August 1, 2012 – On July 17, police in Hungary arrested Laszlo Csatary. He is the world’smost wanted Nazi war criminal, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Csatary was tracked down by Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, based on information received through Operation Last Chance. An initiative conceived by Aryeh Rubin and significantly funded by Targum Shlishi, Operation Last Chance offers financial rewards for information that leads to the prosecution and punishment of Nazi war criminals.
Csatary, who is 97 years old and living in Budapest, was charged with unlawful torture related to his role in the 1944 deportation to Auschwitz of 15,700 Jews from the city of Kassa and its environs (Kassa was formerly in Hungary; it is now Kosice, in Slovakia).
In 1948 Csatary was convicted in absentia for war crimes in Czechoslovakia and sentenced to death. He lived in Canada beginning in 1948, became a Canadian citizen in 1955, and worked as an art dealer there. His Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1997 for concealing his past history of war crimes. According to Zuroff, since 1997 Csatary has been living in Hungary.
Last year an anonymous informant notified the Wiesenthal Center of Csatary’s whereabouts in Budapest, seeking the reward offered by Operation Last Chance. Zuroff then alerted Hungarian prosecutors in September 2011. The July 2012 arrest came after Zuroff enlisted the assistance of the British tabloid The Sun, which published shirtless photos of Csatary answering the door—the story was widely picked up by international media, which put pressure on Hungary to act.
“It’s a great victory and a very important one,” says Zuroff. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers, and old age should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators.” Zuroff also wrote an open letter to the Hungarian president, Janos Ader, asking that Hungarian authorities “do everything possible to help bring this criminal to justice.” Zuroff notes that Csatary is currently in a good state of health and able to stand trial.
“Efraim Zuroff is to be commended for his persistence in tracking down Nazi war criminals,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “But decades after the Holocaust we continue to struggle with the legacy of inaction on the part of the Jewish community, which was preoccupied and squandered the opportunity to catch many of the major Nazi war criminals when they were in the prime of their lives. After failing to mount any vigorous opposition to the Holocaust, the failure to pursue the murderers of our people is yet another legacy of inaction. That is why the arrest of Csatary is a major event.”
About Operation Last Chance
Operation Last Chance was originally launched in 2002 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office together with Targum Shlishi. “Operation Last Chance was our attempt to respond proactively to the reality of the diminishing opportunity to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice. Time was running out and we sought to maximize justice while it was still possible to do so,” says Zuroff. Operation Last Chance was launched in Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary.
Operation Last Chance II launched in December 2011 in Berlin in the wake of the conviction of death camp guard John Demjanjuk, found guilty of thousands of counts of accessory to murder. Its launch was inspired by the legal precedent set by Demjanjuk’s case, which has led to the reopening of hundreds of investigations–Demjanjuk was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany without evidence being presented to the court of a specific crime with a specific witness. The objective of Operation Last Chance II is to revitalize the search for the remaining death camp operatives and mobile killing unit squad members in Germany and elsewhere.
Operation Last Chance/the Wiesenthal Center is asking for tips related to Nazi war criminals alive today and has established a mobile hotline (+49-1573-494-7307). For more information about Operation Last Chance, visit its website at www.operationlastchance.org.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’sinitiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.