TORONTO (Dec. 10)
The defense strategy in Canada’s first war-crimes trial emerged last week when two Holocaust survivors from Israel testified before the Ontario Supreme Court here.
Defense counsel Douglas Christie sought to discredit them and to justify the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe as a wartime measure now used by Israel against the Palestinians.
The defendant, Imre Finta, 77, was an officer during World War II in the Nazi-controlled Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie.
The former restaurateur from Hamilton, Ontario, has been charged on eight counts, including theft of personal property, kidnapping, manslaughter and forcibly confining 8,617 Jews deported from Szeged, Hungary, in 1944.
Testifying in Hebrew through interpreters, witnesses Meir Schweiger and Mordechai Schnitzer each told of being confined to boxcars for days. Schweiger was sent to Birkenau and Schnitzer to the Strasshof camp in Austria.
Christie tried to cast doubt on the witnesses’ credibility. When Schnitzer recalled that the prisoners were freezing when they arrived at Birkenau, the defense lawyer contended that the transfer occurred at the end of June, when it would have been hot.
CALLS JEWS ‘SECURITY RISKS’
Christie said Schweiger was either lying or confused when he pointed to Finta as the man who introduced himself to Jews in the Szeged ghetto by saying, “I am Imre Finta. I am in charge here.”
Similarly, Christie claimed Schnitzer must have been “hallucinating” when he said he saw his grandmother removed dead from a boxcar. He also disputed the witnesses’ story of being locked in the car for six days, with 80 or 90 other people.
Christie sought to explain the roundup and deportation of Jews on June 17, 1944, as reasonable in wartime. “Is it not true that in Israel today, Palestinians are detained without trial?” he asked.
“Were not the Jews security risks, and is it not customary in time of war for such people to be detained?” Christie remarked.
Presiding Judge Archie Campbell ordered the lawyer to abandon that line of questioning.