By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Sandor Kepiro, a former Hungarian police officer who was recently acquitted of Holocaust-era war crimes charges, has died at the age of 97, his family and lawyer said Saturday, September 3.
Kepiro was on the most wanted list of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center for his alleged involvement in the killing of 36 Jews and Serbs in the Serbian city of Novi Sad in 1942.
However on July 18, a court in Budapest declared him “not-guilty” citing “a lack of evidence.” His lawyer appealed the ruling saying it did not go far enough, while prosecutors also appealed, backed by outraged Simon Wiesenthal and Serbian officials.
Hungarian forces shot and killed at least 1,200 Jews, Serbs and Roma, also known as Gypsies, within just three days, near the Danube river in Novi Sad, historians say.
In total some 3,000 people were killed by Hungarians in that cold January, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.
NOVI SAD MASSACRE
The bloodshed became known as “the massacre of Novi Sad”, named after the city where the killings took place.
Kepiro’s lawyer Zsolt Zetenyi said doctors did not provide a cause of his client’s death. But in a statement he claimed the trial “significantly contributed” to the worsening of his health.
During the trial, Kepiro could already be seen in a wheelchair, connected to an infusion device and with half closed eyes, surrounded by female helpers.
However his acquittal was viewed as controversial by trial observers. The prosecution called the acquittal by a panel of three judges “unfounded.”
They point out that Kepiro was already sentenced in the 1940s over his alleged involvement in deadly raids and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He was released by Hungary’s fascist government.
Additionally, Kepiro never really denied that he was involved in rounding up people. “No I don’t regret it, it was my obligation,”he told a reporter earlier. Yet, when the extend of the trial became clear he later said about those who died: “I am not guilty, and I have always lived a decent life.”
Since 1996 Kepiro lived in Budapest after hiding for decades in Argentina, a favorite destination for Nazi-suspects. Hungary came in action when the Wiesenthal Center reported in 2006 that he lived in an apartment in Budapest. Opposite a synagogue.
Throughout the trial, Simon Wiesenthal Director Efraim Zuroff made clear he has no doubts that Kepiro killed many people. He urged judges and others to overlook the old age related health problems of Kepiro at the time.
“Time does not diminish the guilt of the killers and old age should not protect those who committed such heinous crimes,” he said. On Saturday, however, Kepiro’s time had run out.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust. With at least 100,000 people Hungary still boosts one of Eastern Europe’s largest Jewish communities outside Russia.