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Man tied to 1944 murder of Jewish teen in Budapest dies at 96

Australia’s Charles Zentai was detained in 2009 after Hungary demanded his extradition in the case, but the request was denied by local authorities

Charles Zentai (YouTube screenshot)
Charles Zentai (YouTube screenshot)

A man who was briefly imprisoned in Australia in 2009 in connection with the 1944 murder of a Jewish teenager in Hungary has died at the age of 96.

Charles Zentai was detained as per the Hungarian government’s request for his extradition to answer questions on the killing in Budapest of 18-year-old Peter Balazs. Zentai was freed after Australia denied a request for his extradition.

Balazs was dragged from a tram because he was not wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David. He was beaten to death in an army barracks and his body was dumped in the Danube River. Balazs was living in Budapest under the protection of the Swiss government.

Zentai’s son Ernie Steiner told the media: “My father was an extremely kind and gentle and loving man. He was falsely accused and we were never allowed to produce evidence of his innocence in Australia.”

In 2009, O’Connor determined that Zentai should be surrendered to the Republic of Hungary to face prosecution for a war crimes offense, but Zentai appealed and won. An Australian judge said the government did not have the power to extradite Zentai because the war crimes charge did not exist in Hungary at the time of Balazs’s murder.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said from Jerusalem: “The fact that Karoly [Charles] Zentai died a free man without being tried for his crimes is a testament to the complete failure of the Australian government to hold the Nazi war criminals and collaborators who found a refuge in Australia accountable for their role in the implementation of the Nazis’ Final Solution of European Jewry.

“While Australia deserves credit for passing a special law to enable prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators living in the country, its judiciary failed to punish any of those brought to trial, and its political leadership closed down the Special Investigations Unit established to investigate these cases long before it should have,” Zuroff said.

A 2006 US government-commissioned report accused Australia of having “an ambivalent” attitude to hunting Nazi war criminals in particular, and a “lack of the requisite political will.” No accused Nazi war criminal has ever been punished in Australia, the council noted.

“The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom all have a far better record than Australia in bringing war criminals to justice, extraditing them and stripping them of citizenship,” its statement read.

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