Department of Justice Seal



TUESDAY, MAY 4, 1999

(202) 616-2777


TDD (202) 514-1888



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A federal judge in Pensacola, Florida today ordered the jailing of a Sunny Hills, Florida man whom Government prosecutors seek to question in connection with his activities during World War II, the Justice Department announced.

The Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and Michael Patterson, the U.S. Attorney in Pensacola, said that captured wartime documents show that Vytautas Gecas, 77, served during the war as an armed member of a Nazi-sponsored unit that murdered thousands of Jews and others in German-occupied Byelorussia (now Belarus) and Lithuania.

In 1991, OSI subpoenaed Gecas and asked questions concerning his wartime activities and his subsequent immigration to the United States. Gecas refused to answer the questions, claiming protection against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and citing fear of prosecution in his native Lithuania, as well as in Germany and Israel.

Last year, in another case involving a suspected Nazi persecutor, United States v. Balsys, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a claimed fear of prosecution in a foreign country is not a sufficient legal basis to invoke the Fifth Amendment protection. On the same day it issued its ruling in the Balsys case, the Court also denied Gecas' request that the Court review his case. As a result, the Supreme Court let stand a 1997 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta that Gecas must answer the questions.

Gecas continued to refuse to answer the questions despite the rulings. Last January, Chief Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola ordered Gecas to respond to questions asked by the Government. Gecas still refused.

At today's hearing, Judge Vinson found Gecas in contempt of court for refusing an order to answer the questions. Judge Vinson ordered Gecas incarcerated for up to 18 months or until he agrees to answer the questions. At the conclusion of the hearing, Gecas was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals. Gecas immigrated to the United States in 1962 from England where he had lived since 1947. When applying for admission to this country, Gecas claimed that he had been a "pupil" in Lithuania during World War II. However, according to the Government's briefs, it has documentary evidence that Gecas served in the infamous 2nd/12th Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft Battalion during World War II.

The 2nd/12th Battalion functioned primarily as a mobile killing unit. After recruiting in Lithuania, it perpetrated numerous mass shootings of Jewish men, women and children, as well as Soviet POWS and suspected communists and their families, in both Lithuania and Byelorussia. During the month of October 1941 alone, battalion members participated in massacres that claimed the lives of some 19,000 innocent civilians in Byelorussia.

OSI Director Eli M. Rosenbaum noted that the Gecas inquiry is a result of the ongoing investigation of suspected Nazi persecutors residing illegally in the United States.

"Today's court action demonstrates that court orders are binding on all and that aliens suspected of aiding the Nazi regime in its campaign of persecution will not be allowed to evade investigation of their wartime activities by refusing to answer questions," said Rosenbaum. "Gecas should not and will not be allowed to hide behind false claims of privilege under our Constitution."

OSI was created in 1979 to investigate and take legal action against Axis persecutors living in the United States. To date, 61 participants in Nazi-sponsored persecution have been stripped of U.S. citizenship and 48 such persons have been removed from this country. More than 250 persons remain under investigation. Rosenbaum noted that a Judge of the United States Immigration Court in Chicago has ordered the deportation of Juozas Naujalis, a Chicago man who was a member of the same 2nd/12th Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft Battalion, and that Kazys Ciurinskas, a Crown Point, Indiana, man who was denaturalized because of his membership in the 2nd/12th Battalion, has agreed to leave the United States permanently next week rather than face a removal action.

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