Officer suspected of complicity in '42 massacre acquitted

‘Not guilty’ verdict of Sandor Kepiro ‘an insult to the victims,’ says Wiesenthal Center’s Zuroff.

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July 19, 2011 07:31
2 minute read.
Sandor Kepiro sits in a courtroom in Budapest.

Sandor Kepiro 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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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.”

After WWII, 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 1996.

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 possible.”

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