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Laszlo Csatary charged with crimes against humanity, yet legal hurdles stand in way Photo: Reuters
Laszlo Csatary charged with crimes against humanity, yet legal hurdles stand in way Photo: Reuters
 
 

Legal tangles foil Jews' quest for justice

For Holocaust survivors and their families in Kosice, a once bustling town in eastern Slovakia turned wartime ghetto, bringing world's most wanted Nazi collaborator to justice is a slow and painful task

AFP
Published: 08.05.13, 08:03 / Israel Jewish Scene

For Holocaust survivors and their families in Kosice, a once bustling town in eastern Slovakia turned wartime ghetto, bringing the world's most wanted Nazi collaborator to justice is a slow and painful task.

 

The town's small Jewish community welcomed Laszlo Csatary's arrest in his native Hungary last year, after he was tracked down via information from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center.

 

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Csatary was charged with crimes against humanity, suspected of having a hand in deporting nearly 16,000 Jews from Kosice – then part of Hungary and known as Kassa – and nearby villages to death camps in World War II.

 

But while both Hungary and Slovakia want Csatary to answer for his alleged crimes, legal hurdles have prevented the 98-year-old – said to be in good health – from standing in the dock.

 

The Federation of Slovak Jewish Communities has urged authorities to overcome the deadlock quickly.

 

"We don't believe he will ever actually be sentenced because of his age," said federation spokeswoman Lucia Kollarova of the top known living Nazi suspect.


Pavol Salamon inside Jewish synagogue in Kocice, Slovakia (Photo: AFP)

 

Csatary is accused of helping run a ghetto for Jews from Kosice and nearby areas after German Nazi troops occupied Hungary in 1944.

 

Hungarian prosecutors say he "regularly beat the interned Jews with his bare hands and whipped them with a dog-whip for no special reason, regardless of their sex, age or health".

 

He allegedly also refused requests to cut windows into airless train wagons, each transporting around 80 men, women and children to death camps.

 

After the war he fled to Canada and worked as an art dealer before being stripped of his citizenship in 1997 for lying about his wartime actions. He returned to Budapest and lived undisturbed until his arrest.

 

"It's alarming that he was able to live peacefully for so many years," said Kosice-born Pavol Salamon, researcher at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest.

 

Salamon's mother Edita, now 89, was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 19.

 

"She only saw Csatary once while in the Kosice brick factory deportation camp but she has heard about him from witnesses. He was tall and handsome, and extremely brutal. He definitely did more than was asked of him by the Germans."

 

'He can't just walk away without any punishment'

In July of last year, the silver-haired Csatary appeared at a closed-door hearing in Budapest to deny all the accusations.

 

He has since been under house arrest in Hungary, blocking him from standing trial in Slovakia.

 

For Kosice's dwindling Jewish community – which numbers around 300, including a few dozen Holocaust survivors – the horrors of Nazi rule remain all too present.

 

"I saw Csatary on TV and was frightened by the look in his eyes," Marta Gyoriova told AFP.

 

"He must have looked into my mother's eyes the same way before he sent her to Auschwitz where she lost her first husband and two children," the 66-year-old said, visibly shaken.

 

"My mother was a very skilled embroiderer and the wives of German generals loved her works -- that's what saved her life.

 

"She returned to Kosice after the war and met my father, who also lost his first wife and three children in Auschwitz," Gyoriova said.

 

At the heart of the legal wrangle is that a Hungarian court suspended the case against Csatary on July 8 on the grounds of double jeopardy: A communist-era Slovak court in Kosice had already sentenced him to death in absentia in 1948 for the war crimes.

 

The Budapest court said it has to examine if the Slovak sentence is valid in Hungary and whether he can serve it there.

 

On July 11 the Kosice court indefinitely postponed a public hearing against him, when Csatary failed to show due to his house arrest in Budapest.

 

Court spokeswoman Marcela Galova said it had not received confirmation that Csatary had seen the court's subpoena.

 

Once it is served, the court can rule in his absence and issue a European arrest warrant that would allow Slovakia to ask Hungary for his extradition, according to Mikulas Buzgo, Csatary's Slovak public defender.

 

In a bid to smooth the way for his extradition, Slovakia commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment in April, capital punishment having been abolished.

 

Salamon says the Kosice Jewish community is not seeking revenge against Csatary, but justice.

 

"I'm indifferent to him, but a democratic country can't just let him walk away without any punishment. It would send the wrong message to people and society."

 

 

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