Nazi war crimes suspect arrested in Budapest | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.07.2012
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Nazi war crimes suspect arrested in Budapest

Alleged Nazi war criminal Laszlo Csatary has been taken into custody in Hungary after he was tracked down by British tabloid journalists in Budapest.

He was dressed neatly, ready for a nice day out. Dressed in new khaki pants, a fresh shirt, a grey-white checkered jacket and a cap, he left his apartment and took the tram to a nearby shopping center in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Laszlo Csatary did not feel watched when he went out for several hours, browsing through shops and buying a newspaper.

But Csatary was being watched. Reporters from the English mass-circulation daily The Sun were closely following his every move. They had received information from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which hunts down Nazi criminals and attempts to bring them to justice.

Already last September, the center had received infomation about Csatary's whereabouts and had contacted the Hungarian government about the matter. "But nothing happened," recalls Efraim Zuroff, the director of the center, which has Csatary listed as their most wanted Nazi war criminal.

Worldwide attention

Efraim Zuroff

Zuroff says Hungary has so far failed to help with the case

"We then passed the information on to ... The Sun, with which we have a sort of cooperation and which has already tracked down some other Nazi criminals in the past," Zuroff told DW. "Before that we got zero attention, but when The Sun had a picture of him in his underwear, all the world suddenly knew about him."

Csatary, 97, was found by the British journalists in a small apartment in Budapest where the reporters confronted him with his past. They say that Csatary was shocked and closed the door in their face, stuttering "No, no, go away."

Csatary is accused of being responsible for the deportation of some 16,000 Jews to Auschwitz from the Hungarian occupied part of Slovakia in 1941, where he was the police chief in the town of Kosice. It is also alleged that he was known for brutally abusing women with a whip, which he carried with him.

The Hungarian was sentenced to death in Yugoslavia in absentia in 1948, but had left Europe after the war to live in Canada, where he worked as an art dealer. In 1955 he was granted Canadian citizenship, which was later revoked in 1997 when details about his past emerged. But before he could be arrested in Toronto he returned to Hungary, where he has been living since then. 

German Wehrmacht soldiers

Many of the Wehrmacht crimes are still to be brought to justice - but time is running out

Hungarian authorities still hesitant

Hungarian authorities have now taken Csatary into custody for questioning, prosecutors said on Wednesday. They reportedly want to hold him under house arrest. They said that, given his age, he is in good health.

Efraim Zuroff hopes the investigation will get underway as soon as possible. He took over at the helm of the Wiesenthal center after the death of founder Simon Wiesenthal, and set his focus on the perpetrators of the Holocaust who are living in the Balkans.

In 2011, the Israeli historian published the book "Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice." But time is running out. The few Nazi criminals who are still alive are mostly over 90 years old and have only few years left to live. 

Yet murder does not fall under the statute of limitations, and the perpetrators can still be held accountable decades after the crime. The tracking down and "hunting" of the criminals is "incredible frustrating," said Zuroff. But the difficulties he experiences in his job are nothing, he says, compared to the pain and suffering of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Author: Arne Lichtenberg / ai
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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