On April 20, 1987, Karl Linnas was returned by the United States to the Soviet Union under a sentence of death for war crimes. Out of thousands who had immigrated into the US after World War II, Linnas was the first Nazi war criminal who was extradited.
In 1961, the Soviet Union sentenced Linnas to death in absentia for numerous crimes against the people of Estonia.
Linnas, as the head of the Tartu concentration camp and a member of "the Omakaitse" (or Home Guard) who ran the camps during the years of war, was convicted of supervising the execution of an estimated 12,000 civilians (including women and children) at the Tartu concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Estonia in1941 - 1944.
Only when the Soviet Red Army defeated the Germans and freed Estonia of Nazi occupation in 1944 did the brutal killings stop.
Linnas managed to escape after the war to the United States in 1951 where he worked as a teacher in a school on Long Island, New York. In 1963, Russia made a formal request for his extradition, but the request was refused since the two nations did not have an extradition treaty. But when an investigations office was formed in the United States, the case was reopened and a trial began.
Ramsey Clark, the lawyer who defended Linnas in court, claimed that hunting Nazi war criminals was wrong on principle.
“I oppose the idea of regenerating hatreds and pursuits forty years after the fact,” Clark said.
But the prosecutor responded, “The passage of time does not mitigate what they have done, and it doesn’t excuse it.”
One witness, a prisoner at the Tartu camp, said he saw Linnas on one occasion helping a little girl onto a bus that was leading a group of people to an execution ditch. Linnas, the witness said, was smiling and encouraging the girl onto the vehicle.
On a different occasion, another witness said that Linnas fired his pistol into the ditch to finish off civilians.
The court decided that evidence against Linnas contained incontestable proof that he was a mass murderer. Linnas was convicted, and after several appeals the US revoked Linnas, who was 67 years old at the time, of his American citizenship and he was extradited to the Soviet Union.
Karl Linnas died of heart disease a few months after his arrival in the Soviet Union on July 2, 1987.