Suspect, 97, held and charged over wartime deportation of Jews

Hungarian prosecutors say they have arrested and charged with war crimes a man suspected of taking part in the deportation of Jews in 1944.

Laszlo Csatary, whose case was highlighted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, was held yesterday, prosecutors said.

They said Csatary was a police officer in the Slovakian city of Kosice – part of Hungary at the time – when Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and that he was present when the trains were loaded and sent on their way.

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Prosecutors want the 97-year-old held under house arrest, which will also allow authorities to confiscate his passport.

They said that considering Csatary’s age, he is in a good physical and mental state.

Prosecutors charged Csatary with the unlawful torture of human beings, a war crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Tibor Ibolya, Budapest’s acting chief prosecutor, said Csatary recounted his Holocaust-era activities to authorities, 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 Csatary’s “attitude toward some of his fellow men of a certain religion ... is not what we would consider normal”.

Prosecutors detained him in an early morning swoop because they were worried he would try to flee. He has lived at least in two separate Budapest apartments during the last few months.

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

According to a summary of the case released by prosecutors, in May 1944, Csatary was named chief of an internment camp at a Kosice brick factory from where 12,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

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 80 Jews crammed into one railcar, 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.

“We took into consideration the severity of his acts, but we should not forget that the suspect is due the presumption of innocence,” Mr Ibolya said. “In our estimation, he will not be able to escape.”

Csatary was convicted in absentia of war crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and sentenced to death.