ONE of the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminals, Sandor Kepiro, 97, goes on trial in Hungary on Thursday charged with the murder of 36 people in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 1942.
With the trial of another Nazi war criminal, Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, nearing its end in Germany, Kepiro’s trial could be one of the last of its kind, says Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who tracked down the former gendarmerie officer in Budapest in 2006.
Nevertheless, “the indictment of Kepiro sends a powerful message that the passage of time does not diminish the guilt of the killers and that old age should not protect those who committed such heinous crimes,” Zuroff said in a recent statement.
The trial offered a chance for justice to finally be done “so that the people of Novi Sad and their families and the victims of the mass murders carried out by the Hungarian forces in January 1942 … can finally achieve a measure of closure, even if it is many years after the crimes.”
The trial is scheduled to begin at the Budapest Municipal Court on Thursday, with six days so far set aside for hearings in May.
But it is not yet clear how long the trial may last altogether or when a verdict can be expected.
Kepiro topped the Wiesenthal list of most wanted Nazi war criminals after proceedings started against the 90-year-old John Demjanjuk.
In the case of Demjanjuk, who is being tried in Munich for helping to kill 27,900 Jews during his alleged time as a Nazi death camp guard, a verdict could come as soon as May 12, although there have been several delays, due mainly to the man’s poor health.
Like Demjanjuk, Kepiro denies all of the charges against him, insisting that he killed no one and was only following orders. But he was already found guilty of the crimes in Novi Sad as far back as 1944 in Hungary and then again in 1946.
In 1944, a 10-year jail sentence against him was quashed. He was sentenced again to 14 years in 1946, this time under the communists, but did not serve any time in prison, because he fled to Argentina where he remained for half a century.
Zuroff at the Simon Wiesenthal Center tracked him down in Budapest, where he has been living since returning to Hungary on a Hungarian passport in 1996.
Kepiro was found using the centre’s Operation Last Chance program, which is co-managed by the US-based Targum Shlishi foundation and is specifically aimed at helping governments locate former Nazis war criminals in Austria, Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia and in Baltic countries.
Kepiro, for his part, is suing Zuroff for defamation, and the hearing for that case is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.
Kepiro’s defence is provided by the National Legal Foundation, headed by Tamas Nagy Gaudi, a member of parliament of the far-right Jobbik party.
The Wiesenthal Center’s “most wanted” list includes another Hungarian, Karoly (Charles) Zentai, now an Australian citizen, who is accused of participating in the murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944.