Lithuania has concluded the first phase of a study aimed at identifying over a thousand Lithuanians suspected of killing Jews in the Baltic state during Holocaust, a senior researcher said Friday.
Terese Birute Burauskaite, head of the Vilnius-based Genocide and Resistance Research Center, told Agence France Presse she will make a full list of suspected war criminals available to justice authorities.
"Historians have reviewed 4,268 names mentioned publicly. Following our investigations, it was reduced to 1,034 people," Burauskaite told AFP, adding she expected that number to double as the investigation is completed by the end of next year.
"Our historians believe there could have been around two thousand people (in Lithuania) who murdered Jews" during World War II, Burauskaite said.
"These are people who probably held the gun in their hand," she stressed.
A five-member team launched the investigation in 2010 after an Israeli website published a controversial list of possible war criminals, including respected top anti-Soviet fighters, causing outrage in Lithuania.
Burauskaite said historians found no evidence that the leaders of the 50,000-strong Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance movement in 1944-1953 could have participated in the Holocaust.
Researchers say it is up to prosecutors to decide whether the list will be made public.
A majority of those on it were already sentenced by Soviet authorities, some to death, and Lithuania "has no information that any murderer of Jews is now living in Lithuania," Burauskaite said.
During World War II, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 under Moscow's secret pact with Nazi Germany, and later the Soviets deported over 17,000 Lithuanians to Siberia.
Germany then drove out the Red Army when it invaded the USSR in 1941.
Some Lithuanians hailed the Germans as liberators, hoping they would grant Lithuania a measure of sovereignty. Anti-Semitic propaganda was spread blaming the Jews for the terror of the Soviet occupation.
Under the Nazi German occupation of Lithuania in 1941-1944, around 195,000 Lithuanian Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators.
No more than 5-10% of the country's pre-war Jewish population of over 200,000 survived the Holocaust.
Dubbed the "Jerusalem of the North", prior to WWII Lithuania's capital Vilnius was a major hub of Jewish culture and learning.