martes, 30 de abril de 2013


It is a little known irony of history that Hungary executed more alleged war criminals than Germany.

The discovery of László Csatáry, the 97 year old former commander of the Kassa (now Košice in eastern Slovakia) ghetto, living quietly in a residential district in Budapest, drew international headlines in July. In the following article, I attempt to place both his case and the dilemma facing the Hungarian prosecution service in context. It is followed by an interview with Ádám Gellért, a Hungarian jurist who has studied the evidence against Csatáry.

 László Csatáry was an administrative case officer in the Košice police, who was appointed commander of the Košice ghetto in April 1944, and then commander of one wing of a brick factory where around 12,000 Jews were concentrated, prior to deportation to Auschwitz and other death camps. Only approximately 1,000 came back alive.

Csatáry was found by reporters from a British tabloid newspaper following a tip- off from the Jerusalem office of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Center had informed the Hungarian authorities of Csatáry’s presence and address in Budapest in September 2011. Since then, Hungarian prosecutors have been searching the files in Hungary, Slovakia, and Israel, in an attempt to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to put him on trial.

The legal picture is extremely complicated. After the war, so-called Peoples’ Courts were established in Hungary, including a mixture of trained judges and delegates appointed by political parties, often with no legal background. They began to function as early as January 1945, while Budapest was still besieged by Soviet forces. They dealt initially with war-crimes cases, sometimes in a professional manner, while on other occasions their procedures appeared amateurish and their decisions influenced by political pressure. One of the most controversial verdicts was the death sentence and execution of former Prime Minister László Bárdossy, who was found guilty, inter alia of declaring war on the Soviet Union in 1941. By 1 January 1948, the courts had sentenced 295 people to death, of whom 135 were actually executed. It is a little known irony of history that Hungary executed more alleged war criminals than Germany. László Csatáry escaped first to Germany, then to Canada after the war, where he was granted citizenship in 1955, claiming to be a Hungarian from Yugoslavia. He lived quietly as an art dealer in Ottawa for some forty years, raised his family, and left in October 1997 when the Canadian authorities began researching his past. He was stripped of Canadian citizenship in August 1997, and moved back to live in Hungary.

The new Csatáry revelations follow the acquittal in July 2011, and death two months later, of Sándor Képíró, a captain in the Hungarian gendarmerie, who was accused of ordering the killing of 30 Jews and of being accomplice in 6 other deaths committed by his subordinates in Novi Sad on 23 January 1942. That case collapsed due to the lack of solid evidence. The testimony of the sole witness for the first incident was found to be contradictory and unreliable. For the other accusations no evidence turned up.

When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944, they replaced the moderate Miklós Kállay government with a quisling government led by Döme Sztójay. The new Interior Minister was Andor Jaross, and his deputies were László Baky and László Endre. All three were noted anti-Semites, and lost no time organising the concentration and deportation of Hungary’s still largely intact Jewish population, with the help of a small German detachment of deportation (Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann) experts, headed by Adolf Eichmann. All three were executed after the war.

In 1942 the so-called Wannsee conference was held in the Berlin suburb of the same name, where plans for the deportations and killing of the Jews of the German-occupied territories were drawn up. Hungary’s own mini “Wannsee” was held in the Interior Ministry building in Budapest on 7 April 1944, shortly after the German occupation, with Eichmann present. According to the plans agreed there, Jews were to be isolated from non-Jews, their homes and belongings taken from them, and concentrated in ghettos or brickyards throughout the country. Between May and July 1944, around 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported from the then much larger area of Hungary, and most were killed at Auschwitz, (Oswiecim near Cracow, in today’s Poland).

The process began in the east, and the first ghetto was established at Munkács (now Munkachevo in western Ukraine), followed soon afterwards by Košice. All transports went through Košice, which was a major railway junction, as it still is, with tracks leading directly to Poland and to Auschwitz. Gendarmerie commander László Ferenczy moved to Munkács to personally oversee the process, which was carried out by the Hungarian gendarmerie (rural police) and the regular, urban police force, under the watchful eyes of the German occupiers. Orders concerning the ghettos and deportations were signed by the Minister of Interior. Adolf Eichmann visited Munkács in late April. László Endre visited Košice on 24 April, just a short distance away.

Four main sources of information about László Csatáry’s wartime activities have so far been made public. One is the City Archive in Budapest, a smart modern building in Teve utca (Camel Street), behind the National Police Headquarters. Here in a battered file marked V-99377, 1946, are the proceedings of the trial of Dr György Horváth, deputy head of police in Košice from September 1943 to January 1945. Horváth was found guilty of war crimes, and sentenced to death. In October 1946 that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, with hard labour. The hundred and twenty pages of his file are full of references to Dr László Csatáry, both in witness testimonies and in the statements of the accused. Anyone who feels sympathy for an elderly man, hunted down for misdeeds committed or not committed, 66 years ago, or doubts the wisdom of another war-crimes trial after the failure of the prosecution of Sándor Képíró, should spend an afternoon here. The archives are fully open to the public. The testimony makes shocking reading.

