The Hunt For Dailide

For seven years, the U.S. has claimed Algimantas Dailide helped the Nazis slaughter Lithuanian Jews. He maintains he was a clueless bureaucrat.

At 10:30 a.m. on July 6, 1993, U.S. Department of Justice attorney Susan Siegal and investigator Mike MacQueen arrived at AMD Realty on St. Clair Avenue. Accompanied by an agent from the Cleveland bureau of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, they knocked on the door, looking for the man whose initials were posted on the front of the brick building. The office was closed.

Someone at a neighboring business told Siegal and MacQueen that Algimantas Mykolas Dailide usually tended to the yard of his Brecksville home in the morning. Check back at 11:30, they were told. The trio grabbed a cup of coffee and waited. They watched Dailide, on cue, exit his car at half past eleven.

For the next hour and a half, Dailide, then 72, answered questions about his life more than 50 years and 5,000 miles ago, when he was a 20-year-old policeman in Lithuania. The agents from Washington were prepared. They had arrest reports. They had names and photographs of Dailide's fellow officers, even the police payroll.

"Is this your signature?" one of the investigators asked, handing Dailide a copy of an arrest report.

Dailide looked at the signature. "It could be," he said. "But it's different than the way I do it now."

Earlier that morning, Dailide might have watered vegetables and talked about moving to a warm climate with his wife, Ruth. He wanted to retire. He was losing the energy his real estate business -- finding new clients, chasing down rent from tenants -- required. Business was soft, and Dailide had grudgingly taken out a second mortgage on his home.

By lunchtime, the justice department was suggesting he hunted Jews for the Nazis. At the end of the conversation, MacQueen drew up a statement for Dailide to sign. The investigators wanted him to acknowledge that the meeting had taken place and what was discussed. Looking it over, Dailide felt a crush of helplessness.

"Should I talk to an attorney before I sign this?" he asked.

According to its present borders, Lithuania is about the size of West Virginia. It lies at the east edge of Europe, next to the Baltic Sea. The landscape, cut by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, is pleasing to the eye but shallow in natural resources.

Lithuanian history is streaked with border wars and East-West conflict. Small but defiant, it was the last pagan country in Europe to become Christian and the first Russian province to demand autonomy. Though its citizens are predominantly Roman Catholic, 250,000 Jews lived in Lithuania before World War II. Vilnius, a provincial capital, was called "the Jerusalem of the North" because of its vibrant Jewish life.

By war's end, 85 percent of Lithuania's Jews were dead. Only Poland was similarly devastated.

The Holocaust was still a prophecy in January 1939, when Adolf Hitler, in a speech before the Reichstag, predicted the annihilation of the Jews in Europe. Seven months later, Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed the secret pact which assigned Lithuania to the Soviet sphere. The Soviets returned Vilnius (which Poland had seized in 1920) to Lithuania, but with a price: A garrison of 20,000 Red Army troops would maintain a presence. A year later, the Soviets toppled the Lithuanian government, and Stalin waged a campaign of terror, culminating in the deportation of 36,000 political enemies to Siberia on June 14, 1941. Though thousands of Jews were shipped in freight cars to the Arctic, others were given positions of power by the Soviets, kindling local anti-Semitism.

Eight days later, Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Prior to the invasion, the Nazis' Jewish policy was more "let them die" than "kill them." The Reich enforced curfews and forbade Jews from entering public buildings. Yellow stars marked their status as socially dead citizens. Later they were herded into cramped, filthy ghettos. But as he plotted the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler decided the time had come to turn his grim prophecy into "The Final Solution." The army would lead the military campaign in the Soviet Union; the Nazi Security Police and Security Service would direct the slaughter of undesirables. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would serve as a Nazi training ground for mass murder.

As the German strike was launched, 3,000 men sat in motorcades behind the army divisions. They wore gray uniforms, trimmed with silver and black. Many were college-educated -- lawyers, teachers, and engineers in civilian life. They belonged to the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units organized by the SS to sweep and scour enemies of the Reich.

