Aleksandras Lileikis, 93, who for years frustrated efforts by international Jewish groups to have him tried as a Nazi war criminal, died Sept. 26 in a hospital in his homeland of Lithuania after a heart attack.
Mr. Lileikis's trial was suspended repeatedly because of his poor health. Jewish groups, led by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, had long accused Lithuanian authorities of deliberately dragging out the proceedings, hoping for a "biological solution" to the controversial trial. A Wiesenthal Center official described his death as a defeat for their efforts to find and prosecute Nazi war criminals in countries around the world.
Lithuania, a small Baltic country that suffered under occupation by both the Soviets and the Germans, has long had an ambivalent relationship to its Nazi past. Many Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis as a way to resist Soviet domination.
One of them was Mr. Lileikis, former police chief of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. He headed the Saugumas secret service, which answered to the Gestapo during World War II. Saugumas was responsible for enforcing the Germans' anti-Jewish decrees, including confining more than 60,000 Jews in the Vilnius ghetto until they could be executed.
About 220,000 Lithuanian Jews--95 percent of the prewar population--were killed during the war, including about 70,000 who were shot in the woods outside Vilnius. Lileikis was accused of turning dozens--if not thousands--of Jews over to their Nazi executioners.
After the war, Mr. Lileikis lived for a decade in Germany and eventually moved to Norwood, Mass., gaining U.S. citizenship in 1976. After information about his wartime activities came to light, the U.S. government stripped him of his citizenship. He returned to his homeland in 1996.
Mr. Lileikis always maintained his innocence, saying he did not know what happened to the Jews he turned over to Nazi authorities and asserting that he was a member of the Resistance.
But in a 1997 interview with a Vilnius newspaper, he acknowledged at least partial complicity in war crimes.
"All of us were collaborators--the whole nation, since it was acting according to Nazi laws," he told the Respublika newspaper. "I needed to clothe myself and eat. I was offered a job, and I accepted it.
"I got into a mess, and I got stuck. . . . So probably I made mistakes," he said. "Mistakes, or let's say the 'crimes' which I am accused of."
Jewish groups accused Lithuanian authorities of pursuing the Lileikis case lackadaisically. His trial began in 1998, but was immediately suspended because he failed to appear. His attorney said that he had been hospitalized. Two months later, he appeared briefly in court; within minutes, however, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
Mr. Lileikis's trial was suspended indefinitely in June when he fell ill during a video link from his sickbed to the courtroom. Jewish organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that he was feigning illness.