Sandor Kepiro 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hungarian war-crimes suspect Sandor Kepiro was found not guilty by the Buda
District Court in Budapest on Monday.
He was charged with complicity in
the Novi Sad massacre of January 1942 in northern Serbia, in which as many as
1,250 Jews, Serbs and Roma were murdered, and with direct responsibility for the
deaths of 36 people.
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The judge rejected evidence from a 1943 Hungarian
trial of Kepiro and other gendarmerie officers, in which they were convicted of
insubordination for carrying out the operation, supposedly without approval of
their superiors. The conviction was quashed by the Fascist government that took
control of Hungary in March 1944.
“This is an outrageous verdict and an
insult to the victims of the Novi Sad massacre,” said Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, the
Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter who exposed Kepiro’s presence in
Budapest in 2006. “It is totally incomprehensible given the evidence against
Kepiro, our knowledge of the incident, and of his role in the events of the
massacre,” Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Kepiro was an
officer in the Hungarian gendarmerie during the war and admits to having been
involved in the military operation in the Novi Sad region. But he denies he knew
about the killings, saying that he thought the mission was targeted at partisans
fighting the Axis powers that included Hungary.
“We will do everything we
can to overturn the verdict and ensure Kepiro ends his life in jail rather than
in peace and tranquility which he was awarded today,” Zuroff said, adding that
the ruling would be appealed.
The New York-based American Gathering of
Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants also expressed disappointment
with the verdict, calling it a “betrayal by Hungarian judicial authorities of
the demands of justice and memory.”
“Hungary has turned its back on
history in failing to come to grips with its collaborationist policies with the
Nazi regime during World War II,” the group’s vice president Elan Steinberg said
in a statement. “At a time when extremist elements compromise present day
Hungarian politics, this verdict is particularly unsettling.”
Kepiro fled to Argentina and was tried in absentia by the Communist government
in Hungary for his role in the atrocities. He was found guilty and sentenced to
14 years imprisonment, but was not arrested when he returned to Budapest in
Zuroff said Monday’s verdict was “a sad day for Hungarian society.
A judicial decision which brings joy to the ultra nationalists of Hungary and
pain to the victims of fascist crimes is inherently flawed, and the [Simon
Wiesenthal] Center will do whatever it can to help to change it as quickly as