Hungary must bring Laszlo Csatary to justice

An open letter to Hungarian President Janos Ader upon his visit to Israel

Ladislaus Csatary (screenshot from the Sun)
Ladislaus Csatary (screenshot from the Sun)

Welcome to Israel, President Ader. It is indeed an auspicious occasion that has prompted your visit to Jerusalem. Raoul Wallenberg was one of the greatest of Righteous among the Nations, and it is fitting that his one-hundredth birthday will be marked at the Knesset of the Jewish State, which is now the home of so many of the Jews he helped save.

Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary (screen shot from the Sun)
Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary (screen shot from the Sun)

The timing of your arrival is also very auspicious, coming in the wake of the internationally widespread public exposure two days ago of the presence in Budapest, unprosecuted, of Ladislaus “Laszlo” Csatary, the number-one suspect on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals. Csatary was a senior police officer in Kassa (Kosice, then under Hungarian rule, today in Slovakia) during the entire period of World War II, and played a key role in two major operations that led to the deaths of many thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The most lethal of them was the mass deportation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp of approximately 15,700 Jews from Kassa and the surrounding area, which took place from May 19 until the night between June 3 and 4, 1944. The deportations were preceded by more than three weeks of ghettoization, during which the Jews were subjected to very difficult living conditions in two different ghettos. The commander of one of which was Csatary, who was known as a cruel sadist, who frequently for no apparent reason beat ghetto inmates with a dog whip.

The second operaton was the deportation to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine, and the subsequent murder, of about 300 Jews from Kassa who either were not Hungarian citizens or were unable to prove citizenship. Recently, I interviewed a survivor of Kassa who currently lives in Australia. Nine of her relatives were among those deported and killed there, and she related a story that clearly shows Csatary’s zeal to rid his city of Jews. Four of her uncles had already been drafted into the labor service battalions, but Csatary made it his business to bring them back to Kassa, so that they could be permanently removed from the city.

Contrary to many of the press reports, I discovered Csatary in Budapest almost a year ago, and already submitted the information on his whereabouts and crimes to the Hungarian prosecutors in September 2011, hoping that they would expedite the case given Csatary’s age. But months have gone by, and he has not even been officially declared a suspect and had his passport taken away. In my meeting last week in Budapest with prosecutor Dr. Gabor Hetenyi, I submitted new details on the case and identity of Csatary’s victims, but even yesterday, the spokesperson for the prosecution gave no indication that the case would be given any priority or that it would be expedited given the special circumstances.

The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers, and old age should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators. Csatary’s numerous victims, like all those annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators, necessitate that a serious effort be made to hold their murderers and anyone complicit in their murders accountable. Csatary is currently healthy and able to stand trial, but who knows how much longer that will still be the case.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Hungarian President Janos Ader in Jerusalem on Tuesday (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Hungarian President Janos Ader in Jerusalem on Tuesday (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

President Ader, your visit to Jerusalem is a most appropriate occasion to publically guarantee that the Hungarian authorities will do everything possible to help bring this criminal to justice and make sure that such a public pronouncement will indeed be followed up by the requisite practical and judicial steps. One of the most effective ways to combat the rising wave of anti-Semitism, racism, and right-wing extremism in Hungary is to bring to justice those who were inspired to commit Holocaust crimes by the same ultranationalism that is once again rearing its ugly head in your country.

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Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. The Hungarian edition of his most recent book “Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice” (Az Utolso Esely Akcio) was published last week in Hungary by Hetek Konyvek.

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