RIGA, Latvia — Margers Vestermanis had hoped that seeing a Nazi on trial in Latvia would bring some justice for his parents and sister, who were among 12,000 Jews shot to death, one by one, by Nazi guards in a forest 60 years ago.

That hope is gone, after the defendant, Konrad Kalejs, died at age 88 in a nursing home bed last month. And the 76-year-old Vestermanis now says he doubts Latvia will ever bring alleged Nazis to court.

"All that I hope for now is that they will be judged in heaven by a far harsher court," he said, speaking from his office at the Jewish Museum in Riga, the capital of this Baltic Sea coast nation.

Kalejs' death has raised questions in this former Soviet republic and elsewhere about whether the hunt for remaining Nazi war criminals, now in their 80s and 90s, has outlived its usefulness and should be abandoned.

In an October interview with Australia's The Sunday Telegraph, the world's most famous Nazi hunter, 94-year-old Simon Wiesenthal, raised those issues himself — and offered a surprising conclusion.

"Even if there are any that I had not looked for that are still alive, it is too late to bring them to justice," Wiesenthal was quoted as saying. "They would be too old now, so my work is done."

Questions of justice are particularly poignant here this weekend.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 12,000 Latvian Jews, including Vestermanis' family, were marched some 6 miles from a Riga ghetto to Rumbula forest. Victims were stripped, kicked through a gauntlet, then shot in the head.

A week earlier, another 12,000 Jews were similarly executed in open sand pits at Rumbula. Altogether, some 80,000 Jews were killed in Latvia during the 1941-44 Nazi occupation.

On his office desk, Vestermanis has newspaper clippings about Kalejs, indicted last year by prosecutors in his Latvian homeland for serving as a guard at a concentration camp in Salaspils, near Rumbula. Many inmates, including Jews and Russian prisoners of war, were shot or starved, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors couldn't find evidence to tie Kalejs directly to the killings at Rumbula, although Jewish groups alleged that he was an officer in the Arajs Kommando, a Nazi-sponsored death squad that did take part.

Had he not died in an Australia nursing home last month, his trial could have started as soon as next year. Latvia had requested his extradition from Australia, though that process hadn't been completed.

A Lithuanian court in February handed down the only conviction in the region since the 1991 Soviet collapse against Kazys Gimzauskas for his role in a Nazi-backed police unit, but the 93-year-old was spared a prison sentence for health reasons.

Lithuania also put alleged Nazi Aleksandras Lileikis on trial in 1998. He showed up in court once, but began gasping and was rushed away in an ambulance.

His trial was repeatedly delayed on health grounds until he died last year at the age of 93, before a verdict was reached.

Ephraim Zuroff, a head of the Nazi-hunting body that bears Wiesenthal's name, the Wiesenthal Center, said he believes it's important to keep up the pursuit.

"The most immoral thing we can do is close the book and tell every one of these murderers that they're off the hook," Zuroff said.

He said some 7,000 Nazis were convicted in the two decades following World War II, most of them in Germany, although the number has tapered off to a couple convictions each year.

Just two Nazis have been convicted in the ex-Soviet bloc since the collapse of communism — one in Croatia and one, of Gimzauskas, in Lithuania, he said.