January 1, 2007

“Operation: Last Chance” – Update #9


During the period from the previous Update (#8 – June 1, 2006), new leads regarding Nazi war criminals continued to reach us, albeit at a slower rate, but the primary focus of “Operation: Last Chance” has been to maximize pressure for the prosecution of the major suspects already tracked down and exposed in the framework of the project: Milivoj Ašner, Karoly Zentai and Dr. Sandor Képiró. The case of Képiró, who was twice convicted but never punished for his role in the mass murder of more than 1,200 people (mostly Jews, the others Serbs and Gypsies) in the city of Novi Sad on January 23, 1942, is a classic example of why O:LC was launched and how it works. We were able to track down this Hungarian war criminal in the wake of a tip from a concerned non-Jew living in Scotland who in social circumstances encountered a Hungarian who boasted of his role in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Further investigation of this case led to the exposure of Képiró living unpunished in Budapest, to which he returned from Argentina in 1996 after having been told by Hungarian diplomats in Buenos Aires that he could return home after more than fifty years in hiding, primarily in South America.

Statistics – January 2007

    Country O:LC launched Suspects
to prosecutors
  1. Lithuania July 8, 2002 199 46
  2. Estonia July 10, 2002 6 -
  3. Latvia July 11, 2002 44 13
  4. Poland September 10, 2003 24 1*
  5. Romania September 12, 2003 18 4
  6. Austria September 15, 2003 16 1*
  7. Croatia June 30, 2004 13 1
  8. Hungary July 13, 2004 17 4
  9. Germany January 26, 2005 79 5
  10. Others** 42 18
    Total 458 92

*          This case had been submitted to prosecutors in Austria and in Poland
**        Ukraine, USA, South Africa, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, New Zealand


17 Shevat 5767
5 February 2007

The Five Holocaust Perpetrators Most Likely to Face Prosecution in 2007

Dr. Efraim Zuroff

During the past decade, there has been a veritable worldwide explosion of Holocaust-related activities, mostly concerning commemoration and education. Two notable examples in this regard are the Swedish initiative to promote Holocaust education, which has spawned an international task force on the subject, and the decision by the United Nations to institute an annual day of remembrance for the victims of the Shoa on January 27, the anniversary for liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Other activities which have also considerably increased during the past decade are Holocaust research and efforts to secure restitution of stolen property, artwork, valuables etc. and compensation. Yet while all these activities will no doubt continue well into the future, there is one practical Holocaust-related issue which is time-limited and rapidly reaching its conclusion.

I am referring to the efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, which will end when it will no longer be possible to prosecute Holocaust perpetrators. While it is impossible to know exactly when that point in time will be reached, it is obvious that it will be within the coming decade. Thus while education and commemoration are likely to continue for generations, if not centuries (we still observe the destruction of the first and second Temples which took place 2,593 and 1,937 years ago respectively), it is highly likely that the Nazi war criminals being prosecuted these days will be among the last of those responsible for the crimes of the Shoa to be held accountable.

The following is a summary of the cases of the five Holocaust perpetrators most likely to be brought to justice during the coming year. They are from several different nationalities and served in different frameworks under Nazis or Axis aegis. What they share is the fact that their guilt is unquestionable, and was in most of the cases already proven in a court of law, and that they are currently not living in the country or even in the continents in which they committed their crimes, a factor which has hereto proven critical in delaying their prosecution.

  1. Dr. Aribert Heim – Germany (Austria)

      Current whereabouts: unknown, reportedly in Spain or South America

The most prominent of these criminals and the case which is proving to be the most difficult of the five is that of Dr. Aribert Heim who served as a medical doctor at the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen concentration camps. He was born on June 28, 1914 in Radkersburg, Austria and received his medical education at the University of Vienna. Heim’s most terrible crimes were committed at Mauthausen, where he murdered hundreds of inmates by administering lethal injections of phenol to their hearts or by other torturous killing methods during the fall of 1941. He later served with the SS in Finland and elsewhere, returning to Germany towards the end of World War II. Heim was arrested by American troops in March 1945, and was held by them for over two and a half years, although for unknown reasons which appear quite suspicious he was never prosecuted for his crimes, which were known to US war crimes investigators.

