Sandor Kepiro 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hungarian war-crimes suspect Sandor Kepiro was found not guilty by the Buda District Court in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday.
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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 death of 36 people.
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 which took control of Hungary in March 1944.
“This is an outrageous verdict and an insult to the victims of 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 German-led Axis powers who Hungary was allied with.
“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 organization American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants also expressed its disappointment with the verdict calling it a “betrayal by Hungarian judicial authorities of the demands of justice and memory,” in a statement on Monday.
“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,” said the group’s vice president Elan Steinberg in the statement.
“At a time when extremist elements compromise present day Hungarian
politics, this verdict is particularly unsettling.”
After the Second World War, 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 added that the 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.”