The Shmooze

New Documentary Tracks New Zealand’s Nazi Criminals

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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A new documentary film is telling the story of the unfruitful efforts to bring Nazi war criminals in New Zealand to justice. According to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “New Zealand was the only Anglo-Saxon democracy that faced this problem and chose to ignore it. There was absolutely no political will to take legal action against the Nazi war criminals who emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1940s and early 1950s, posing as refugees fleeing communism.”

According to a report in Stuff, a New Zealand news website, a two-year police and government task force investigation in the early 1990s yielded not a single prosecution, despite a comprehensive file prepared and handed over by the Wiesenthal Center on more than 40 Nazis believed to have been hiding in the country.

The investigation managed to identify 17 suspected Nazi war criminals known to be living in New Zealand. Fifteen were cleared and two were further investigated, but no further action was taken.

One of the people in the Wiesenthal Center’s file was an Aukland resident named Jonas Pukas, who was in the 15th Lithuanian Police Battalion, which massacred Jews in 1941 and 1942. He was never charged with war crimes, despite having told police investigators that “the Jews ‘screamed like geese’ as they were being shot.” Pukas died at age 80 in 1994.

The film, directed by New Zealander John Keir, will be screened next year in New Zealand. In the meantime, the Wiesenthal Center is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Nazi war criminals through its Operation Last Chance.


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