Novi Sad, Serbia – The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, Israel director, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, stressed the role of memory in assuring that the crimes of he Holocaust would not be erased or forgotten in his remarks at the memorial ceremony held here today to mark the 70th anniversary of the mass murder by Hungarian forces of Jewish, Serb, and Roma civilians in this Serbian city on January 23, 1942. Zuroff stressed that the recent acquittal in July 2011 in Budapest of Hungarian gendarmerie officer Sandor Kepiro, who was one of the organizers of the massacre, and his subsequent burial as a heroic patriot, threatened to erase this terrible crime and absolve the killers of their guilt.
Dr. Zuroff’s speech delivered today to a crowd of hundreds in Novi Sad:
Today we mark the 70th anniversary of the horrific crimes committed by the Hungarian army and gendarmerie on the banks of the Danube, not far from where we are currently standing. Those crimes were the product of politics and prejudice, an opportunistic alliance between Hungary and Nazi Germany and the racism, anti-Semitism, and extremism of the Third Reich and its allies.
Seventy years is ostensibly a very long time, for many people an entire lifetime if not more, and there are those who would prefer that such terrible and tragic events be forgotten. Even worse, there are those who justify such crimes and consider their perpetrators heroes. Not long ago, Sandor Kepiro, one of these so- called Hungarian “heroes” died while his case was being appealed in Budapest, a case in which he was charged for his active role in the roundup of innocent citizens of Novi Sad – Jews, Serbs, and Roma//men, women, and children, who were marched to the river to be murdered. He claimed that his assignment was to search for terrorists, dangerous people like 10 year old Lydia Brenners, 9 year old Dorothea Pintar, and 6 year old Arthur Rosenthal.
Kepiro’s funeral was attended by many people who believed that he did his duty and was a true Hungarian patriot, some of whom even came wearing the same gendarmerie uniform Kepiro wore, when he did his share to doom innocent people to death, the same uniforms worn by the Hungarian gendarmes, who two years later organized the deportation of the Jews of Novi Sad to Auschwitz. Indeed heroes and patriots. There are two acceptable responses to the terrible crimes committed seventy years ago-justice and memory. But justice, as we saw last July in the Buda District Court, can be severely flawed. Judge Varga admitted that Sandor Kepiro was not innocent, but after he outrageously disqualified all the documents and testimony against him, he decreed that the prosecution had failed to prove his guilt.
So that leaves us with memory, which is why our presence here united is so critical. And it is from here, so close to the site of the murders, that we must declare loud and clear that no flawed and politicized verdict can change the facts and the guilt of the perpetrators, nor can it erase the memory of the victims which will remain in our hearts forever.