NOLAN: Justice Minister Chris Ellison is considering whether
to grant a formal request by the Government of Hungary,
for the extradition of suspected Nazi war criminal, Charles
Zentai, who is currently living in Perth.
An international arrest warrant was issued for the 83-year old last month, alleging
he murdered a Jewish teenager in 1944 whilst serving in the
Hungarian Army, which was an ally of Hitler's army in World
Charles Zentai is refusing to speak
to the media, but he has in the past said he would return
to Hungary to face the allegations because he wasn't in the
country at the time of the alleged murder.
Senator Ellison warns that Mr Zentai
is entitled to the presumption of innocence under Australian
Doctor Efraim Zuroff, Director of
the Simon Weisenthal Center in Israel, and the Center's self-declared
chief Nazi hunter, has been helping Hungarian authorities
with their investigation, and he told me there is extensive
witness testimony alleging Mr Zentai's involvement in a number
of other war crimes.
EFRAIM ZUROFF: There is extensive
witness testimony about his participation in the specific
crime, and there are also indications that that was not the
only crime that he'd committed.
TANYA NOLAN: What other crimes do
you allege he's committed?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: There is testimony
that suggests that Mr Zentai and his accomplices used to
go on manhunts of Jews in the streets of Budapest, used to
capture or kidnap Jews, bring them to the military barracks
at Arena Uzo (phonetic), Arena Street 51 and beat them up
and torture them, at least beat them up and torture them.
TANYA NOLAN: Is this around the same
time that it's alleged he was responsible for murdering the
Jewish teenager in Hungary?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: That's correct. See,
what you have to understand what our listeners have to understand
is this is a period in which Hungary was ruled by the (inaudible)
force, which were the Hungarian fascists, and was basically
open season on the 100,000 Jews living in Budapest.
So these crimes were fairly common
and there was people like Mr Zentai who roamed the streets
of the city, trying to catch Jews in order to murder them,
and many of those bodies were later thrown into the Danube.
TANYA NOLAN: So what charges are specifically
named in the arrest warrant that was issued for Mr Zentai
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Well, to be perfectly
honest, I have not read the document because it was not brought
to our attention. But as far as I understand it relates to
the specific charge in the case of the murder of Peter Valach
(phonetic) and it might also include other cases, but I don't
TANYA NOLAN: So do you have any reason
to suspect that those charges wouldn't be contained in this
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Well, I would hope
that they would be.
TANYA NOLAN: So you began mounting
a case against Mr Zentai yourself back in September – on
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Peter Valach's father
was a lawyer. He survived the Holocaust and he tried very
hard to see to it that Zentai would be brought to trial.
He submitted quite a bit of testimony,
and there were of course the cases held against his accomplices,
and he urged the Hungarian authorities to seek the extradition
of Zentai, already in the forties, but unfortunately, the
request by the Hungarian authorities to the American allied
occupation authorities in Germany was not successful and
Zentai was able to travel to Australia in early February,
And at that time he wasn't brought
to trial but his accomplices were. And in the course of those
trials quite a bit of information came to light, quite a
bit of witness testimony was accepted by the courts and they
form the basis, I believe, for the charges against Mr Zentai.
TANYA NOLAN: And given in the past
Mr Zentai's willingness to face his accusers, he maintains
that he wasn't there at the time that is alleged that he
was responsible for killing this teenager. Is there anything
that you can see that would prevent his going back to Budapest?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Well, I would say to
Mr Zentai if he's so convinced of his innocence, why doesn't
he save us all a big headache and go on his own?
TANYA NOLAN: There has never been
a successful extradition of a suspected Nazi war criminal
from Australia. Does that diminish your hope in the case
of Charles Zentai?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Well, maybe it should
increase our hopes. Maybe it will give an added motivation
to the Australian authorities to finally, for the first time
ever, take successful legal action.
I want to remind our listeners that
in the case of Konrads Kalejs the extradition to Latvia was
approved. Unfortunately he died before it could be carried
TANYA NOLAN: Do you fear that the
same thing could happen? I mean, Charles Zentai is 83.
EFRAIM ZUROFF: I think the cases are
very different because by the time that Latvia asked for
the extradition of Kalejs, Kalejs was already ill and considerably
older than Zentai. Zentai, to the best of our information
is in good health, he drives his own car and that does not
appear to be a problem at the moment.
Of course, that could change in the
next few weeks and months, but I often say that we're in
the ironic position of praying for the good health of those
Nazi war criminals who can be brought to trial.
TANYA NOLAN: Do you believe there
are any other suspected Nazi war criminals here in Australia?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: I am certain that there
are others. The question is whether any of them will ever
be brought to trial, even in Australia or elsewhere, and
that of course is a function of research, political will,
lucky circumstances in some cases because it depends on the
health of the witnesses and the defendants, and I have to
say that we've been incredibly unlucky in Australia so far.
There were many very good cases, Konrad
Kalejs is only one of them, Karlis Ozols, who was an even
higher officer in the infamous, notorious Arajs Commando
in Latvia, and others, who were never brought to trial.
And this was really a travesty of
justice and a combination of bad luck, lack of political
will, loss of will by politicians and ultimately, in some
cases, the passing away of the defendants.
So we've had incredibly bad luck.
The fact that successful legal action has never been taken
is a travesty of justice. It's certainly no proof that there
were no Nazi war criminals in Australia, that's ridiculous.
TANYA NOLAN: Doctor Efraim Zuroff
is Director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Jerusalem.
April 28, 2005