After his release in December 1947, Heim set up practice as a gynecologist in Bad Nauheim, Germany and later moved his practice to Baden-Baden, where in 1962 he was about to be arrested and prosecuted by the West German authorities. But Heim was apparently tipped off regarding his arrest and was able to escape prosecution to this day. Ostensibly reliable sources say that over the years, he has lived in Argentina, Egypt (where he reportedly worked as a doctor for the Egyptian police), Uruguay, Spain and other locations. Three years ago in the wake of an investigation regarding financial improprieties committed by one of his sons, the German police discovered a bank account in Heim’s name in a Berlin bank with over one million euros. The fact that his children had never claimed the money strengthened the suspicion that the doctor was still alive, and a special task force of the German police was established to find him. At their request, Heim was declared the number one target of “Operation: Last Chance” when it was launched in Germany in January 2005. Since that time, the Center has received numerous leads and possible sightings but none have proved to be the elusive “Dr. Death” from Mauthausen.  

2.  Dr. Sandor Képiró – Hungary
     Current whereabouts: 78 Leo Frankel St., Budapest

Born in 1914, Képiró served as an officer in the Hungarian gendarmerie, which carried out the mass murder of 1,246 civilians (mostly Jews) in the city of Novi Sad [Ujvidek] (then part of Hungarian-occupied Yugoslavia, today Serbia), on January 23, 1942. Képiró was among the Hungarian officers convicted in Budapest for this atrocity in January 1944 but in the wake of the occupation of Hungary in March 1944, he was pardoned, promoted and returned to his post on Novi Sad. In 1945, he escaped to Austria, from whence he fled to Argentina in 1948. In 1946 he was convicted a second time in Hungary and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, in a trial which took place in absentia.

In 1996, Képiró returned to Budapest after being assured at the Hungarian Embassy in Buenos Aires that he would not face prosecution and/or punishment in his native land. 

In late July 2006, Képiró’s presence in Budapest was discovered in the framework of the Wiesenthal Center’s “Operation: Last Chance” as a byproduct of an investigation against a Hungarian gendarme living in Scotland who was suspected of participating in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz in spring 1944. I submitted the evidence against Képiró to Hungarian prosecutors on August 1, 2006 and exposed him publicly in a press conference in a synagogue right across the street from his apartment.

As of this writing, the case is before the Budapest Municipal Court which must decide whether to implement his sentences, retry him, or ignore the case. To complicate matters, neither of his verdicts have hereto been found in the Hungarian archives, although I was able to obtain a copy of his 1944 verdict in the Yugoslav National Archives, thanks to the assistance of Dr. Nenad Antonijevic of the Museum of Genocide Victims in Belgrade.

3.    Milivoj Ašner – Croatian (Austria)
    Current whereabouts: 8 Paulitischgasse, Klagenfurt

Born in 1913 in Croatia, Ašner served as the police chief of the city of Slavonska Požega following the establishment of the independent state of Croatia in spring 1941. Appointed by the fascist Ustasha movement which ruled the country, Ašner set out to implement their repressive policies against Croatia’s minorities: Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. During the years 1941-1942, Ašner orchestrated the robbery, persecution and destruction of the local Serb, Jewish and Gypsy communities, which culminated in the deportation to Ustasha concentration camps, where most of the deportees were murdered, of hundreds of civilians.

After the war, Ašner escaped to Austria to avoid prosecution as a war criminal in Yugoslavia. He returned to Croatia, however, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, was discovered thanks to the research of Alen Budaj, and exposed in the framework of “Operation: Last Chance.” In response, the former police chief escaped once again to Klagenfrut, Austria where he continues to reside to this day.

