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Hungary charges top Nazi war crimes suspect, 98

Hungarian prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 98-year-old top Nazi war crimes suspect over his brutal role in organising the deportation of some 12,000 Jews to World War II death camps.

Laszlo Lajos Csatari, who has been under house arrest in Budapest for a year, was "actively involved in and assisted the deportations" in 1944 of Jews from a ghetto in a town that was then Hungary and is now in Slovakia.

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 in a statement.

He also refused to cut windows in train wagons into which some 80 people would be transported in "inhuman circumstances" with no fresh air, they said.

The Jewish population of Kassa and the surrounding area were rounded up and squeezed into a ghetto in the town by local police following the occupation of Hungary by German troops in March 1944.

Kassa is now known as Kosice in Slovakia.

Prosecutors say Csatari was from May 1944 the commander of a collection and deportation camp subsequently set up in a brick factory in the ghetto. The Jews were then crammed into cargo trains and sent to Nazi concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz.

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.

He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1948 by a court in what was then Czechoslovakia but he made it to Canada where he lived and worked as an art dealer before being stripped of his citizenship there in the 1990s.

He ended up in Budapest where he lived freely until prosecutors began investigating his case in September 2011 on the basis of information provided by the Wiesenthal Center, and he was placed under house arrest last July.

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 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 who was 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 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.

In 2011 a court in Budapest acquitted Hungarian Sandor Kepiro, 97, of charges of ordering the execution of over 30 Jews and Serbs in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942.

The Wiesenthal Center described the verdict as an "outrageous miscarriage of justice." Six weeks later Kepiro died.

[Source: AFP, Budapest, 18Jun13]

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