Hunting the Nazi Hunter? Hungary May Go after Efraim Zuroff

Just when it looked like the Hungarian authorities finally got the message and arrested Laszlo Csatary, the 97-year-old former commander of the Kassa ghetto during 1944 (who was convicted of war crimes by the Czechoslovak court in 1948 in absentia), newspapers have reported that the prosecution has dropped one of the charges. The charge the prosecution has dropped related to Csatary’s alleged involvement in the deportations of Polish Jews living in Hungary in 1941 Kamenyec-Podolszkiji. These Jews were shot to death in Kamenyec-Podolszkiji.  This, in and of itself, may not appear to be anything but a standard procedure even though Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Wiesenthal Center who had brought the case against Csatary claims that the prosecution may not have interviewed an 84-year-old survivor on whose testimony Zuroff mainly based this charge (

Yet, I am afraid there is much more to the situation than meets the eye.

Why has the prosecution moved to dismiss one out of the two charges so fast? Perhaps it has to do with Prime Minster Orban’s infamous characterization about how he conducts negotiations with the IMF. In a speech, he stated that he dances the peacock dance, that is, he appears to give in when it comes to minor demands by the IMF (that he had long ago also deemed necessary) to deceive his negotiating partners while standing firm in opposition to the key demands. This so-called peacock dance is supposed to make his negotiating partners confused and pleased at the same time, allowing for Orban to come out as the victor.

In this case, Mr. Orban was initially forced by Efraim Zuroff with the assistance of a British newspaper into having Csatary arrested after doing nothing for ten months. Mr. Orban, a vociferous soccer fan who tends to see life as an extended soccer metaphor, may have deemed that as a goal against him. It is only natural for Mr. Orban to try to score his own goals. Thus, Mr. Orban may have decided to make some gestures towards those radical elements in Hungary who have expressed strong opposition to any prosecution against old time Hungarian Nazi collaborators by making a number of moves.

In the past few days, Hungarian media reports have discussed the possibility that prosecutors may use a law against Zuroff that was intended to dissuade people from making false accusations out of malice or for any other reason. The mere talk of such a case against Zuroff raises the specter of an international scandal even as it gratifies the Hungarian radical camp’s desire to see Zuroff squirm. (

After a very successful performance at the London Olympics (Hungary ranked 14th in the medal count), the country’s image at home as well as abroad has received a facelift. Wonderful! There is much to celebrate. The incredibly hard work of the athletes and the expert guidance of the coaches, no doubt, made all of this possible. But such achievements on the field of sports are easily overshadowed by domestic economic and political developments.

Does Hungary really want to be seen as an aggressor against a person who has devoted his life to hunting down people responsible for the worst organized atrocity against Humanity in human history? Can anyone picture Efraim Zuroff going off to jail for five years in Hungary? Would Hungary actually launch a case against the director of the Wiesenthal Center in hopes of appeasing the increasingly vocal elements of the far right who would clamor for it?

If that happened, it would cause a cascade of negative reactions. A case based on the charge of “false accusation” would open up many wounds, play into the hands of the many Holocaust deniers not just in Hungary but all around the world, and would shatter the illusion that Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban–who has voiced his thought that Hungary perhaps ought to discard democracy altogether–is still part of the ideological foundation that underpins the European Union. Clearly, Prime Minister Orban, without whose approval nothing substantial happens in Hungary, sees the dangers to Hungary’s image such a move would entail. By allowing such reports by retired judges and lawyers to circulate in the press close to the prime minister, Viktor Orban wants to score a few goals of his own. To the radical-Nazi-sympathizing camp of the Jobbik Party, the message is clear: “You see? I don’t let these Jews threaten us without appropriate response! Let Zuroff (and his colleagues or others like him) be aware that Hungary may prosecute him!” To Mr. Zuroff, the message is also clear: “Be careful in what you claim. We don’t like you. You’re a pest in our eyes and your own fate is in our hands.” And to the world at large, in case Csatary dies while the trial drags on or is acquitted at the end, Orban can say, “you see, I could have prosecuted Mr. Zuroff for filing false charges against Csatary but decided to take the high road and let him go.” No prosecution of a Nazi hunter and no conviction on all charges (or any charges) of an old Nazi collaborator.

An undecided soccer match in this case would signify a clear victory to Mr. Orban against those who pressure him to do anything he does not like from outside.

It is important for people who care about justice to stand up and declare with a loud voice that we are not deceived by Mr. Orban’s peacock dance.

We can only hope that international human rights groups in tandem with a large number of people who care for justice make enough noise for Mr. Orban to hear and act accordingly. We can only hope that the Hungarian prosecutors assigned to the Csatary case are not forced to dance Orban’s peacock dance this time and can do their job without political interference.