, BUDAPEST, June 18 – Hungarian prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 98-year-old top Nazi war crimes suspect over his brutal alleged role in deporting some 12,000 Jews to death camps in World War II.
Laszlo Lajos Csatari was “actively involved in and assisted the deportations” in 1944 of Jews from a ghetto in a town then in Hungary and now in Slovakia, prosecutors said in a statement.
The former police officer “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 requests to cut windows into airless train wagons each transporting around 80 men, women and children to death camps in Nazi-occupied Europe, mostly Auschwitz in Poland, prosecutors said.
The Jewish population in and around Kassa were crammed into the ghetto following the occupation of Hungary by German troops in 1944 after the country’s dictator and former ally was deposed by Hitler.
Kassa is now known as Kosice and is in Slovakia and Lucia Kollarova, spokeswoman for the country’s Federation of Jewish Communities, told AFP that the organisation would prefer Csatari to be extradited to Slovakia.
“We don’t believe he will be ever actually sentenced because of his age,” she said on Tuesday.
Slovakia, which has commuted a death sentence handed down on Csatari by a Czechoslovakian court in absentia in 1948 to life imprisonment, has not yet made an official extradition request to Hungary.
Hungarian prosecutors say Csatari, who has been under house arrest in Budapest for a year, was from May 1944 the commander of a collection and deportation camp in the ghetto.
Csatari, whose full name is Laszlo Csizsik-Csatari, sometimes spelt Csizsik-Csatary, tops the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of alleged Nazi war criminals.
After being sentenced to death in absentia in 1948 he made it to Canada where he lived and worked as an art dealer before being stripped of his citizenship in the 1990s.
He returned to Budapest where he lived until prosecutors began investigating his case in late 2011 on the basis of information from the Wiesenthal Center.
British tabloid newspaper The Sun helped bring attention to his case after tracking down the old man, photographing him and confronting him at his front door.
Last July, the silver-haired Csatari appeared at a closed-door court hearing and denied all the accusations against him. At the time, the state prosecutor said he was in good mental and physical health.
The Wiesenthal Center welcomed on Tuesday the charges as a “significant milestone” for Hungary that sends “an important message that people like Csatary are criminals rather than patriotic heroes”.
It urged Hungary to expedite the trial in view of his advanced age. Prosecutors said it has to begin within 90 days.
In recent years, the authorities in Europe have made renewed efforts to bring to justice the dwindling number of people still alive who were involved in the Holocaust.
Most notable was Ukrainian-born former Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk, deported from the United States in 2009 and sentenced in Germany in 2011 to five years in prison for complicity in some 28,000 murders.
He died at a nursing home last year aged 91 while freed awaiting an appeal.
The Demjanjuk verdict, stating that simply having worked at an extermination camp is enough to establish complicity in murder, set something of a precedent and Germany is now investigating around 50 suspected ex-Auschwitz guards.
Last month, a 93-year-old alleged former Auschwitz guard, named as Hans Lipschis by the Wiesenthal Center, was arrested in Germany. He reportedly told the authorities that he worked as a cook, not a guard.