The Human Spirit: Continental Justice
April 1, 2011
Barbara Sofer , THE
legal troubles facing Efraim Zuroff and Melanie Phillips are an obvious
attempt to silence eloquent advocates of the Jewish people.
Zuroff, the Jewish people's most distinguished Nazi hunter, will appear
in court in Budapest on April 6. But he is not testifying against an alleged
Nazi. He will be sitting in the chair of the accused.
In London, eminent journalist Melanie
needs to visit the police. But she isn't writing another muckraking story.
She has been reported to the police, accused of using insulting language
in a column referring to the murderers of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad and Hadas
Fogel in Itamar.
Something is terribly wrong with this picture.
Hungary recently took on the presidency of the Council of the European
Union, a proud moment for the country which joined the EU in 2004. As
eyes turn to this rising leader, Hungary - a country with a nefarious
Holocaust history - should be ashamed to be holding this mock trial
against an Israeli Nazi hunter.
heads the Simon
Israel branch and has inherited the late Simon Wiesenthal's weighty mantle.
Six and a half decades after the Holocaust, Zuroff hasn't given up the pursuit
of its perpetrators.
His campaign, like his autobiography, is aptly called Operation Last Chance.
All of us can sleep better knowing that those responsible for the Holocaust
sleep less well with Zuroff and his colleagues on their tails.
Operation Last Chance offers cash incentives for tips.
Letters with information arrive at the Wiesenthal Center every month.
Some are hoaxes and others are attempts to settle personal scores. But
there are also messages that contain valuable information.
So it was in February 2005, when Zuroff received a tip from a man in Scotland.
The writer was disgusted to have attended a social event where a former
Hungarian Nazi bragged about his war exploits.
contacted a Scottish journalist who agreed to follow up the story. The
braggart willingly shared the details of his personal history, and when
the journalist inquired about the photo of an officer in uniform mounted
on his wall, he learned that this was a
Dr. Sandor Kepiro, an esteemed former comrade in arms in the Hungarian
Zuroff checked the name at Yad Vashem, where the Holocaust researcher
responded with an uncharacteristic expletive. He knew exactly who Kepiro
was: a lawyer who had been convicted twice but never imprisoned after
the war for his role in a rogue operation murdering thousand of civilians,
mostly Jews, but also Serbs and Roma, in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia (now Serbia),
in January 1942.
In Novi Sad, victims were rounded up and taken to the banks of the Danube.
It was so cold, 30º below, that the Hungarians brought in a cannon
to break the ice before they shot the thousands of men, women and children.
The young lawyer presumably was worried enough about the repercussions
of the action that he had requested orders in writing. According to Zuroff,
Kepiro was advised that such orders are better not committed to paper.
Kepiro carried them out anyway.
To find Kepiro, it turned out, was easy. He had been living in Argentina,
but with the fall of Hungary's communist government (which had reportedly
convicted him in absentia of war crimes), he was no longer at risk of
prosecution. He moved back to Hungary to enjoy his golden years.
With the help of Righteous Gentiles in Hungary, Zuroff found Kepiro's
name - he hadn't bothered to change it - in the Budapest phone
Kepiro was then 93 and you might assume that he was too old for us to
prosecute. But when Zuroff learned that Kepiro was the organizer of the
local block party in his apartment complex, he decided that was one party
too many for a mass murderer. Zuroff called a press conference across
the street from Kepiro's home at a local synagogue, and urged Hungary
to bring him to justice.
In the meantime, Kepiro has sued Zuroff, alleging that the Nazi hunter
had made statements about the case as fact rather than opinion.
Zuroff's trial began in October. Kepiro was interviewed outside the courtroom
and showed no remorse. He had just been following orders, doing his job
"gathering up terrorists."
The continuation of Zuroff's trial was scheduled
for December, but when Kepiro, who is now 96, didn't show up, the Hungarian
judge threw out the case. Kepiro appealed successfully. Hence, Zuroff
must appear again in Hungarian court. If convicted, he could face a fine
and up to two years in prison.
Last month, Hungary belatedly decided it would try Kepiro, too. His trial
is scheduled for May 5, a month after Zuroff's.
WHICH BRINGS us to Melanie Phillips. In her book The
World Turned Upside Down,
she says we live in a world where truth and lies, right and wrong, victims
and aggressors are inverted. QED.
Writing on her blog (she calls it a diary) on the website of The Spectator,
the Orwell Prize-winning columnist indeed used strong language to describe
the murderers in Itamar, as well as chastising her fellow journalists
for reporting the terror attack as if it were a house break-in gone wrong.
Her exact words: "So to The
New York Times,
it's not the Arab massacre of a Jewish family which has jeopardized ‘peace
prospects' - because the Israelis will quite rightly never trust
any agreement with such savages - but instead Israeli policy on
building more homes, on land to which it is legally and morally entitled,
which is responsible instead for making peace elusive. Twisted, and sick."
The word "savages," in the context of referring to those who sawed off
the head of a three-month-old girl, seems to have so offended the sensibilities
of a British group called Muslims4UK that it complained to the British
Press Complaints Commission and the police.
In both cases, legal
lawfare, is an obvious attempt to silence eloquent advocates of the Jewish
people. At the very least, for Zuroff and Phillips answering these complaints
is a nuisance. Beyond the nuisance is a threat and an attempt to inhibit
their freedom of expression. The British press sets the tone of continental
media coverage. Because Hungary is now leading the EU, its courtroom becomes
a showcase of continental justice.
Ironically, Hungary has announced that one of its social goals for the
presidency is to develop an EU strategy to promote integration of Roma
people, who were targeted along with Jews and Serbs for slaughter on the
Neither Phillips nor Zuroff frightens easily. But they shouldn't have
to defend themselves without the full support of the Jewish people. To
me, that means that the State of Israel stands by their side.
I call on the government to support Phillips and to heed her summons -
loud and clear on the IBA's Saturday night news round-up - to present
Israel's case with strength and eloquence. I'm sure she would be glad
to help outline a plan.
I call on the Foreign Ministry to communicate to its counterparts in Hungary
that we see the trial of Zuroff as an insult to the Jewish people. Ambassador
to Hungary Aliza Bin-Noun must be in the courtroom representing all of
us on April 6, and on May 5, too, reminding a forgetful continent that
the hunt for our murderers goes on.
"I'm often asked when I'm going to let go," I've heard Zuroff say. "My
answer is always the same: when the last Nazi or collaborator is dead.
Imagine that the person I'm seeking murdered your grandparents. Would
you ever give up?"