Goose-Stepping Down Under

Goose-Stepping Down Under

| 15 | Chess Players

     This is the story of Kārlis Ozols that should be called, "When Chess Players Go Bad."   The story is one of amazement, puzzlement and disgust.

     Kārlis Ozols had been a chess player in his native Latvia.  Like Tal, Ozols was born in Riga. He even won the Riga championship in 1944.  He played for Latvia in two Olympiads: the unofficial Munich games of 1936 and the official Olympiad in Stockholm, Sweden in 1937.  After WWII, Ozols became a Displaced Person (DP), a forced immigrant with no homeland.  Several years later, he ended up in Australia (1949) where he subsequently gained citizenship (1956) became the perennial Victoria champion and even shared the Australian championship itself in 1956.

     There was one tiny fly in this ointment.  Ozols was a suspected Nazi criminal, who, at the very least, was responsible for the murder of 12,000 Jews from the Minsk and the Slutzk ghettos.

     In the October 1-22, 1997 issue of the "Australia/Israel Review,"  Michael Kapel & Zandy Alter offered an article called,  "Our shame; His haven. Australia's Nazi cover-up."
     They wrote:

   Kārlis Ozols was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1912. In 1949 he travelled to Australia on the Mozzafari and was naturalised in Victoria in 1956. Life in Australia had been good to him. He became a chess champion - Victorian champion in 1956 and later, Australian champion and representative at international tournaments.
   He took it all in his stride. After all, Ozols had played for Latvia in the 1936 Munich and 1937 Stockholm Chess Olympiads and was not just a chess master of Australia, but also of Germany where he had placed high in competitions in Augsburg 1946, Schleisheim 1947, Hanau 1947. In November 1957, Chess World magazine reported that Ozols had either won or been placed in the top three in the Victorian championships from 1949 until 1956.
   "Ozols is tall, thin, has a back like a ram rod and a peculiarly strident voice," the magazine reported. "Of the masters who have come to Australia since World War II, Ozols has taken the biggest part in competitive play and has been the most successful." And for 37 years the deception had been very successful.

     They continue:

   But in 1986 Mark Aarons, a dogged journalist with ABC radio, finally broadcast years of research. It was called "Nazis in Australia" and went to air on the Background Briefing program on April 13 1986. The program raised dramatic allegations and evidence about Nazi war criminals who had been allowed to emigrate to Australia, many with the knowledge of Australian authorities.
   The report and subsequent investigations ultimately led to the establishment in 1987 of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) within the Attorney General's portfolio. The SIU would investigate and prosecute under the now amended War Crimes Act 1945 any individuals found to be residing in Australia who had committed crimes against humanity during World War II. Mr Robert Greenwood, QC, was appointed the unit's first director. By the time of its forced closure by the Federal Government in June 1992, 834 cases had been referred to the SIU for investigation. 

     Mark Aarons supplied his own article for the same issue of the "Australia/Israel Review," entitled "Fingering the SS," in which he presents his findings on Ozols.

     Mr. Aarons wrote:

   Kārlis Ozols was not yet 30 when the Germans marched into Latvia in July 1941. A former law student at Riga University, he was well known as a chess player of international standard and had travelled widely in Europe to play in major competitions. Within a year, the then tall and slender young man was a member of a brutally efficient SS killing machine, the Arajs Kommando. Ozols' activities between July 1941, when the Nazis arrived in Latvia, and March 1942 when he can definitely be traced to a Nazi SD (Security Police) training school in Germany where he learned the fine points of mass murder, cannot be accounted for precisely. The Australian war crimes investigators of the Special Investigations Unit received a number of allegations that Ozols had been active in this period in mass shootings of the thousands of civilians herded into the Jewish ghetto in Riga.
   By some accounts Ozols was active in slaughtering Jews from the Riga ghetto in the Bikinieki forest, a site notorious in this period as the "role model" for the techniques adopted at similar mass exterminations throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Other accounts place him at the site of similar mass murders in and around Liepaja in the second half of 1941.

