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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Karlis Ozols

     Karlis Ozols (9 August 1912, Riga – 23 March 2001, Australia) was a Latvian-Australian master.
      Ozols represented Latvia on eighth board in the unofficial Olympiad at Munich 1936, where he won the individual bronze medal. He also played on fourth board in the 7th Olympiad at Stockholm 1937. In 1937 and 1939 he had poor results at Kemeri and Kemeri-Rigaand in 1942 he finished in the middle of the 1st Latvian SSR-ch. In 1944, he won the Riga championship.
      In spring 1945, he left Riga by sea just ahead of the advancing Soviet forces, landing in West Germany, and spent the next several years in various Displaced Persons camps across Germany. Ozols’ name vanished from chess periodicals until after the War, when he played in a few tournaments in Germany for displaced persons. Other participants in these events were Endzelins, ahead of Zemgalis, Bogoljubow and Hönlinger. In 1949 Ozols immigrated to Australia where he won the Victorian Championship nine times. He jointly won the Australian Championship in 1956 and became an International Master at Correspondence Chess in 1972. 
      Ozols was accused of taking part in war atrocities during WW2 but never prosecuted.  Many of the players who participated in the Kemeri 1937 tournament had charges of Nazi war crimes leveled against them. A 12-page report in The Australia/Israel Review Vol. 22 No. 14 (1-22 October 1997) states that Karlis Ozols “executed thousands of Jews and liquidated entire Latvian villages during World War II.” Among the specific claims were that on 1 July 1941 he joined the Latvian Security Police in Riga; that in early 1942 he was trained at Fürstenberg (Germany), an establishment run by the Sicherheitsdienst (the security service of Himmler’s SS); that he commanded a unit of about 100 Latvians which, between 24 July 1942 and 27 September 1943, assisted in the transportation, guarding and execution of Jews; that between July 1942 and September 1943 over 10,000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto were murdered, with Ozols personally carrying out some killings; that on 8-9 February 1943 Ozols and 110 Latvians under his command assisted the SS to kill more than 2,000 Jews of the Slutz ghetto. “The killings [open-air shootings and gas vans] were efficiently organized. Orders directly from Hitler were passed down the SS hierarchy to the Latvian officers under their command.” On 20 April 1944 Ozols was promoted to the rank of Obersturmführer and was decorated with the KVK II (Kriegsverdienstkreuz – the War Merit Cross). The following December, he disappeared.
      In Australia in June 1992 the Senior Counsel advised the Director of Public Prosecutions that a prima facie case existed against Ozols concerning war crimes and genocide. However, that same month the Federal Government shut down the Unit. The Director of Public Prosecutions wished to continue, but was stopped by the Attorney General. The case was closed. The result was Ozols was never prosecuted for war crimes.
      Ozols refused to talk about his war time activities and in a 1979 interview he stated that he had been in Riga when the Germans had arrived in 1941, that former officers of the Latvian reserve had been asked to offer their services and that he had merely carried out guard duties.
      In July 2002 a program was launched calling on Baltic citizens to identify suspected Nazi collaborators for monetary rewards. The result was the Latvian government investigated Ozols who was accused of collaboration with the Nazis while serving in the SS-affiliated Arajs Commando.  Of course Ozols had dies in 2001, rendering the investigation moot.
      In the October 1-22, 1997 issue of the Australia/Israel Review the article titled Our shame; His haven Australia's Nazi cover-up wrote:
      "Ozols is tall, thin, has a back like a ram rod and a peculiarly strident voice…of the masters who have come to Australia since World War II, Ozols has taken the biggest part in competitive play and has been the most successful. And for 37 years the deception had been very successful.”
      In 1986 Mark Aarons, a journalist with ABC radio, broadcast years of research. It was called "Nazis in Australia" and went to air on April 13 1986. The program raised dramatic allegations and evidence about Nazi war criminals who had been allowed to immigrate to Australia, many with the knowledge of Australian authorities.
      In another article for the same issue of the Australia/Israel Review, entitled Fingering the SS, which presented findings on Ozols the author wrote:
      “Karlis Ozols was not yet 30 when the Germans marched into Latvia in July 1941. A former law student at Riga University…Within a year, the then tall and slender young man was a member of a brutally efficient SS killing machine, the Arajs Kommando. Ozols' activities between July 1941, when the Nazis arrived in Latvia, and March 1942 when he can definitely be traced to a Nazi SD (Security Police) training school in Germany where he learned the fine points of mass murder, cannot be accounted for precisely…By some accounts Ozols was active in slaughtering Jews from the Riga ghetto in the Bikinieki forest, a site notorious in this period as the "role model" for the techniques adopted at similar mass exterminations throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Other accounts place him at the site of similar mass murders in and around Liepaja in the second half of 1941.”
      All the evidence linking Ozols to the Arajs Kommandos  was circumstantial, but on victim wrote in a signed statement: "I remember Karlis Ozols well.  He was company commander and his rank was initially lieutenant and then senior lieutenant. At that time Ozols was about 30 years old, rather tall, slim and slender. I personally served in the security police and SD company commanded by Ozols from the summer of 1942 to the autumn of 1943."
      Ozols stated that on one occasion towards the end of his term, he was ordered to guard the site of a mass execution, about twenty kilometers from Minsk. Ordered to stand guard about 200 meters from the grave and said that Karlis Ozols was at the site where the Jews were being shot.
      In another signed statement one Private Zuika said he remembered that Senior Lieutenant Ozols was among the persons who executed peaceful Soviet civilians. He was armed with a sub-machine gun. Usually during such actions, “Ozols was a little drunk, because he took alcoholic drinks before executions."
      In his brief to the , former Director of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris presented all his damning evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution, recommending the prosecution of Ozols:
"....it is my view that the circumstances are so overwhelming and the period of time so long (14 months) that, putting aside evidence of direct killing by Ozols, a jury would find that, beyond reasonable doubt, he knew that his men were, upon his orders, either killing, assisting in the killing or guarding.

      "Further, the evidence is equally strong that he knew that this was all done in the pursuit of a policy of genocide. I believe that knowledge can be established beyond reasonable doubt, and that upon further investigation, the evidence will probably become stronger."
      For most of his life in Australia he lived quietly with his wife Erika in an outer suburb of Melbourne. During the 1990s he was a frequent visitor to a Latvian retirement village wherein resided his boyhood friend Konrad Kalejs (another alleged war criminal), who had been deported from Canada.
      Ozols, on his alleged involvement in Nazi war crimes said, “It is all finished. No one have I killed and I have never asked anyone to kill. I don't know anything. I have nothing to say." However, some years earlier when questioned by a local newspaper, he had acknowledged sympathy for the German occupation of Latvia while denying any collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of Jews.
      Ozols died in Melbourne in March 2001 at age 88, spending the last years of his life institutionalized for dementia. Dementia is a serious loss of cognitive abilities in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It may affect memory, attention, language and problem solving.

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