Hungary charges Nazi-era suspect with war crimes

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BUDAPEST (AP) — A 97-year-old Hungarian man suspected of abusing Jews and helping deport thousands of them during the Holocaust was taken into custody Wednesday, questioned and charged with war crimes, prosecutors said.

The case of Laszlo Csatary was brought to the attention of Hungarian authorities last year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish organization active in hunting down Nazis who have yet to be brought to justice.

In April, Mr. Csatary topped the organization’s list of most-wanted Naziwar criminals.

Prosecutors decided to charge Mr. Csatary with the “unlawful torture of human beings,” a war crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mr. Csatary’s lawyer, Gabor Horvath B., said that a judge, acting on a request from prosecutors, ordered his client to be confined to house arrest for a maximum of 30 days. Mr. Horvath B. said he had appealed the ruling, which also opened the way for authorities to confiscate Mr. Csatary’s passport.

As he left a Budapest courthouse Wednesday afternoon following the house arrest hearing, Mr. Csatary walked slowly down a flight of steps, leaning on a companion for support. He wore a thin jacket and tried to cover his face from photographers and TV crews. He did not speak with reporters but appeared bewildered by the attention.

Tibor Ibolya, Budapest’s acting chief prosecutor, said Mr. Csatary recounted his Holocaust-era activities to authorities during questioning, saying he was following orders and carrying out his duty.

“The suspect denied having committed the crimes,” Mr. Ibolya said, adding that during his testimony Mr. Csatary’s “attitude toward some of his fellow men of a certain religion … is not what we would consider normal.”

Prosecutors detained Mr. Csatary in an early morning sweep because they were worried he might try to flee. He has lived at least in two separate Budapest apartments during the past few months.

“We took Csatary into custody at dawn from an address to which he had no connection until now,” Mr. Ibolya said. “He cooperated with investigators.”

Mr. Csatary’s lawyer said his client had moved to a new location because he was tired of being badgered. On Monday, 40 people protested outside one of Mr. Csatary’s purported homes, but he was nowhere to be seen.

According to a summary of the case released by prosecutors, Mr. Csatary was a police officer in the Slovakian city of Kosice, at the time a part of Hungary.

In May 1944, Mr. Csatary was named chief of an internment camp at a Kosice brick factory from which 12,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. Authorities said Mr. Csatary was present when the trains were loaded and sent on their way.

Mr. Csatary “regularly” used a dog whip against the Jewish detainees “without any special reasons and irrespective of the assaulted people’s sex, age or health condition,” the prosecutors’ statement said.

As one train departed with some 80 Jews crammed into one rail car, Mr. Csatary refused a request by one of the Jews to cut holes in the walls of the wagon to let more air in, the statement said.

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