     Aarons described all the circumstantial evidence linking Ozols to the Arajs Kommandos (an elite killing squad) and sworn statements from a litany of eyewitnesses - former members of the Kommandos - that identified Ozols as a commander in that squad, for example:

   "I remember Kārlis Ozols well," Rudzitis said in his signed statement. "He was company commander and his rank was initially lieutenant and then senior lieutenant. At that time Ozols was about 30 years old, rather tall, slim and slender. "I personally served in the security police and SD company commanded by Ozols from the summer of 1942 to the autumn of 1943."
   He said that on one occasion towards the end of his term, he was ordered to guard the site of a mass execution, about twenty kilometres from Minsk. Ordered to stand guard about 200 metres from the grave, Rudzitis said that Kārlis Ozols was at the site where the Jews were being shot.
   Arnold Zuika had a similar story to tell me. He, too, had met his company commander, Kārlis Ozols, at the Furstenberg SD school, and was sent to Minsk in autumn 1942. "I took part in many operations to burn villages and arrest inhabitants in the environs of Minsk," he said in his signed statement. "I did all that on orders from Kārlis Ozols. We later sent (the) arrested civilians to Minsk.

     Private Zuika said in his statement that he remembered that Senior Lieutenant Ozols was "among the persons who executed peaceful Soviet civilians. He was armed with a sub-machine gun. Usually during such actions, Ozols was a little drunk, because he took alcoholic drinks before executions."
     In his signed statement, Libietis said: "I was ordered to guard the security police and SD building in Minsk, and also sent to guard warehouses outside the city of Minsk, approximately 20 kilometres away, which contained stolen belongings of Jews ... I do know that a number of people from the company under Ozols's command took part in the extermination of Soviet citizens outside Minsk, not far from the warehouse."

     Aarons presented much more evidence including official document implicating Ozols in the murders and corroboration by Canadians through their own investigations of possible Arajs Kommandos in Canada where Ozols' name had been often mentioned.

     Mr. Aarons summed up his article:

Reinis Libietis, Janis Prieditis, Paulius Rudzitis and Arnold Zuika all spent many years in prison for their relatively minor parts in the Nazis' mass extermination program in and around Minsk in 1942 and 1943.
In Melbourne, Kārlis Ozols, now nearly 85 years old, lives a quiet life. Unlike the privates I met in Riga in 1987, it seems that he will never be brought to justice.

     In his brief to the , former Director of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris presented all his damning evidence to the  Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution, recommending the prosecution of Ozols:

" is my view that the circumstances are so overwhelming and the period of time so long (14 months) that, putting aside evidence of direct killing by Ozols, a jury would find that, beyond reasonable doubt, he knew that his men were, upon his orders, either killing, assisting in the killing or guarding.
"Further, the evidence is equally strong that he knew that this was all done in the pursuit of a policy of genocide.I believe that knowledge can be established beyond reasonable doubt, and that upon further investigation, the evidence will probably become stronger."

     he continued:

"It seems to me that there is no reason why the further investigations that I have outlined cannot be completed within three months. The matter must be treated as one of the greatest urgency. I believe it would then take 3-4 weeks to collate the evidence. Once this was done, a final decision would be made to either lay charges or to end the investigation. I believe that the evidence establishes a prima facie case of a number of counts of war crimes. ... It would be wrong to shut the investigation down now. Justice demands that the investigation be completed."

     In September 1992, the Attorney General, Michael Duffy, advised the co-chairman of the World Jewish Congress, that the Ozols case had been considered by himself and Cabinet but that the SIU would be closed down and no prosecution would take place.
     After the shutting down of the SIU, much more evidence came to light with the availability of formerly restricted KGB documents. An example of such unimpeachable evidence shows that even in 1946Eriks Druvinsh testified that in July 1942 he came to Minsk as one of about 80 persons who formed an Arajs Kommando unit under the command of Ozols "who was also a famous chess player. Ozols was at Furstenberg school during March 1942 and June 1942, then returned to Minsk and took part in the liquidation of Jews kept in Minsk ghetto."

