hunters spent more than a decade trying to locate more than 40 suspected
war criminals who had fled to New Zealand following World War II.
But despite a subsequent two-year investigation by a government-formed two-man
taskforce in the early 1990s – at the cost of $190,000 – none of
the suspects were brought before a court of law.
It was a move which has been described as an "embarrassment" by
the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, Dr Efraim Zuroff.
Now, 19 years on, the hunt for suspected Nazi war
criminals in New Zealand is to be laid bare in a new film.
Zuroff last week confirmed to the Sunday Star-Times
that acclaimed producer John Keir was "currently completing a documentary film" on New Zealand's role in the ongoing global Nazi hunt.
Up to 46 wanted Nazi war criminals were believed to
have fled to New Zealand after World War II.
Keir was reluctant to give away too much about the
project, but confirmed that the made-for-TV film would most likely
be edited over the next couple of months.
It was scheduled to screen in New Zealand next year.
Zuroff visited New Zealand in 2006 in a bid to promote
Operation Last Chance, an ongoing campaign to bring surviving Nazi
war criminals to justice.
Sixteen years earlier he had forwarded the New Zealand
government a list of ex-Nazis thought to be living in New Zealand.
But, in 1992, after a police investigation, the National
government of the time decided there was insufficient evidence to
proceed with any prosecutions.
The saga was reported by the Star-Times in a story
in March 2006, with Zuroff describing the former government's lack
of action as an "embarrassment".
It had set-up a two-person unit to investigate the
Simon Wiesenthal Center's dossier – which named 42 suspects.
The unit managed to narrow down the list of suspected
Nazi criminals to 17 people known to be living in New Zealand. Fifteen
were cleared, two were further investigated, with the unit finding
it was "possible" one of the suspects was involved in war crimes. But the government did not take
the matter further.
Zuroff said in 2006: "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
He revealed he had spent time in the 1980s and 1990s
researching the whereabouts of 40 suspected Nazi war criminals believed
to have fled to New Zealand.
The dossier he then completed included a Lithuanian
man, Jonas Pukas, in Auckland, who was in the 15th Lithuanian Police
Battalion, which massacred Jews in 1941.
Pukas died in Auckland in 1994, aged 80.
The 15th Lithuanian Police Battalion was responsible
for the slaughter of thousands of Jews in 1941 and 1942.
Despite telling a New Zealand police investigator
that the Jews "screamed like geese" as they were being shot, he was never charged with war crimes.
He said he had heard the Jews dying, but was neither
present nor involved in the mass executions.
One of the police officers involved in the investigation,
now-retired detective sergeant Wayne Stringer, told the Star-Times
in 2006: "If anyone was guilty, he was."
Operation Last Chance has set a $15,000 reward for
information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Nazi war criminals.