In January 1942, Hungarian Sandor Kepiro helped round up some
1,000 Jews and Serbs, who were later massacred. He denies, though,
giving orders to kill them.
Mr. Kepiro later fled to Argentina, where he remained for half a
century until Hungary allowed him to return. He was convicted in
absentia in 1946, but his pursuers never relented: Any day now, the
92-year-old will learn whether Budapest courts will retry him for
Six decades after World War II, the once-dormant pursuit of
Holocaust-related justice is forging ahead in newly democratic
central-eastern Europe. Yet the hunt carries a price: It has stirred
resentment among a financially struggling populace, which bristles
at the multimillion-dollar property claims by their Jewish
communities, and sees the harassment of nonagenarians as unnecessary
or even cruel.
"I would venture to say Holocaust issues are the major source of
anti-Semitism in post-Communist Europe today," says Efraim Zuroff of
the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as
"the world's last Nazi-hunter."
Other activists disagree, asserting that anti-Semitism merely
awaits a pretext to surface. However, there is consensus that the
pursuit must go on.
"I understand when young people question: 'Why do you go after
people who did something 60 years ago when they haven't done
anything wrong [since]?' " says Kurt Schrimm, senior public
prosecutor for Germany's Central Office for the Investigation of
National Socialist Crimes. "On the other hand, we have the duty
regarding the victims and relatives of the victims, to know the
facts of what was done 60 years ago and who did it. So maybe this is
more important, to put a 90-year-old in jail."
The process of culpability began with the Nuremberg trials, but
by the late 1940s, the cold war set in and eroded momentum. Jewish
groups launched property-restitution efforts in 1951, creating the
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims
Conference. And in 1960, famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal helped
Israeli operatives capture high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann in
Argentina. He was later convicted in Israel and hung.
But in Eastern Europe, where most blood was shed, the topic was
taboo. Communist regimes described all victims as victims of Nazi
"fascism," not singling out particular groups because of
Yet when the system collapsed in 1989-90, dusty archives were
pried open, and victims and activists found their voice, demanding
Aided by researchers and archivists, advocates have built their
cases. The US Office of Special Investigations (OSI) filed 10 new
cases in 2002 alone, a one-year record, against American immigrants
who hid a Nazi past. To date, the agency has won cases against 104
people and deported 63, says OSI Director Eli Rosenbaum.
"This sends a message to would-be perpetrators of crimes against
humanity," says Mr. Rosenbaum. "If they dare to commit such crimes,
there is a very real chance they will be pursued for however long it
takes - even into their old age, even to sanctuaries they think they
have found, thousands of miles away from the scene of their crimes. …