A former Hungarian police captain was acquitted by a court in Budapest of charges that he committed Nazi war crimes. Sandor Kepiro, now 97, allegedly took part in the 1942 murders of over 1,000 Jewish and Serbian civilians in northern Serbia, a series of reprisal killings that became known as the Novi Sad Massacre. Kepiro, who returned to Hungary from exile in Argentina in the 1990s, protested his innocence throughout the trial. “I have never killed people, never plundered, I served my country,” hewas overheard whispering to his companion.
“This is an outrageous verdict and an insult to the victims of Novi Sad massacre,” Ephraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a first reaction to the verdict. However, many of the dozens of people attending the court session cheered and clapped after Judge Bela Varga read out the first part of the verdict by the three-judge tribunal. The reasons for the acquittal were to be given later on Tuesday.
Kepiro, who returned to Hungary in 1996 after decades in Argentina, was discovered living in Budapest in 2006 by Nazi hunters associated with the Wiesenthal Center. Zuroff said that this was one of the clearest cases he had dealt with, and the “extensive evidence” directly contradicted the ruling.
Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, said: “Holocaust survivors view this verdict as 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.”
Prosecutors said Sandor Kepiro had been directly responsible for the deaths of 36 Jews and Serbs - including 30 who were put on a lorry on the defendant's orders and taken away and shot. He was convicted of involvement in the killings in Hungary in 1944 but his conviction was quashed by the then pro-Nazi government. Kepiro claimed to have had been "the only person to refuse the order to use firearms", and he said he had intervened to save five people about to be killed by a corporal.