Heinrich Himmler put Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Service, in charge of the Einsatzgruppen. Each Einsatzgruppe was divided into smaller, more nimble units called Einsatzkommandos. The task: Eliminate communists, gypsies, and Jews, who were seen as "the reservoir of Bolshevism." After the Reich's political opponents were flushed out, killing Jews -- men, women, children -- became the Einsatzgruppen's primary function.

Genocide was a skill not yet refined by the Nazis (the gas chambers would come later), and Einsatzgruppen officers worried their men wouldn't have the belly to shoot unarmed citizens on command. They also feared what such brutality might etch on their souls. Einsatzgruppen officers conditioned their troops by stirring the passions of the locals. As Germans watched, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians attacked their Jewish neighbors in the streets, sometimes clubbing them to death.

Still, the Germans sought to formalize the process. "Although the Lithuanian population expressed its hatred of the Jews in various pogroms," read one Einsatzgruppe report to Berlin, "the Jewish problem as such had to be solved by the Security Police and the Security Service."

Within six months, 33,500 of the 57,000 Jews living in Vilnius were dead.

Without the benefit of ringing bells and families dressed for Mass, St. George Catholic Church at Superior and East 67th Street looks abandoned on a weekday afternoon. A chain-link fence guards the front stairs. Grass sprouts like mushrooms in the parking lot. The bingo sign yearns for a bucket of paint. So when a knock on the rectory door is answered by a priest, his collar unbuttoned, it's a surprise.

Reverend Joseph Bacevice has led the congregation at St. George, one of two Lithuanian Catholic churches in Northeast Ohio, since 1980. There used to be three Lithuanian Catholic churches; Bacevice foresees a day when there will be one. "We're both down," he says, speaking of his church and Our Lady of Perpetual Help off East 185th. "I think both of our places have been chopped in half, and most of that is through death."

After the feds moved against Dailide (pronounced die-LEE-duh), Bacevice counseled the family and helped establish a defense fund at a nearby bank. "People rallied around and offered whatever assistance they could," he says.

Bacevice describes Dailide as quiet and down-to-earth, a capable businessman who was square with his clients. Decades ago, the area around St. George was a Lithuanian stronghold, but other ethnicities have melted into the neighborhood. When Dailide closed his business and moved to Gulfport, Florida, two years ago, a Puerto Rican outreach center took over the space. Bacevice admires Dailide for accepting the neighborhood's influx of nationalities. "He was able to deal with all of them. I don't think he had the fear a traditional suburbanite coming down to this neighborhood might have."

(Scene was unable to speak with Dailide. He did not respond to a letter sent to his Gulfport home or to interview requests made through his attorney.)

Donald Mull lived next door to Dailide on Snowville Road in Brecksville. The two go back to the 1950s, when Dailide sold real estate with Mull's late brother Joseph. Mull describes his old neighbor as "honest and upright, above reproach."

Real estate was Dailide's business; gardening was his avocation. Mornings and evenings, Mull would spot Dailide caring for his vegetables. Mull remembers only one conversation in which Dailide spoke of his experience during the war. Dailide said he fled Lithuania on bicycle. He was 100 yards from a bridge and could see American troops on the other side. But his bike blew a tire. Dailide debated stopping to fix the flat or slinging the bike over his shoulder and walking. He picked up the bike. After he crossed the bridge, Dailide looked back and saw Soviet troops. "He told me, 'I was five minutes, maximum, from being on the wrong side of the bridge,'" Mull says.

Fifty years after that dramatic escape, the wrong side of the bridge -- in the form of Eli Rosenbaum -- came looking for Dailide.

The head of the justice department's Office of Special Investigations, Eli M. Rosenbaum is the world's preeminent Nazi hunter. When the OSI was created in the late '70s, it was thought only a handful of Nazi collaborators would be brought to justice. The agency has, in fact, denaturalized 64 people. The U.S. does not have jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed on foreign soil, so the OSI spent $4.1 million last year to denaturalize and deport Holocaust perpetrators for entering the country illegally. Immigration law may be esoteric, but it gets the job done.