“Dr Horváth appointed a police officer called Dr Csatáry as commander of the so-called left-wing of the brickyard. This person constantly patrolled with a dog-whip and hit anyone with it who strayed across his path. He carried the whip in his braces, and Dr Horváth saw this, just as he saw him when he hit the Jews with it, but never, on a single occasion, did he tell him off, or try to prevent this inhumane behaviour.”

(Jenő Schwarcz, an 18 year old apprentice, told the court. He was deported with his family in the first of the four transports, trains of cattle wagons, from Košice between 15 May and 3 June 1944. Both his parents were killed at Auschwitz.)

“Police office Csatáry wore full uniform in the camp, but always carried a dog whip as well, and especially liked to hit youngsters. When the children saw him coming, they would start to run, but Csatáry, who was tall and lean, was too quick for them, and ran after them, whipping their heads. The Jewish Council filed numerous complaints about this to the deputy Police Chief, who did nothing about it.”

(Elemér Szász, 48 year old gendarmerie officer, interned at the brickyard, accused of listening to BBC radio.)

“The camp commander was Dr László Csatáry, a police case officer. The commander ordered all kinds of work to be done in the ghetto without tools, for example digging the ground, which had to be done with bare hands, and carrying bricks etc. (…)

Dr Horváth must have known about the sadistic behaviour of his staff. When Csatáry entered the ghetto, everyone ran away from him in panic. It was common knowledge that he was a sadist.”

(Rózsi Weiszer, 45 year old housekeeper.)

“The loading into wagons began at 8 in the morning, but the train only set out the following morning. I was taken with the fourth transport to Auschwitz (…) They said that 65 people should go in our wagon, then they pushed in another 19, obviously at the order of the accused. Before the fourth transport left, there was an epidemic of dysentery in Kassa, and the chief medical officer wanted to use that as a reason to stop it leaving. The accused did not allow that to happen though. Csatáry went in front of the accused, beating children with dog-whip.

(Elemér Szász.)
In response to the accusations against him, György Horváth pleaded not guilty. He saw Csatáry once with a dog-whip, he admitted, and asked him why he carried it. To chase dogs away, when he was riding his motorbike, was the explanation. Horváth told the court he ordered Csatáry not to carry the whip, as it was unworthy of his police uniform.

There were also some examples of attempts by the non-Jewish population to protest, or disrupt the deportations. In one, related by an eye-witness, a delegation of priests, led by a Jesuit, arrived at the camp to protest against the conditions in which the Jews were being held. To no avail. Those who tried to escape – just five in three weeks – were shot dead on the barbed wire where the inmates hung their clothes.

László Csatáry has so far given one interview, published in the Hungarian daily Magyar Hírlap on 20 July. He was asked why he worked as liaison officer between the Hungarian police and the Germans.

“It was an order. Anyone who serves in uniform knows what happens to you if you refuse an order. But why would I have refused? They wanted an interpreter, not an evil-doer... But it was not a pleasant task.”

“I only entered the brick factory and the ghetto a couple of times. In both places the Germans were in charge. Anyone who tells you something different, and says that I as a Hungarian, was in the driving seat, is not telling the truth.”

Far from persecuting Jews, he said, he helped some to survive. By refusing to allow detectives to flush them out of the caves where some were hiding, at the foot of Bankó hill.

Csatáry has now been questioned by prosecutors and is under house arrest in Budapest at the time of writing, pending investigation for “extreme cruelty as a war-crime”.


lunes, 1 de abril de 2013

Rabbi Herschel Schacter Is Dead at 95; Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: ‘You Are Free’

The smoke was still rising as Rabbi Herschel Schacter rode through the gates of Buchenwald.

It was April 11, 1945, and Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army had liberated the concentration camp scarcely an hour before. Rabbi Schacter, who was attached to the Third Army’s VIII Corps, was the first Jewish chaplain to enter in its wake.

