New Zealand’s Nazi Hunter

July 24, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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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.

John Keir

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.

Wayne Stringer

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 New Zealand.

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 everything.”

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 Productions Ltd.

“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 life.

“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 9.

Comments

2 Responses to “New Zealand’s Nazi Hunter”
  1. Mauro says:

    This is almost unbelievable – I am now curious to know what has happened to the accused who is/was living on the north shore of Auckland ??? – Hopefully he has been dealt with summarily –
    Mauro Zanderigo
    Auckland
    New Zealand

  2. Peter says:

    It should be known that New Zealand is the only English speaking country which refused to prosecute any Nazi war criminal involved in the Holocaust, which is ironic since Jews have played an early role in the substantial contribution to life in New Zealand since the beginning of colonial days, serving in the armed forces, as judges, prominent businessmen, active in communal charities and in politics including the current Prime Minister whose mother was a Jewish refugee who came to New Zealand in 1939. That not one of these German and their Lithuanian collaborators was ever charged is an embarrassment. It is nice that this documentary will be shown but where were the authorities 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago when these murderers were enjoying a good life in our country while their victims, who comprised innocent civilians – men, women, children, babies and the elderly – were murdered in cold blood and buried mass graves throughout the countryside of Lithuania?

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