In September 2005, Croatia, upon the urging of the Wiesenthal Center, submitted an official request to Austria for the extradition of Milivoj Ašner to stand trial for his crimes in Požega. Initially, the Austrians refused to extradite him back to Croatia on the grounds that he was an Austrian citizen, and as such not subject to extradition abroad. They did, however, declare that they would investigate these crimes with a view to possible prosecution in Austria. On January 30, 2006, Justice Minister Karin Gastinger informed me that Ašner’s crimes came under an Austrian statute of limitations and the Austrians therefore could not prosecute him. Two days later, after I launched a scathing attack on Vienna’s consistent failure to bring Nazis to justice, Austrian officials announced that contrary to previous reports, Ašner was no longer an Austrian citizen, having lost this citizenship when he applied for Croatian citizenship in 1992 without obtaining prior permission from the Austrians.

This revelation should have paved the way for Ašner‘s immediate extradition to Croatia. Unfortunately, a year later this still has not taken place, with Ašner‘s ostensibly poor health the current reason for the delay.

  1. Ivo Rojnica – Croatia (Argentina)
    Current whereabouts: Madero 1774 Vicente Lopez, Buenos Aires

Born in 1915 in Croatia, Ivo Rojnica was appointed the governor of Dubrovnik shortly after the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia. An ardent Ustasha, he immediately sought to implement the new state’s repressive polices against Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, who were systematically persecuted and robbed of their belongings, and ultimately deported in large numbers to Ustasha concentration camps, where many of them were murdered.

Like numerous Ustasha criminals, Rojnica escaped after World War II to Argentina, where he became a wealthy businessman and one of the leaders of the local Croatian émigré community. In fact, in the mid-nineties Croatian President Franjo Tudjman wanted to appoint him Croatian ambassador to Argentina, a move which was ultimately thwarted by protests based on Rojnica’s Ustasha past.

As of this writing, the Croatian Attorney-General Mladen Bajić is about to decide whether Croatia will seek Rojnica’s extradition from Argentina. Another possible alternative would be his extradition to Serbia, which is also currently contemplating seeking his extradition.

  1. Karoly (Charles) Zentai – Hungary (Australia)

    Current whereabouts: 2/10 Millar Place, Willeton 6155 (Perth)

Born in 1921, Charles Zentai is accused of murdering 18 year Peter Balazs, a Jewish boy he caught riding a Budapest tram without the requisite yellow star on November 8, 1944. According to the testimonies of numerous witnesses, Zentai dragged Balazs off the streetcar, brought him to his army barracks at Arena St. 51, where together with two fellow army officers, Bela Mader and Lajos Nagy, he beat Peter Balazs to death. Zentai then took the body, weighed it down with stones and threw it into the Danube River.

Zentai’s role in the murder was exposed in the 1947 trial in Hungary of Nagy, by which time he had already escaped to the American zone of occupied Germany. When Hungarian requests for his extradition went unanswered, Zentai was able in February 1950 to immigrate to Australia, where he continues to reside to this day. He was exposed in November 2004 in the framework of “Operation: Last Chance” after I received the evidence regarding his crimes from Adam Balazs, the victim’s brother, currently living in Budapest, and tracked him down to Australia. In April 2005, Hungary officially asked for Zentai’s extradition and he was arrested three months later in Perth after Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison officially approved the request.

At the moment, Zentai is appealing his extradition on technical grounds, but I am hopeful that the extradition will indeed take place this year. If that indeed happens, it will mark the first successful legal action by Australia and/or Hungary (since democracy) against a Nazi war criminal.

As clearly demonstrated by these five cases, there are still important Nazi war criminals who can be brought to justice and punished for their crimes. The question is whether sufficient political will exists to ensure that they will indeed be held accountable.

Let us hope that this will be true in these cases.