The OSI's 35 attorneys and investigators work without the typical tools of prosecution: weapons, fingerprints, fresh eyewitness accounts. Instead they rely on crusting sheets of paper. As Rosenbaum describes it, the OSI comes across as an elite detective squad that wears cardigans instead of trench coats, that works in libraries instead of on street corners. But even when war documents are discovered and authenticated, they seldom betray the names of the perpetrators. "It's hard enough to prove a mugging happened on the streets of Cleveland or Washington last week," Rosenbaum says. His staff of historians pore over wartime documents, searching for those who played a role in the Holocaust. The names are run through INS databases to see if any immigrated to the U.S.; a software program anticipates Anglicized name changes. Nearly every case has been generated through the OSI's own research. The work is tedious. A Holocaust survivor recognizing the face of a former tormentor on a bus or in a restaurant is Hollywood myth. The office has 16 cases in federal court; 200 more are being investigated.

Dailide is of one four aging Northeast Ohioans to be pursued by the OSI in the last two decades. In 1995 George Lindert, a retired factory worker in Canfield, successfully defended his claim that his service as a guard at a Nazi death camp did not amount to persecution. A year ago, the OSI alleged retired Brooklyn machinist Wasyl Krysa was a guard at a slave-labor and concentration camp. The case is in court.

Most famously, in the early 1980s, the government accused John Demjanjuk of running the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp. Demjanjuk escaped the gallows in 1993 when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled he was not Ivan the Terrible. A U.S. judge rebuked the government for "acting with reckless regard for the truth" by withholding information from the defense. Demjanjuk is back in the Cleveland area, his citizenship reinstated. The government will seek to denaturalize him at another trial slated for spring, marking the 20th year of its pursuit of the Seven Hills autoworker.

Today, Dailide stands to be deported for his actions during World War II. In 1997 the government won a judgment in federal court in Cleveland to have his citizenship stripped. A three-judge appeals court in Cincinnati recently upheld the decision by a 2-1 vote. Unless Dailide's attorney, Joseph T. McGinness, can convince the full U.S. Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to rehear the matter, the government will move to send Dailide back to Lithuania, where he may face criminal prosecution.

Rosenbaum won't say how his office discovered Dailide. It's likely the OSI stumbled upon him while searching for evidence against another man, Aleksandras Lileikis. Dailide's name just happened to be there.

Lileikis's name came to Rosenbaum's attention in 1982. A historian working in Germany sent him a list of immigrants to the U.S. who had links to Einsatzkommando 3, an SS unit in Lithuania. One of them, Lileikis, was living in the Boston area. Piqued, Rosenbaum scanned records for Nazi activity in Vilnius; he found a list of 52 Jews who were sent from the Lukishkes hard-labor prison to the Germans. Lileikis's name was typed at the bottom of the order.

Aleksandras Lileikis was named chief of the Vilnius Province Saugumas in 1941. The Saugumas, or Security Police, would be the Lithuanian equivalent of the FBI. Originally, the Saugumas served Lithuania's authoritarian government. Like many officials, Lileikis left Lithuania for Germany when the communists took control, then returned behind the German army when the Saugumas was reestablished. According to payroll records, the Vilnius Saugumas had 107 full-time employees. They wore plain clothes and relied on a network of informers.

The OSI is adamant Saugumas officers were not defenders of the realm nor keepers of the peace. They were goons.

In 1983 Rosenbaum and investigator MacQueen went to Lileikis's house to question him. Lileikis confirmed he was the police chief in Vilnius, but coolly denied any direct involvement in the killing of Jews. Rosenbaum was struck by the 76-year-old's alert mind, rigid posture, and impenetrable demeanor.

"Show me something I signed," Lileikis told his inquisitors, as if sending them on an errand.

It took the OSI 10 years and the collapse of the Soviet Union to find such a document. During the Cold War, investigators had little access to archives in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. After Lithuania declared its independence, investigators were allowed to inspect papers previously obscured by the Iron Curtain. On one visit to Lithuania, MacQueen found records of Lileikis's officers hunting down Jews who had escaped the ghetto. Still, no signature.

On later visits, MacQueen changed his approach: Since Nazi correspondence divulged few names, MacQueen scanned the prison records of individual Jews. He found what he was looking for on an arrest report: Lileikis's signature.