     This pushes aside any question that there might have been a different Kārlis Ozols.

     Ozols died in Melbourne at the age of 81. For most of his life in Australia he lived quietly with his wife Erika in Thomastown, an outer suburb of Melbourne. During the 1990s he was a frequent visitor to a Latvian retirement village wherein resided his boyhood friend Konrad Kalejs (another alleged war criminal), who had been deported from Canada.

After his death on March 23, 2001, the "Sydney Morning Herald" published this:

"Chess player. War criminal?, 1912-2001"

     In World War II in Minsk, Belarus, Sub-commandant Konrad Aleksandrs Ozols is alleged to have received a written order directing him to lead a unit into mass murder.
Half a century later, The Age in Melbourne questioned an Australian citizen, Kārlis Ozols, on his alleged involvement in Nazi war crimes.
     "It is all finished," he said. "No-one have I killed and I have never asked anyone to kill. I don't know anything. I have nothing to say."
     Some five years earlier, questioned by the same newspaper, he had acknowledged sympathy for the German occupation of his country, Latvia, while denying any collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of Jews.
     Ozols has died in Melbourne at the age of 88. For most of his life in Australia he lived quietly with his wife Erika in Thomastown, an outer suburb of Melbourne.
     During the 1990s he was a frequent visitor to a Latvian retirement village wherein resided his boyhood friend Konrad Kalejs (another alleged war criminal), who had been deported from Canada. Ozols's protestations of innocence were not accepted by the former chief of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris, QC.
     In a brief written for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Faris argued that a prima-facie case of genocide was sufficiently convincing for the prosecution of Ozols.  Similarly, The "Australian/Israel Review" and the writer Mark Aarons were so convinced of Ozols's guilt that they traced his life from the time he was a law
student in Riga in the late 1930s.
     Aarons's first public announcement of his investigations came witha series of broadcasts on ABC Radio in 1988.
     He described one massacre allegedly carried out when Ozols, officer in command of the Latvian security detachment, was 30. The victims were Jewish women and their children: ``Now silent, as if mesmerised by the hellish sight that confronted them, each of the women was pushed in front of the firing squad and dispatched with a single bullet to the back of the head. Some of the babies went into the pit alive."
Ozols was, to outward appearance, a gentle man; he was a well-educated lawyer, belonged to the Latvian establishment and was a brilliant international chess player. "He was," Aarons insists, "also a ruthless mass murderer."
     Ozols is alleged to have joined the Latvian Security Police (SD) in 1941 and to have been given charge of a platoon within two months.  In 1942 he had attended the SD's officer school in Furstenberg, Germany. In 1943 he was made a commander of a unit of the Latvian SD numbering 110 men - whose function was the execution of Jews at the killing pits outside Minsk, capital of Belarus.
     It was estimated that 12,000 people died as a result of Ozols's commands and it was asserted that he also killed with his own hands. Early in 1944 the unit
returned to Riga where his home was said to have been decorated with valuables stolen from Jewish victims.  In mid-1944 Ozols was promoted to the rank of Obersturmfuher (Lieutenant-Colonel) and was decorated. After the war he lived in Germany and continued to play chess internationally.  In 1949 he and Erika arrived in Melbourne on the passenger ship Mozzafari. Most of his working life was spent as a labourer in a brick factory. In 1956 he was naturalised. In the same year he became the Victorian chess champion. In 1958 he became the Australian chess champion.
     The Australian indictment of Kārlis Ozols began when his name appeared on the first list of alleged Nazi war criminals drawn up by the Simon Wiesenthal
Centre and tabled with the Federal Government in 1986.  In 1987 the Government's Special Investigation Unit (SIU) made Ozols one of its top priority cases.
     Aarons reported: "According to its second director, Graham Blewitt, his investigations established beyond doubt that the Kārlis Ozols who lives in Melbourne today is the same Kārlis Ozols (testified by three members of his unit) as their commanding officer in the Latvian killing unit which operated in and around Minsk in 1942 and 1943. The SIU, supported by a QC (Peter Faris), recommended that the then Keating government should prosecute Ozols under Australia's War Crimes Act."
     In fact the government did not proceed with the prosecution and the SIU was disbanded.
     Most people who knew Ozols met him through chess. They were staggered to learn of the allegations after knowing him for upwards of 30 years.  I spoke to several of them and all but one denied any friendship. A fellow Latvian, and a chess player, described him as  "wonderful company, witty and charming and a great speech maker".  When I asked this gentleman if he had any doubts about Ozols's guilt, he was offended. "There is no evidence," he claimed. "Ozols is a very common name in Latvia."
     During the 1960s Ozols taught chess to children in a Jewish club in St Kilda. One student was the academic and author Harry Rednor, who was horrified when he learnt of the allegations against Ozols.
   The journalist Martin Daley quotes Rednor as having said of Ozols: "He was very clipped, a very tight person who never looked us in the eye."
     Mark Aarons believes some Nazis were recruited into Australia by ASIO and that each government, from Chifley to Keating - Labor or Coalition - bears responsibility for a cover-up.  This view is supported by Eli Rosenbaum, who pursued Nazis on behalf of the US Justice Department.  Rosenbaum, on learning of the death of Ozols, said: "Any war criminal who lives in Australia - and there must be at least hundreds of them - knows that he is home free, so to speak."
     Latvian prosecutors are considering a posthumous prosecution of Ozols. He died in a nursing home after suffering dementia for some years and is survived by his wife.

     Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team summarizes Ozols:

Kārlis Ozols, a chess master born in Riga on 9 August 1912, was a leading member of the Arajs Kommando. Between 24 July 1942 and 27 September 1943 Ozols was a lieutenant in charge of a company of about 110 Latvian men stationed in Minsk. The principal tasks of the company were to guard SD installations, including the Minsk ghetto and nearby ghettos and concentration camps, to assist in the transportation and guarding of Jews selected to be killed and to guard the killing pits. They also sometimes killed the Jews at those pits. At Maly Trostinec, Ozols killed people (probably Jews) and commanded the Latvian SD guard there.
On 8 and 9 February 1943 Ozols and all of the 110 Latvians under his command assisted the Germans in killing more than 2,000 Jews of the Slutzk Ghetto after transporting them to pits outside the town. Ozols immigrated to Australia in 1949, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1956. He lived in relative anonymity in Melbourne, until in 1986 his wartime activities were exposed by an Australian journalist in a radio programme which also alleged that many Nazi war criminals had been allowed to immigrate to Australia, often with the knowledge of Australian authorities. In his 1979 testimony to German war crimes investigators, Ozols admitted his wartime role and rank and that he had been stationed at the places identified by witnesses and documents, while denying any killing of civilians. Despite the production of an overwhelming volume of evidence concerning Ozols complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity, in 1997 Australian Attorney-General Daryl Williams announced that the case against Ozols was closed. "In the Director of Public Prosecutions' view the existing material was insufficient and the incomplete case was referred to the Australian Federal Police," a statement said. "The AFP concluded that there was little chance of success in pursuing this case to finality." Subsequent documentation suggests that the investigation was not closed due to lack of evidence as previously claimed, but instead, as a result of budgetary considerations. Ozols died on 23 March 2001 in Australia.


    While Colin Martin Tatz, in his 2003 book, "With Intent to Destroy: Reflecting on Genocide," denigrating the Australian government's sense of denial, wrote:

In April 2001, when Obersturmführer Karlos Aleksandrs (Kārlis) Ozols, Latvian compadre of (the then late) Kalejs, died in Melbourne, the Australian Chess Federation posted a eulogistic 'Rest in Peace' on its website for this citizen, this former Australian chess champion, this 'witty and charming' alleged killer of at least 12,000 Jews in Latvia.


     In the following game, Lajos Steiner demonstrated to Kārlis Ozols how a Knight can outplay a bad Bishop. Peter Tamburro, in his book "Learn Chess from the Greats" called this "one of the most instructive games ever played":

The thumbnail/cover image depicts the Arajs Kommando in Latvia.


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