized Detlavs from the Riga ghetto and remembered him beating Jews.
The judge presiding at last year's trial, Martin J. Travers, was killed by three knife-wielding robbers in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, last June 8.
Emil Bobek, the immigration judge, now presiding over the case, has asked to hear all the testimony offered in the original trial before proceeding with the case.
Judge Bobek yesterday denied a defense motion that he disqualify himself because his access to the transcripts of the earlier testimony could have prejudiced him. Bobek said he was "very busy" when the file was handed to him and "I only had a chance to glance at it."
Martin Mendelsohn, an immigration investigator specializing in cases of alleged Nazi war criminals, said there are nine other hearings similar to Detlavs' pending around the country.
Last July, Mendelsohn went to Soviet Latvia to interview other survivors of the Nazi domination of the once independent country. He said the Soviet authorities were cooperative, but there has been no final decision between them and the U.S. State Department on such questions, as whether other witnesses may come to the U.S. to testify.