By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungarian authorities on Wednesday, July 18, detained László Csatáry, who topped the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “most wanted” list for allegedly deporting nearly 16,000 Hungarian Jews to death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, and other war crimes.
The 97-year-old Hungarian man has been charged with the “unlawful torture of human beings,” which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, said Tibor Ibolya, Budapest’s acting chief prosecutor.
Ibolya told reporters that police detained the man, who is also known as Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatáry, at dawn from “an address to which he had no connection until now,” amid concerns he may try to flee.
He was later placed under house arrest after being taken into custody and questioned as a war crimes suspect, officials said. It was not immediately clear when he would face a court hearing.
His capture came amid mounting on Hungary to detain Csatáry. On Monday, July 16, dozens of activists of the ‘European Union of Jewish Students’ group and sympathizers protested at the apartment building in Budapest where Csatáry is believed to have lived.
“WE NEVER FORGET”
Some protesters, holding banners with “We never forget”, were seen denouncing his reported crimes while others stuck swastikas on the door of his two-room apartment.
Csatáry was nowhere to be seen as he reportedly lived in at least two separate Budapest apartments during the last few months.
On Sunday, July 15, the Simon Wiesenthal Center confirmed said it reported the suspect’s whereabouts and handed over “new evidence” to Hungary to help prosecute him.
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Csatáry was a police chief in the Slovakian city of Kosice, at the time part of Hungary, when he allegedly helped organize the 1944 deportation of some 15,700 Jews to the Nazi-run Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in German-occupied Poland.
He also played a “key role” in deporting some 300 Jews in the summer of 1941 to Ukraine where they were killed, the Center said.
GHETTO CRUELTY ALLEGATIONS
Csatáry also treated Jews in a ghetto with cruelty, whipping women and forcing them to dig holes with their bare hands, according to investigators.
In 1948, a court in what was then Czechoslovakia condemned him to death for war crimes after a trial held in his absence. Csatáry escaped to Canada where he worked as an art dealer in Montreal before being unmasked in the 1990s, forcing him to flee and eventually ended up in Budapest.
News that the convicted Nazi war criminal was living freely in Hungary for years has underscored international concerns about growing antisemitism in Hungary and the revival of the far-right, which was largely dormant under Hungary’s Communist era that ended over two decades ago.
This week Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Ant-Semitism, is in Budapest to discuss extremism, the United States embassy in Budapest said Wednesday, July 18.
Her visit follows several attacks against Holocaust memorials and the placing of statues for controversial head of state Miklós Horthy who allied this nation with Nazi-Germany.
Additionally there is concern about the Hungarian government’s decision to include Anti-Semitic writers like Albert Wass and József Nyirő, a supporter of Hungary’s pro-Nazi Arrow Cross regime, into the curriculum for schools.
Other incidents include the verbal assault of a 90-year-old rabbi, József Schweitzer when a stranger came up to him in the street and said “I hate all Jews!”
The decision by Hungarian parliament chairman László Kövér to attend a ceremony in May honoring Nyiro, prompted Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to return Hungary’s highest honor in disgust.
The speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, withdrew an invitation to Kover to a ceremony this month in Israel commemorating Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War Two.
Others go even further with Ákos Kertész, an 80-year-old prize-winning Jewish Hungarian writer, applying for political asylum in Canada.
Earlier, well-known Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff said he would no longer perform in his native country because of the increasingly hostile environment towards Jews and other minorities such as gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma.
“On the Internet I have been insulted as a ‘filthy Jew’,” Schiff told a German newspaper.
“I am disgusted at how anti-Semitic baiting has become acceptable in Hungary.”
The center-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has denied it allows antisemitism to flourish, but critics say it has not done enough to distance itself from the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), an influential parliamentary party.