(ADDS STUDENTS PROTEST, MORE DETAILS, REACTIONS)
Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungarian prosecutors were investigating reports Monday, July 16, that one of the world’s most wanted Nazi war crimes suspects, László Csatáry, is living in Budapest.
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On Sunday, July 15, the Nazi-hunting Israel-based Simon Wiesenthal Center confirmed that it reported the suspect’s whereabouts and handed over “new evidence” to Hungary to help prosecute the now 97-year-old man.
Csatáry was a police chief in the Slovakian city of Kosice, at the time part of Hungary, when he allegedly helped organize the 1944 deportation of some 15,700 Jews to the Nazi-run Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in German-occupied Poland.
He also played a “key role” in deporting some 300 Jews in the summer of 1941 to Ukraine where they were killed, the Center said.
Csatáry allegedly also treated Jews in a ghetto with cruelty, whipping women and forcing them to dig holes with their bare hands.
In 1948, a court in what was then Czechoslovakia condemned him to death for war crimes after a trial held in his absence.
Csatáry escaped to Canada where he worked as an art dealer in Montreal before being unmasked in the 1990s, forcing him to flee.
Authorities took away his Canadian citizenship in 1997 saying the man, who is also known as Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatáry, did not provide information about his collaboration with Nazi occupation forces while serving with the Royal Hungarian Police and “participation in the internment and deportation to concentration camps of thousands of Hungarian Jews.”
Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director, said his organization offered some $25,000 to a local man who provided information over Csatáry’s exact whereabouts as part of its “Operation Last Chance” meant to locate the last remaining Nazi war criminals alive.
“We negotiated with the source about the reward he would receive – and then he gave us the information,” ending a 15-year search for the man, he told reporters, adding that the informant will only get paid if Csatáry is convicted and punished.
As news emerged that he was found in Hungary’s capital, dozens of activists of the ‘European Union of Jewish Students’ group and symphatizers held a protest Monday, July 16, at the appartment building in an upscale part of Budapest where Csatáry is believed to have lived.
Some protesters, holding banners with “We never forget”, were seen denouncing his reported crimes while others stuck swastikas on the door of his two-room appartment.
The opposition Socialist Party urged Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt to indict him for war crimes, but officials stressed that wasn’t easy.
In a statement, Budapest’s assistant prosecutor general, Jenö Varga, said that “an investigation is under way” and that the prosecutor’s office “will study the information received.”
Prosecutors cautioned that their work is difficult as the events happened 68 years ago in an area that is now part of a different country.
There has been frustration within the Simon Wiesenthal Center about the perceived unwillingness of Hungary to detain war crimes suspects, who are often old and frail. Zuroff countered that the “passage of time in no way diminishes his guilt” and that in general “old age should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators.”
In total some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during World War Two. One out of every 10 Jews murdered in the Holocaust was of Hungarian descent.
Acting on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s information, British tabloid The Sun claimed on its website that it confronted Csatáry on his doorstep of his Budapest apartment. He denied any crimes and slammed the door in their faces, the paper reported.
He was photographed shopping and living a calm life in the Hungarian capital.
This was the fourth time that The Sun had cooperated with the Center in an attempt to put pressure on Hungarian officials, who were already informed in September that Csatáry was in Budapest, Zuroff said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has urged Hungarian prosecutors to put Csatáry on trial at a time of concerns over reported growing antisemitism in the country.
Several Holocaust memorial sites were attacked in recent weeks, and statues have been erected for Hungary’s controversial regent Miklós Horthy under whose leadership Hungary became an ally of Nazi-Germany in exchange for the return of territories it lost following World War One.
Under Horthy, Europe’s first anti-Jewish laws were introduced, banning the Jews from certain studies and later even marriages between non-Jews and Jewish people.
Hungary also commemorates this year the 100th birth anniversary of late Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews. There were also several others, including Christians, who rescued Jewish people in Eastern Europe.
This weekend dozens of elderly Poles who helped save Jews during World War Two gathered in the Polish capital Warsaw to be recognized by Jewish representatives who hailed them for their heroism. Such former rescuers, almost all of them Roman Catholics, deny that they are heroes and say it was their moral duty to save Jewish people from persecution and death.