That morning, after learning that Patton’s forward tanks had arrived at the camp, Rabbi Schacter, who died in the Riverdale section of the Bronx on Thursday at 95 after a career as one of the most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, commandeered a jeep and driver. He left headquarters and sped toward Buchenwald.
By late afternoon, when the rabbi drove through the gates, Allied tanks had breached the camp. He remembered, he later said, the sting of smoke in his eyes, the smell of burning flesh and the hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere.
He would remain at Buchenwald for months, tending to survivors, leading religious services in a former Nazi recreation hall and eventually helping to resettle thousands of Jews.
For his work, Rabbi Schacter was singled out by name on Friday by Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, in a meeting with President Obama at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.
In Buchenwald that April day, Rabbi Schacter said afterward, it seemed as though there was no one left alive. In the camp, he encountered a young American lieutenant who knew his way around.
“Are there any Jews alive here?” the rabbi asked him.
He was led to the Kleine Lager, or Little Camp, a smaller camp within the larger one. There, in filthy barracks, men lay on raw wooden planks stacked from floor to ceiling. They stared down at the rabbi, in his unfamiliar military uniform, with unmistakable fright.
“Shalom Aleichem, Yidden,” Rabbi Schacter cried in Yiddish, “ihr zint frei!” — “Peace be upon you, Jews, you are free!” He ran from barracks to barracks, repeating those words. He was joined by those Jews who could walk, until a stream of people swelled behind him.
As he passed a mound of corpses, Rabbi Schacter spied a flicker of movement. Drawing closer, he saw a small boy, Prisoner 17030, hiding in terror behind the mound.
“I was afraid of him,” the child would recall long afterward in an interview with The New York Times. “I knew all the uniforms of SS and Gestapo and Wehrmacht, and all of a sudden, a new kind of uniform. I thought, ‘A new kind of enemy.’ ”
With tears streaming down his face, Rabbi Schacter picked the boy up. “What’s your name, my child?” he asked in Yiddish.
“Lulek,” the child replied.
“How old are you?” the rabbi asked.
“What difference does it make?” Lulek, who was 7, said. “I’m older than you, anyway.”
“Why do you think you’re older?” Rabbi Schacter asked, smiling.
“Because you cry and laugh like a child,” Lulek replied. “I haven’t laughed in a long time, and I don’t even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?”
Rabbi Schacter discovered nearly a thousand orphaned children in Buchenwald. He and a colleague, Rabbi Robert Marcus, helped arrange for their transport to France — a convoy that included Lulek and the teenage Elie Wiesel — as well as to Switzerland, a group personally conveyed by Rabbi Schacter, and to Palestine.
For decades afterward, Rabbi Schacter said, he remained haunted by his time in Buchenwald, and by the question survivors put to him as he raced through the camp that first day.
“They were asking me, over and over, ‘Does the world know what happened to us?’ ” Rabbi Schacter told The Associated Press in 1981. “And I was thinking, ‘If my own father had not caught the boat on time, I would have been there, too.’ ”
Herschel Schacter was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on Oct. 10, 1917, the youngest of 10 children of parents who had come from Poland. His father, Pincus, was a seventh-generation shochet, or ritual slaughterer; his mother, the former Miriam Schimmelman, was a real estate manager.

Rabbi Herschel Schacter in 1999.
Mr. Schacter earned a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University in New York in 1938; in 1941, he received ordination at Yeshiva from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a founder of the Modern Orthodox movement.
He spent about a year as a pulpit rabbi in Stamford, Conn., before enlisting in the Army as a chaplain in 1942.
After Buchenwald was liberated, he spent every day there distributing matzo (liberation had come just a week after Passover); leading services for Shavuot, which celebrates the revelation of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai, and which fell that year in May; and conducting Friday night services.
At one of those services, Lulek and his older brother, Naftali, were able to say Kaddish for their parents, Polish Jews who had been killed by the Nazis.
Discharged from the Army with the rank of captain, Rabbi Schacter became the spiritual leader of the Mosholu Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue on Hull Avenue in the north Bronx. He presided there from 1947 until it closed in 1999.
He was a leader of many national Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, of which he was a past chairman. He was most recently the director of rabbinic services at Yeshiva.
Rabbi Schacter, who in 1956 went to the Soviet Union with an American rabbinic delegation, was an outspoken advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews and an adviser on the subject to President Richard M. Nixon.
A resident of the Riverdale section of the Bronx, Rabbi Schacter is survived by his wife, the former Pnina Gewirtz, whom he married in 1948; a son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, who confirmed his father’s death; a daughter, Miriam Schacter; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
And what of Lulek, the orphan Rabbi Schacter rescued from Buchenwald that day? Lulek, who eventually settled in Palestine, grew up to be Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
Rabbi Lau, who recounted his childhood exchange with Rabbi Schacter in a memoir, published in English in 2011 as “Out of the Depths,” was the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003 and is now the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.
On Friday, when Rabbi Lau told Mr. Obama of his rescue by Rabbi Schacter — he thanked the American people for delivering Buchenwald survivors “not from slavery to freedom, but from death to life” — he had not yet learned of Rabbi Schacter’s death the day before.
“For me, he was alive,” Rabbi Lau said in an interview with The Times on Monday. “I speak about him with tears in my eyes.”