BUDAPEST — Pressure was mounting on Hungary Monday over an aged Nazi war criminal found living there, as prosecutors said investigating him was difficult as his crimes happened so long ago and in another country.
Several dozen young demonstrators gathered outside Laszlo Csatary’s apartment in an upmarket district of Budapest late Monday, calling for his arrest in a protest organised by the European Union of Jewish Students.
“It’s our last chance to seek justice for the victims,” it said in a message posted on its website.
Some protesters carried placards denouncing Csatary’s crimes while others stuck swastikas on the entrance of the building where he has his two-room apartment.
A probe into Csatary, 97, began in September after the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, which ranks him number one on their wanted list, sent them information, the public prosecutor’s office said.
The investigation covered events in 1944 in Kosice, which at that time was in Hungary but is now in Slovakia.
The Wiesenthal Center says that as a senior policeman Csatary helped organise the deportation of some 15,700 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp.
The investigation “therefore has to explore an event remote in both time and place,” with “significant part” of the probe dedicated to finding possible witnesses, some of whom may live abroad, Budapest prosecutors said.
“It took place 68 years ago in an area that now falls under the jurisdiction of another country — which also with regard to the related international conventions raises several investigative and legal problems,” a statement said.
“Finding the answers to the aforementioned questions is a precondition to clarifying the facts and determining further investigative actions,” it added.
In 1948, a Czechoslovakian court condemned Csatary to death in absentia.
But he had made it to Canada, where he worked as an art dealer in Montreal and Toronto until he was stripped of his citizenship and was forced to flee in 1997.
He ended up in Budapest where he lived undisturbed until the Wiesenthal Center alerted Hungarian authorities last year. British tabloid The Sun in a report at the weekend tracked down the old man and confronted him.
“No, no. Go Away,” the paper quoted him as saying at the door to his apartment.
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, handed over more evidence to Hungarian prosecutors last week. It highlighted Csatary’s “key role” in the 1941 deportation of some 300 Jews from Kosice to Ukraine, most of whom were murdered.
Zuroff told AFP on Sunday that he has been “very upset and very frustrated” about the lack of action by Hungarian authorities.
“Something has to be done because he’s in good health at 97… but this could change very quickly.
“The passage of time in no way diminishes his guilt and old age should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators.”
But French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld said on Monday he doubted the Hungarian authorities would prosecute Csatary, even as Paris urged Budapest to launch legal proceedings against him.
The Hungarian government of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban declined to comment on the case, saying it was a matter for the public prosecutor’s office.
“The Hungarian government has always supported the exhaustive exploration of past crimes and the prosecution of perpetrators,” said spokeswoman Judit Pach.
“Therefore, it calls for the exploration of the truth and the punishment of the guilty.”