Hungarian László Csizsik-Csatáry, 97, accused of complicity in the killings of 15,700 Jews in World War II, has been located in Budapest, and arrested. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, obtained help in unveiling Csatáry’s story from the journalists of the British tabloid The Sun.
Unfortunately Hungary’s record in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice has not been particularly impressive, and as Zuroff states: “ Csatáry had to be declared an official suspect” before even considering his questioning or arrest. Hence the mobilization of the journalists, who proceeded to photograph Csatáry and report his whereabouts on Sunday, 15th July 2012. However, it must be said that the tabloid acted following details the Wiesenthal Center had released last September; which were acquired by the Center after paying an informer 25,000 dollars.
The most interesting part of the story seems to be that Csatáry was not in hiding. He was living in Budapest under his real name. What is more, the Canadian authorities had found out about his past in 1997, when his false identity was unmasked, and his Canadian citizenship was revoked by the federal Cabinet for lying on his citizenship application. In fact, Csatáry fled Hungary in 1949, claiming to be a Yugoslav national, settled in Montreal as an art dealer, and became a Canadian citizen in 1955. When his real identity was found out, he quietly fled the country before being deported – he was sentenced to death by a court in Czechoslovakia in absentia in 1948.
Is the monstrous so banal to escape our glance, and be able to hide among us, undisturbed? Or is it time that dims our sight, soothes the pain, and inclines us to forget? To let go of such repugnant people is easier than to deal with them, as the simple truth of their most heinous actions disturbs our safe, comfortable lives; it reminds us that most actions are but different means chosen to arrive at what is considered ‘living well.’
Maybe criminals of war go out of fashion, as trends do; after all, there are so many new ones each year. Or maybe there is only this uneasy truth; the survivors die of old age, and the memory of the pain that racked their entire body dies as well. And as this happens, their tyrant is safer and safer.
Time seems to be every war criminal’s best friend. This is the simple, banal reason, a person like László Csizsik-Csatáry was allowed to have a life, when he crushed so many of them. In 1944, Csizsik-Csatáry was the Royal Hungarian Police commander in the city of Kassa in Hungary (now Košice in Slovakia). He was in charge of a Jewish ghetto and helped organize the deportation of Jews people to Auschwitz. Witnesses testified he exercised his authority very inhumanely. According to documents uncovered by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, he took pleasure in beating women, and forced them to dig ditches in the frozen ground with their bare hands. As Hungary’s top holocaust historian Laszlo Karsai told to ABC News, “there are two testimonies of German officers in Kosice who had to stop him from torturing Jewish women.” Peter Feldmajer, the president of the Jewish community in Hungary, reveals that “Csizsik-Csatáry created a camp for torturing the rich so they would confess where they have hidden the money.”
What is the course of action a man such as this one deserves? What is the reaction of people confronted by a war criminal who opens his door to journalists in his underpants and socks, at 97? Can this image of vulnerability hinder the exercise of justice? It might.
When asked if he is confident the Hungarian justice authorities would bring Csatáry to trial quickly, Efraim Zuroff said: “How can I be confident? I can’t be confident of that. I can hope that it can happen, the only good news is that he’s very healthy, as far as we know he’s still driving a car.”
To bring to trial László Csizsik-Csatáry is a matter of historical justice. To record into history that this criminal of war has underwent a trial is a matter of ethics, and a responsibility of the present towards the future generations. Only justice recorded in history can stay with us long enough to offer closure, and to bring resolution of this significant event in the lives of the victims in Hungary and Slovakia.
It is a sad thought to imagine that the present could be so forgetful to prevent the trial from taking place, to hypocritically dismiss László Csizsik-Csatáry’s responsibility due to his age. No crime is a thing of the past till the people who committed it are brought to justice; time cannot wash away a crime, not even when it is unspoken of for decades.