In 1994, after piecing together a case, the government filed a complaint against Lileikis, alleging that he had lied about his wartime activities to gain U.S. citizenship, had persecuted people based on their religion, and lacked good moral character. By now 87 years old, Lileikis refused to answer questions about his alleged persecution of Jews, which a federal judge said was tantamount to an admission of guilt. Rather than wait to be deported, Lileikis fled the U.S. for Lithuania. There he was to be tried for genocide, but the matter was suspended because of Lileikis's claims of poor health. At one court proceeding, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

Rosenbaum and his staff appear to have used the same techniques, even the same documents, to build the case against Dailide, who was living peacefully in Brecksville 40 years after the Allies' victory.

Algimantas Dailide was born in Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania, in 1921. His parents were divorced, and Dailide lived with his mother, a librarian. When Dailide was a teenager, he and his mother moved to a smaller community called Marijampole. Mother and son shared the house with another single woman, who prepared meals for boarders, including the local chief of the Saugumas, Aleksandras Lileikis.

Dailide didn't finish high school; instead, he moved to Vilnius to be trained as a forester. The young man stood an inch below six feet tall. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion. Dailide says he was expelled from forestry school after friends were accused of making anticommunist remarks. Nature still called. "I tried to enter the Forestry Academy from 1941 to 1943, but was turned down," Dailide wrote in an affidavit.

When the Nazis invaded on June 22, Dailide was unemployed and taking a typing course. Dailide left Vilnius for the hills, but returned when a Lithuanian provincial government was restored in the wake of the fleeing Soviets. Dailide heard the Saugumas, which the Soviets had disbanded, had re-formed and was looking for recruits. So on June 24, 1941, Dailide joined the force as a clerk. He was 20 years old.

Dailide needed work, but he also considered himself a Lithuanian patriot. "I hoped at this time to one day see Lithuania free from domination by all outside countries," he wrote in his affidavit. "I never joined the Saugumas with the intention of helping the German forces."

The first Einsatzgruppe unit arrived in Vilnius on June 30. Lithuanian sovereignty was not a priority of the Germans; eliminating communists and Jews was. "The Lithuanian police branches in Vilnius, subordinated to the Einsatzkommando, were given the task of drawing up current lists of the names of Jews in Vilnius; first the Intelligentsia, political activists, and wealthy Jews," a report to Berlin read. "Subsequently, searches and arrests were made and 54 Jews were liquidated on July 4, and 93 were liquidated on July 5. Sizeable property belonging to Jews were secured. With the help of Lithuanian police officials, a search was started for the communists and NKVD [communist-period police] agents, most of whom, however, are said to have fled."

A July 13 report offered more detail: "In Vilnius by July 8th the local Einsatzkommando liquidated 321 Jews. The Lithuanian Ordnungsdienst which was placed under the Einsatzkommando after the Lithuanian political police had been dissolved was instructed to take part in the liquidation of Jews. 150 Lithuanian officials were assigned to this task. They arrested the Jews and put them in concentration camps where they were subjected the same day to Special Treatment."

The government has painted Dailide as a willing henchmen of the Einsatzkommando. Dailide says he was a young bureaucrat, whose chores seldom reached beyond typing and filing.

Dailide admitted his duties occasionally included interviewing prisoners at the Lukishkes hard-labor prison. He described being escorted into a small room by an armed guard and asking inmates about their alleged crimes and personal histories. Yes, he would note if the prisoner was Jewish, he said in an affidavit, just as he would note if the prisoner was German or Polish -- and just as cops today identify suspects by race and sex. Some people he interviewed were released.

In late August or September, Dailide said, he was made a police candidate and worked briefly for the Communist Section of the Saugumas, where he gathered information on political subversives. From there, Dailide said, he went to work for the Information Section, where he did background checks on prospective employees. In late 1942 or early 1943, Dailide was assigned to one of Vilnius's seven two-man precincts. Promoted to policeman by this time, he was issued a small automatic pistol, which (he says) he never used. A Saugumas colleague, during an interrogation by the KGB in 1944, described Dailide as "single, fond of drinking and women."

