BRUSSELS, Belgium — Hungarian prosecutors on Tuesday filed charges against a 98-year-old former police officer for beating Jews and assisting their deportation to Nazi death camps, as the hunt continues for the last surviving war criminals of World War II.
Laszlo Csatary had topped the most-wanted list of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angles-based human rights organization named for the Holocaust survivor who spearheaded global efforts to hunt down Nazi fugitives after the war.
"The indictment of Csatary... is an important reminder that justice for the victims of the Holocaust can still be achieved," Efraim Zuroff, head of the center's Jerusalem office said in a statement.
Csatary was arrested last year after the Wiesenthal Center uncovered his location through its "Operation: Last Chance,” launched in 2002 to track down remaining Nazi war criminals.
The center says Csatary "beat, brutalized and sent 16,000 Jews to their deaths in the Ukraine and Auschwitz" while operating in Kosice, Slovakia, between 1941 and 1944, when the city was ruled by a pro-Nazi Hungarian regime.
According to the indictment submitted by prosecutors in Budapest, Csatary was police commander at an internment camp where he regularly beat Jewish prisoners with his bare fists and a whip. Acting for no particular reason, he made no exceptions for gender, age or health, Hungary's MTI news agency reported.
Csatary fled Kosice after the war. A Czechoslovak court tried him in absentia and sentenced him to death in 1948, when he was living in Canada under a false identity.
He worked as an art dealer in Toronto and Montreal before being unmasked in 1997. He fled back to his native Hungary and again slipped out of sight after his Canadian citizenship was revoked.
Zuroff tracked Csatary down in Budapest last year, where he was placed under house arrest by the Hungarian authorities.
Csatary is expected to face trial within the next three months. Zuroff urged the authorities to expedite the trial because of the defendant's advanced age.
The Nazi hunters added that the trial could be a "significant milestone for Hungary as the country struggles with its history during World War II" — a reference to a recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in the central European nation where the far-right Jobbik party is currently the third-largest in parliament.
It "sends an important message that people like Csatary are criminals rather than patriotic heroes," the Zuroff said.