'Most Wanted' Nazi War Criminal Dies While Awaiting Trial

Laszlo Csatary, 99, died in a hospital while awaiting trial for war crimes of assisting in the murder of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Laszlo Csatary, the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminal, died Sunday night in a hospital in Hungary, where he was awaiting trial for war crimes, Hungarian news sources reported Monday.

Csatary, 99, was to stand trial in several months after being indicted in June by Hungarian authorities for having been an accessory to the murder of thousands of Jews whom he deported to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz and for the torture of prisoners as well.

Csatary was arrested a year ago after a 15-year manhunt, thanks to the efforts of Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who tracked him down. Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, received intelligence of Csatary’s whereabouts from a citizen as part of the Operation: Last Chance campaign, whose purpose is to track down the last Nazi war criminals who remain alive.

“The indictment of Csatary... is an important reminder that justice for the victims of the Holocaust can still be achieved,” Zuroff said when Csatary was indicted. “It is also a significant milestone for Hungary as the country struggles with its history during World War Two, and sends an important message that people like Csatary are criminals rather than patriotic heroes.”

According to the information in Zuroff’s possession, Csatary was believed responsible for the deportation of 15,700 Jews to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944, when he was the commander of the police and the ghetto in the city of Slovak city Kosice, which was ruled by a pro-Nazi Hungarian regime during World War Two. Csatary was a reported sadist who customarily abused Jews. His acts included whipping women with a belt and forcing Jews to dig pits in the snow with their bare hands.

The Wiesenthal Center holds him responsible for additional crimes, such as the deportation of roughly 300 Jews from Kosice to Kamenets-Podolsk in Ukraine in the summer of 1941. Many of those Jews were later murdered.

Csatary fled Kosice after the war. In 1948, a Czechoslovakian court tried him in absentia for war crimes and sentenced him to death. Later on, Csatary lived in Toronto and in Montreal under an assumed identity, working as an art dealer. When his true identity was discovered in 1997, his Canadian citizenship was revoked. He fled the country, vanishing without a trace. Last year, he was tracked down in Budapest, where he was living safe and sound, and declared the most wanted Nazi war criminal on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list.

When a reporter for the British newspaper The Sun came to his home with questions, Csatary answered the door wearing an undershirt, underwear and socks. “No, I didn’t do it. Go away from here,” he told the reporter.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed deep disappointment in response to the Cstary's death.

"The fact that a well-known war criminal whose Nazi past was exposed in Canada could live undisturbed for so long in the Hungarian capital raises serious questions as to the commitment of the Hungarian authorities to hold their own Holocaust criminals accountable," said Zuroff. "It is a shame that Csatary, a convicted and totally unrepentant Holocaust perpetrator who was finally indicted in his homeland for his crimes, ultimately eluded justice and punishment at the very last minute."

Hungarian Laszlo Csatary, suspected of war crimes against Jews during Word War II, leaves the prosecution building in Budapest July 18, 2012.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

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