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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspodent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewslife)– The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center has welcomed a decision by Hungarian authorities to charge one of the world’s most wanted war crimes suspects with involvement in abusing Jews and assisting in their murder during World War Two.
At 98, László Csatáry appears a frail old man who needs assistance when walking. Yet, Hungarian prosecutors and Holocaust survivors see in him the police chief who was involved in deporting at least 12,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.
Hungarian prosecutors said in a statement that Csatáry was “actively involved in and assisted the deportations” in 1944 of Jews from a ghetto in a town that was then Hungary and is now in Slovakia.
The former police officer, who has been under house arrest in Budapest for a year, “regularly beat the interned Jews with his bare hands and whipped them with a dog-whip without any special reasons, regardless of their sex, age or health.”
Prosecutors said he also refused to cut windows in train wagons into which some 80 people would be transported in “inhuman circumstances” with no fresh air.
ATTACKING JEWISH POPULATION
The Jewish population of Kassa and the surrounding area were rounded up and squeezed into a ghetto in the town by local police following the occupation of Hungary by German troops in March 1944, according to investigators.
Kassa is now known as Kosice in Slovakia.
He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1948 by a court in what was then Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.
However Csatáry escaped to Canada where he lived and worked as an art dealer for decades before leaving in 1997 when he was due to appear at a deportation hearing.
He ended up in Budapest where he lived freely until prosecutors began investigating his case in September 2011 amid pressure from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The group’s director, Efraim Zuroff, strongly denied that he is too old to be prosecuted. “I think of a man who at the height of his physical powers devoted all his time and energy to persecuting and murdering innocent men, women and children,” said Zuroff, who plans to attend the trial.
Hungary had come under pressure to prosecute war crimes suspects after a court in Budapest acquitted 97-year-old Hungarian Sándor Képíró of charges of ordering the execution of over 30 Jews and Serbs in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942. He died six weeks later.
Besides Hungary, other former Communist countries such a Poland are under pressure to prosecute alleged war criminals. On Tuesday, Polish prosecutors said they are reviewing files on a Minnesota man who was a commander in a notorious Nazi-led unit to see if they contain enough evidence to press charges and request extradition from the United States.
Michael Karkoc, who is 94, allegedly entered the U.S. by lying to American authorities about his leadership role in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, which is accused of massacres including burning down villages in Poland during World War Two.
The trial of Csatáry, expected within three months, comes at a time when Hungary has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle both its controversial past as a former ally of Nazi-Germany and renewed antisemitism here.
Amid an international outcry, István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, recently ordered a review of the city council’s decision to name one of the streets after a Hungarian author known for her anti-Semitic views.
Budapest’s city council voted to name one of the Hungarian capital’s streets after Cécile Tormay, a Hungarian novelist who died in 1937.
The Federation of Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) in Hungary said her writings and opinions became “a standard for anti-Semitic leading figures of the Hungarian political life”, including Miklos Horthy – Hungary’s pro-Nazi ruler during the 1940s. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war.
Mazsihisz also expressed concerns about anti-Semitism in the court after its office received a package containing white powder which unknown parties had sent. The group recently hosted the World Jewish Congress general assembly, prompting protests by hundreds of neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists linked to the far right Jobbik party who opposed the event in Budapest.
In April, Jewish worshipers discovered that anti-Semitic slogans had been spray-painted on the facade of a synagogue in the city of Vac, north of Budapest, while a nearby Jewish cemetery was desecrated and at least two of its robust headstones were smashed.
Hungarian police said they were investigating the incident, but Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has come under international pressure to more openly distance himself from Jobbik and its perceived antisemitic rethoric . Orbán has acknowledged anti-Semitism was on the rise in the country at a time of economic crisis, but said his government had a “zero-tolerance” towards it.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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