Dailide fiercely denied persecuting Jews. In his version of events, the Jews were someone else's concern, their miseries only a dark rumor. Dailide never entered the Vilnius ghettos, but did recall "Jews wearing stars, walking in line and guarded by Germans in uniform. At the time I had no idea what was going to happen to them." He also denied any knowledge of a relationship between the Germans and the Saugumas.

The OSI argued Dailide couldn't have been this oblivious. The government's chief witness against Dailide is Dr. Yitshak Arad, who has published several books on the Holocaust. Arad lives in Israel, but has a special interest in the former U.S.S.R.; he was born in an area that is now part of Lithuania. Arad used Nazi correspondence to show the Saugumas, and therefore Dailide, was subordinate to the SS.

A report written by Dr. Walter Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A, described the grip of the Nazis on the Saugumas: "The Lithuanian Security and Criminal Police operates according to the orders and guidelines provided to them by Einsatzkommando 3 and its activities are under constant surveillance and, as much as possible, they are used for security police work which cannot be performed by the SD's [Security Service] personnel, particularly searches, arrests, and investigations."

In his deposition, Arad said the proper name of the Communist Section where Dailide served was the Communist-Jews Section, responsible for apprehending communists and Jews, and turning them over to the Germans.

Mass killings in Vilnius were carried out in Paneriai, a thickly wooded hamlet six miles from town. The site provided seclusion and ample burial space. Large pits excavated by the Soviets for fuel storage tanks were conveniently converted to mass graves. Jews were walked or trucked to Paneriai, stripped of their clothes, and led in rows of 10 or 20 before a bank of shooters, most of whom were local volunteers. When the gunmen's arms tired, the half-dead bodies were burned.

At first, the victims were mostly men. But Colonel Karl Jäger's Einsatzkommando 3, which relieved another company in early August 1941, quickened the pace and concerned itself not with age or sex. According to one escapee, a woman in line for death at Paneriai was ordered to step forward by an officer. "What a pity to bury such beauty under the earth," the officer told her. "Go, but don't look backward." The woman hesitated, then took small steps. She didn't get far before the officer pulled out his revolver and shot her in the back of the head.

The methodical Jäger, a mustachioed businessman who had fought in World War I, sent Berlin frequent reports boasting of his kills. By Christmas, he had overseen the murder of 21,105 people; all but 36 were Jews. Wrote Jäger: "Today I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by EK. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families . . .

"I consider the Jewish action more or less terminated as far as Einsatzkommando 3 is concerned. Those working Jews and Jewesses still available are needed urgently and I can envisage that after the winter this workforce will be required even more urgently. I am of the view that the sterilization program of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated."

Paneriai was six miles from the streets of Vilnius, but the government said Dailide couldn't have been "uncertain" about what happened there. The trail from the Lukishkes prison to Paneriai passed within a block of Saugumas headquarters. Word spread far enough for The New York Times and the London Evening Standard to report on the Vilnius massacres in June 1942.

The government has never suggested Dailide pulled the trigger on anyone. Instead, the OSI argues Dailide knowingly steered Jews down the path to extermination. Investigators used two incidents to put Dailide at the front end of the death march.

An October 31, 1941 report to Lileikis detailed the following arrest: Two Jews, Israel and Riva Shoak, had escaped the Vilnius ghetto. The Shoaks hid in the home of a Pole, as they waited for a truck they hoped would drive them to safety. An informer tipped off the Saugumas, and the Shoaks were arrested. The report listed Dailide as an assisting officer.

In a separate report to Lileikis, the Shoaks are listed with 10 other Jews who had been arrested that day in a sting operation. The report says they were searched and placed in jail. Two of the "suspects" were children, ages 10 and 14.

In a weekly arrest report written for the Nazi Security Police, Lileikis reported 52 Jews had been placed in the Lukishkes prison and were "at your disposition." The Shoaks were among them.

Arad wrote "at your disposition" was one of the many euphemisms the Germans used to avoid express reference to their atrocities.

