One of World War II’s most sadistic Nazis lived openly in Budapest in recent years, but has apparently slipped into hiding as an international manhunt closed in on him.
Laszlo Csatary, now 97, has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for his role in sending nearly 16,000 Jews to their deaths.
“He was particularly sadistic,” said Peter Feldmajer, the president of the Jewish community in Hungary. “He created a camp for torturing the rich so they would confess where they have hidden the money.”
Laszlo Karsai, Hungary’s top holocaust historian whose grandmother died in Auschwitz, said Csatary was “very sadistic.”
“There are two testimonies of German officers in Kosice who had to stop him from torturing Jewish women. He made women dig holes in the ground with their bare hands,” Karsai told ABC News.
“But what do you do with a 97-year-old man who was very, very sadistic 68 years ago?” Karsai asked.
To his neighbors in Budapest, Csatary was “quiet, nice, old man.” But Ladislaus Czizsik-Csatary was placed at the top the Simone Wiesenthal Center list of most wanted war crime suspects.
Csatary was not in hiding. He had lived in Budapest under his real name in at least two addresses for many years. His car is still parked in a garage on the posh Jagello Street. But when police visited his homes this week, he was not found, according to press reports.
The Wiesenthal Center, which specializes in tracking down Nazi era war criminals, has told the Hungarian prosecutors that they believe it is the same man who was a police chief in 1944 of the ghetto in the Slovakian city of Kosice, then part of Hungary. He played a “key role” in the deportation of 300 Jews to Kamyanets-Podilsky in Ukraine where they were killed and is also helped organize the deportation of15,700 Jews to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
Karsai concedes that Csatary was unusually sadistic, but disagrees with the Wiesenthal Center that he was a prominent Nazi, although he does feel Csatary should face justice for his crimes in Hungary.
Csatary has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for war crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948.
He arrived in Nova Scotia as a refugee under the false name, became a Canadian citizen in 1955 and worked as an art dealer in Montreal. In 1995 the authorities discovered his real name and revoked his citizenship. Before fleeing Canada, he admitted to Canadian investigators of his participation in the deportation of the Jews, but claimed that his role was “limited.”
Pressure is now mounting on Hungarian prosecutors to take action. In a statement issued on Monday, the prosecution said that investigating was complex because the crimes were committed long ago and in another country.
“It took place 68 years ago in the region that is under the jurisdiction of another country—which also raises several investigative and legal problems,” the statement said.
Last year, a Hungarian court acquitted another of the Wiesenthal Center’s most-wanted, Sandor Kepiro, who was accused of helping organize the mass murder of about 3,000 civilians in the Serbian city of Novi Sad in 1942. Prosecutors appealed the verdict, but Kepiro died in the meantime.
The case comes at a sensitive time for Hungary, which has seen a rise in anti-Semitism in recent months with official attempts to it play down.