In what is billed as one of the last Holocaust trials, a 97-year-old Hungarian man faced court on Thursday over his alleged part in a 1942 massacre of hundreds of Jews, Serbs and Roma.
Sandor Kepiro stands accused of murdering 36 civilians in the town of Novi Sad in present-day Serbia. He went on the offensive in his first day in court, declaring himself fit for trial and dismissing the charges.
"I am innocent and I am here on trumped-up charges," he said, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph. "This trial is a terrible thing. There is no basis to this, everything is based on lies."
Kepiro, a captain in Hungary's fascist forces, admits he took part in the Novi Sad raid but maintains that he only arrested civilians and never took part in killing.
More than 1,200 Serbs, Jews and Roma were taken to the banks of the Danube and shot or thrown into the frozen river alive by Hungarian forces in apparent revenge for partisan attacks. Kepiro at one time topped the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most-wanted Nazis list.
The Center’s Efraim Zuroff, who tracked down Kepiro and helped build the case against him, said recently it was particularly satisfying to see the man face justice.
“Obviously it’s getting harder and harder to prosecute Nazi war criminals, but precisely because we’re getting towards the end of this endeavour, in certain countries there is an energetic effort to try to maximize justice,” Zuroff said.
The BBC reported that after using a walking stick on his way into the court in Budapest, Kepiro took his seat and displayed a printed sheet of paper stating: "Murderers of a 97-year-old man!"
A verdict is expected as soon as next week in another major trial, that of John Demjanjuk in Munich. The 91-year-old Ukranian was a Red Army soldier who is accused of agreeing to serve as a guard at the Nazi's Sobibor death camp after he was captured. Prosecutors have called for a conviction and six-year prison sentence.