OSI attorneys presented another document, this one handwritten by Dailide. It described the November 3, 1941 search of a Jew named Markas Shapyro. His passport was confiscated, and his currency, gold, silver, and jewelry were turned over to the Germans, according to Dailide's report. Shapyro's photos, leather wallet, and pocket knife were returned to him. The name "Mark Shapiro" appeared on Lileikis's list of 52, suggesting Shapyro was turned over to the Germans.

The government offered no direct proof that the Shoaks or Shapyro were killed. Instead, Arad's deposition stated their fate "was most likely death at Paneriai." Arad even pegged a probable date of extermination -- November 6, 1941 -- when Jäger reported the deaths of 1,341 Jews, grisly even by his standards.

In his first meeting with investigators, Dailide had vague recollections of the arrests. He insisted he never led raids, but merely assisted when ordered. McGinness concedes Dailide participated in the Shoak or Shapyro arrests. But the Shoaks, he says, were peaceably walked to the police station; Dailide didn't handcuff or search them. And if Dailide were ushering Shapyro to sure doom, why would he let him keep his pocketknife?

"There are no other incidents that took place with my client," McGinness says.

The OSI, McGinness believes, exaggerates certain facts and downplays others to make sure its targets are seen as butchers. He calls Arad a "straw man," a de facto justice department investigator whose report was "entirely derived from MacQueen." Arad, McGinness notes, does not speak English well and can neither read nor write Lithuanian, making it impossible for him to research and prepare a report as eloquent as the one he submitted to the U.S. District Court.

"What you are finding is a repeat of what happened in the Demjanjuk case, only on a much smaller scale," he says.

In court, McGinness spent considerable energy trying to discredit Arad. The judges who heard the complaint didn't buy it. One labeled the "problems" of Arad and MacQueen collaborating "either unconvincing or immaterial." McGinness also attempted to depict Dailide's policework as routine and unthreatening, arguing Dailide "detained" rather than "arrested" Jews. (Page after page of the court record is devoted to the translation of the Lithuanian word sulaikyti.) The judges had little use for this distinction. In a hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Paul R. Matia asked McGinness, "Well, it says [the Shoaks] are fugitives from the ghetto with purpose to travel to Beniakonis. If they are trying to escape from the ghetto, and someone detains them, what's the impact of that?"

"I don't know what the impact of it is, Your Honor. It is only telling you why they were detained," McGinness replied.

As ludicrous as that argument sounds, McGinness did have this: He found someone on Lileikis's arrest report who died -- in Miami in 1996. "A number of these people turned up later on," McGinness says.

Rosenbaum scoffs at McGinness's attempts to exonerate his client by suggesting some Jews the Saugumas handled were not immediately executed. "If you assume that what he's saying is true, what he's arguing is that the survivors of the Holocaust weren't persecuted," he says. "That's a novel concept."

In June 1944, the Soviets pushed back the withering German army and reclaimed Lithuania. The Saugumas dissolved along with the Nazi regime, and Dailide fled to Germany. There he applied to the Displaced Persons Commission for permission to emigrate to the U.S. Asked for a description of his activities during the war, Dailide wrote that he was a "practitioner forester" in Vilnius. The form asked if he had been a member of the police. He answered no.

Granted a visa, Dailide, now married and a father, arrived in New York in 1950. The Dailides moved to Cleveland and bought a house in the East Side's Lithuanian precinct. On Dailide's application for U.S. citizenship, Question 9 asked whether he had been a member of any organizations. Dailide said he had: the Boy Scouts of Lithuania.

Dailide admits he concealed his years in the Saugumas when he applied for displaced person status. He said he was afraid the communists would get wind of his police service and pull him back to Lithuania, where the consequences would be severe. When the Soviets returned to Lithuania, they resumed the deportations and suppressed religion. True to their fighting spirit, armed partisans fought full Sovietization until 1952. Dailide said his incorrect responses were not lies, but "harmless omissions" to escape Stalin's clutches.

While the justice department doesn't think Dailide's memory lapses are so harmless, his defenders see him as a small fish the OSI found in its net, then mounted on the wall as a prize catch.

