The Justice Department yesterday announced the arrest of an alleged Nazi war criminal accused of directing the execution of the civilian populations of several Latvian villages during World War II.
Konrads Kalejs, 72, a native of Latvia, was arrested by federal marshals late Friday at a small Miami Beach Hotel on a warrant charging him with failing to appear for a deportation hearing.
Marshals said Kalejs was alone and unarmed.
Kalejs, a Florida retiree, allegedly commanded a company of Arajs Kommando, a notorious Latvian security police auxilliary that aided Nazi forces in the persecution and murder of thousands of Jews and other civilians.
The Justice Department said that in March 1942, Kalejs' company destroyed the Latvian town of Sanniki and surrounding villages, killing their civilian populations.
The Arajs Kommando was a "mobile killing force," said Michael Wolf, deputy director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, a unit established in 1979 to locate Nazi war criminals in the United States. "Early in the war, they rounded up Jews in villages all over Latvia and shot them," Wolf said.
He said Nazi SS killing units were stretched thin by they time they arrived in Latvia in 1941, so they recruited members of sympathetic local fascist organizations into auxilliary police forces.
"They were shooting upwards of 5,000 people a day," Wolf said. "There weren't enough to do all the killing."
Kalejs arrived in the United States from Australia in 1959, describing himself on his visa application as a farm laborer during the war.
He reportedly shared the Northfield, Ill., and St. Petersburg, Fla., houses of Austra Kalnins.
Kalnins, 67, was arrested at her Northfield home Thursday night on charges of harboring a fugitive. She was released on $5,000 bond.
Under U.S. immigration law, people who assisted in the persecution of Jews during Adolf Hitler's Third Reich are subject to deportation as undesirables.
As a "fairly high-ranking" officer in a "killing unit," Kalejs has been a key target of the OSI, Wolf said.
Kalejs allegedly joined Arajs Kommando in July 1941. He allegedly was stationed in the Latvian port of Riga while Arajs Kommando murdered thousands of Jews in the nearby forests.