Hungarian prosecutors have taken into custody the Nazi-era war crimes suspect Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary, 97, who reportedly helped organizing the 1944 deportation of 15,700 Jews to Auschwitz.
He worked as a police commander in a Slovakian ghetto, at the helm of a brutal regime in the city of Kosice, where 140 people were allegedly driven to suicide to escape his torture in 1941-45.
Csizsik-Csatary fled to Canada under a new identity after being sentenced to death in absentia in 1948. He spent almost half a century in Canada, selling works of art. But his true identity was revealed in 1997 and he went on the run again, where he managed to evade capture for fifteen more years.
In April 2012, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a human rights organization, listed Csizsik-Csatary as the most wanted war crimes suspect.
He was eventually tracked down by journalists from the British tabloid ‘The Sun’, who collaborated their efforts with the Wiesenthal Centre. Csizsik-Csatary opened the door in his socks and underpants. Once asked if he could justify his past, he stammered, ‘No, no. Go away’, and slammed the door in the face of the correspondents.
The tabloid raised publicity of the case on Sunday, passing the information on to the city’s prosecution office. The following day saw Jewish students staging protests outside Csizsik-Csatary’s apartment block, demanding his detention. The suspect is currently under house arrest, and his passport was confiscated.
"It was important for us to cooperate so that it gets wide media coverage, more than we can ever achieve," Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Wiesenthal Centre, told AFP. He added that he had hoped “the coverage would increase the pressure on the courts and public opinion in Hungary, as well as the world at large."
However, French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld doubts any legal action will be taken “with this conservative government” in Hungary. He added that the only reason Csizsik-Csatary would be at the top of the list is because so few Nazi war criminals remain.
"In my opinion he did not have major responsibilities, he must have been a stooge," Klarsfeld told AFP, "Thirty years ago, he would have been 3,500th on the list."