Did New Zealand give a home to genocidal killers? Wayne Stringer was
New Zealand’s Nazi Hunter. He investigated 47 “displaced persons”,
suspected of complicity in Nazi era war crimes, who came to New Zealand
at the end of WW2.
Now John Keir has made a compelling documentary which interweaves his secret
year-long investigation with the story of his prime suspect – an
elderly Auckland North Shore man who had been a machine gunner in
“mobile murder unit” responsible for the killing of thousands of
Jews in the forgotten Holocaust of Eastern Europe.
The knock on the door …
By the time it came the man had lived in New Zealand for nearly 40
years. He had always been the perfect neighbour.
So how did anyone know he was there?
In 1990 the Jewish organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sent
the New Zealand Government a list with 47 names on it. Most were
“displaced persons” who were given a home here after the end of the
Second World War. All were suspected war criminals associated with
mass murder and genocide.
This secret list – like similar lists sent to other countries – was
the beginning a unique war crimes “cold case” investigation.
Wayne Stringer – a career cop – became New Zealand’s Nazi Hunter.
He quickly whittled down the list (many of the suspect names had
died or moved on, some names were clearly cases of mistaken identity),
eliminating suspects as he went.
“I went and talked to one couple,” Stringer remembers. “He had been
in the SS brigade and had been tattooed. He married a Jewish girl,
they were a lovely couple and they were horrified by the allegations.
It was a pleasure to tell them that they had been discounted completely.”
But others could not be dismissed so easily.
His prime suspect was a Lithuanian immigrant who lived quietly on
Auckland’s North Shore. The man had come to New Zealand after the
Second World War via Australia.
Ironically his was the last name on the list of 47.
When investigators confronted him with the allegations against him
he showed no surprise.
The man had been a member of the notorious 12th Lithuanian Police
Battalion – a mobile murder squad which moved from village to village
rounding up Jews and executing them in the forests of Eastern Europe.
These were the so called “pit killings” and in many ways these deaths
were the forgotten Holocaust.
In Lithuania, before the Second World War there were 220,000 Jews
living – but within months only 8,000 remained.
The 12th Lithuanian Police Battalion became one of the most studied units in
the history of war crimes investigation. Members of this infamous
battalion ended up in countries all around the world – including
The key question facing Wayne Stringer was proving whether or not
Jonas Pukas – listed as a machine gunner in surviving records – was
personally guilty of war crimes.
After all, it was 50 years after the crime and by definition there
were no witnesses.
“Coming to countries like New Zealand and Australia and Scotland,
these people believed they had escaped justice,” Stringer says.
“But the Germans were great record keepers. They kept records of
Stringer travelled to the Baltic States where he was given access
to war records – held for years in KGB archives safely behind the
Iron Curtain – and visited the killing grounds in Lithuania and Belarus.
But he also linked in with war crimes investigators from other countries.
The Scottish unit had a particular interest in the New Zealand suspect
because they were investigating the man’s platoon commander – named
by a Scottish judge a war criminal.
“Nazi Hunter” reveals for the first time the police interview tape
with the North Shore suspect.
It has never been heard before.
In it Jonas Pukas remembered “the Jews of Minsk screamed like geese”.
This extraordinary police interview forms the spine of the documentary.
The interview haunts Wayne Stringer to this day.
The documentary asks the final question: as a result of the investigation
into suspected Nazi war criminals, has New Zealand a more or less
safe place for modern era war criminals looking for a bolt hole?
The documentary was directed by Alexander Behse, a German born, New
Zealand resident filmmaker and produced by John Keir of Ponsonby
“For me this was a different sort of project,” Behse says.
“Growing up in Germany I was taught a lot about the war – more than
most New Zealanders. But I never knew much about what was going on
in the East. Technically the suspects who came to New Zealand were
Nazi collaborators rather than German Nazis.”
Producer John Keir was surprised by just how much information is
still held in the archives in Lithuania.
“Those were difficult times. We needed to substantiate whether or
not these military policemen killed Jews voluntarily – or were they
somehow compelled to commit these atrocities?”
For “Nazi Hunter” Wayne Stringer, this investigation changed his
“I got far more emotionally involved in the war crimes investigation
that anything else I’d ever done in the police,” he remembers.
“Genocide is still occurring in all sorts of places around the world.”
“That’s why this film is important.”
The documentary will be shown on “Inside New Zealand: on TV3 on August