Augustine Idzelis is a Lithuanian American who has a law office in a building attached to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He has an unruly thatch of gray hair, a mustache, and the preoccupied air of an academic. Before opening his practice, he taught geography at Kent State. Idzelis is working on a book titled 1941, which he says will add the "Lithuanian perspective" to the canon of World War II literature. His research is composed mainly of reports from those who escaped Soviet rule. He's writing the book in longhand on legal paper. The capless Bic pen in his shirt pocket has left swipes of black ink on his Oxford. "It was a bloody period," he says. "There were a lot of people killed on both sides."

Idzelis is not a Holocaust revisionist; he does not deny that Jews suffered horribly during the war. His point is that Dailide's pursuers, in their zeal, have missed the historical context. Before the Germans arrived, the Soviet Union had deported class enemies by the thousands. Lithuanians saw the German army as liberators who could rid them of Stalin and the intrusive Poles. Deception, confusion, and shifting loyalties, he says, ruled the early years of the war. "There's no easy answers here. This is a very complicated time."

Idzelis opens a coffee-table book called The Field Men, which contains biographies and photographs of the SS officers who led the Einsatzgruppen. After the war, many served short prison sentences -- if they were even prosecuted. "We're going after a clerk, and all these sons of bitches were able to die nice, peaceful deaths," Idzelis says.

Other prominent area Lithuanians share Idzelis's view that the justice department has made a spectacle of Dailide. "Algimantas Dailide wasn't a Jewish killer. Never. He wasn't," says Jonas Jasaitis, the editor of Dirva, a Lithuanian newspaper published in Cleveland. "Our country was occupied by Nazis. They made this terrible crime against Jews."

"The facts are not there, and the media has blown up the wrong facts," says Ingrid Bublys, the honorary general consul of Lithuania in Cleveland.

Lithuania is slowly atoning for the sins committed during the German occupation. In 1998, 30 members of the U.S. Congress warned the country that its sluggish pursuit of war criminals endangered its chances of joining NATO. The OSI director before Rosenbaum called Lithuania the "new Paraguay" because of the number of Nazis believed to be in its shelter. Earlier this year, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry announced it will educate soldiers about crimes committed against humanity under the Soviet and Nazi regimes, and the Lithuanian Catholic Church apologized for its indifference to the Holocaust.

Still, Lithuanians seem weary of apologizing for the Holocaust while other atrocities, chiefly the ones committed by the Soviets against their country, fade from memory. "What happened was horrible, but it's not the only chapter of horrors of the 20th century," Idzelis says.

Dailide himself addressed his prosecution in a 1994 affidavit. His contempt for the OSI is plain: "We have guilt by accusation, guilt by association, controlled and coordinated media promotion, the unleashing of government power and resources against innocent citizens, confiscation and dispossession of their assets, promotion of one group at the expense of others, the fabrication and selective withholding of evidence, false witnesses, and every evil imaginable, all in the interest of 'Nazi-hunting.'"

Dailide also questioned the prejudices of the justice department. He wrote: "Since Lithuanians are predominantly Christian, and the OSI lawyers are evidently predominantly Jews," his prosecution amounts to "religious persecution of the Accused, by religious fanatics bent upon promoting one religion over another in the United States."

Reverend Bacevice says the prosecution has weighed heaviest on Dailide's wife, Ruth, who "went into depression. I think, after this happened, she didn't want to come out of the house." A son, Al, lives in Medina. Bacevice says Al is convinced of his father's innocence and sickened the Dailide name might become synonymous with Nazism. Al Dailide politely declined to be interviewed for this story.

During their first conversation seven years ago at his Cleveland real estate office, Dailide told OSI investigators he met up with Aleksandras Lileikis in Germany, shortly before both came to the U.S. They renewed acquaintances again in America. In 1960 Dailide visited the old chief on a family vacation to Cape Cod. He also sent Lileikis Christmas cards.

Lileikis died of a heart attack in a Vilnius hospital on September 26, his genocide trial never finished. He was 93. The hundred or so mourners covered his grave in flowers. Two leaders of the National Sociality Party, the carriers of the Nazi flame, attended the funeral. They brought a wreath.