The Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said on Monday that he was "thrilled" that its most wanted suspect, Hungarian Laszlo Csatary, 97, accused of complicity in the killings of 15,700 Jews in World War II, had been located in Budapest, but added he was concerned the man might flee.
Zuroff said he was unimpressed with Hungary's record in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice and that he had urged the prosecutor in Budapest at a meeting last week to seize Csatary's passport.
"He said he had to be declared an official suspect and questioned before that could happen. I said 'What are you waiting for?" Zuroff told SPEGEL ONLINE.
Zuroff said British tabloid daily The Sun, which photographed Csatary and reported his whereabouts on Sunday, had acted on information the Wiesenthal Center had released last September after receiving a tip-off from an informer whom the Center had paid $25,000.
'How Can I Be Confident?'
Asked if he was confident the Hungarian justice authorities would bring Csatary to trial quickly, 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."
"The Sun deserve credit because they were willing to spend tens of thousands of pounds on tracking him to be able to get into a situation where they could photograph him and film him. They didn't discover him, but they built it up and this is already the fourth case that they helped us with."
The Center put Csatary at the top of its most wanted list in April.
Zuroff said Csatary, a police commander who headed a Jewish ghetto during World War II, was involved in two major crimes, the mass deportation from Kosice in what is now Slovakia to the Auschwitz death camp of 15,700 Jews in the course of several weeks in the spring of 1944, and the expulsion of 300 Jews from Kosice to Kamenetz-Podolsk, Ukraine, where almost all were murdered in the summer of 1941.
"He was the commander of one of the two ghettos in Kosice and he was known for his cruelty and sadistic behavior, punishing inmates. He used to walk around with a whip, whipping people at random. We have live witnesses."
Csatary Confronted in His Underpants and Socks
Csatary fled Hungary after the war and was sentenced to death by a court in Czechoslovakia in absentia in 1948. He made a new life in Canada, using a false identity and working as an art dealer, until his was unmasked in 1995. Authorities revoked his Canadian citizenship, but he fled before he could be deported. He remained in hiding until an informant tipped off the Wiesenthal Center last year.
Journalists from the Sun observed and followed him in Budapest and confronted the suspected war criminal at his apartment in the Hungarian capital. They snapped photographs of him as he opened the door to them, wearing only a vest, underpants and socks. When they asked if he could justify his past, he said: "No, no. Go away."
Asked if he denied being involved, he replied: "No I didn't do it, go away from here," before slamming the door.
Zuroff said the case against Csatary was "much better" than against Sandor Kepiro, acquitted by a Budapest court in July 2011 on charges that he was among the officers who organized the mass murder of about 3,300 civilians in the Serbian city of Novi Sad and its vicinity in late January 1942.
The judge who ruled in the case said Kepiro was not innocent, but that the prosecution had failed to sufficiently prove his guilt. Kepiro died while the case was being appealed by the prosecution.
Zuroff said Csatary's age in no way diminished his guilt. "The passage of time should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators."
Operation Last Chance II Short of Funds
Zuroff last December launched Operation Last Chance II to locate and prosecute men who served in Nazi death camps and in the Einsatzgruppen death squads that perpetrated mass killings in occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
It was modelled on the original Operation Last Chance started by Zuroff in 2002 that focused on Eastern Europe and offered cash for information.
Last Chance II is focused on Germany because the conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk last year set a precedent for guilty verdicts that didn't require evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim.
Zuroff said the operation wasn't going very well because of a lack of funding.
"We don't have any budget to publicize it, so the flood of info that accompanied its launch has long ago dried up but now we have some chance of getting some funds to run a PR campaign in Germany," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.