SYDNEY, Australia (Jan. 17)
An Australian of Hungarian origin has been accused by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of murdering an 18-year-old Jewish man in Budapest in 1944. The center has advised the Australian and Hungarian governments that the 83-year-old man, Charles Zentai, is alleged to have beaten the young Jew to death in his Budapest army barracks in 1944 after seizing him because he was not wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David.
The center received tips about the alleged incident as part of its Operation Last Chance program, which offers rewards for information on suspected Nazi-era war criminals.
So far, the program has been active in eight countries and so far has so far has produced leads on more than 320 names. Germany becomes the ninth country next week.
Zentai’s name was given to the center by a member of the family of Peter Balozs, the 18-year-old he allegedly killed on Nov. 8, 1944. Zentai is also accused of dumping Balozs’ weighted body into the waters of the Danube.
Zentai is alleged to have been one of three soldiers responsible for the murder. The two others were charged and found guilty. One is believed to have been sentenced to death and the other to life imprisonment.
The director of the center’s Israel office, Efraim Zuroff, told JTA, “Our information is that Zentai, who was known at the time as Karoly Steiner, fled Hungary for Germany, where he lived for five years before moving to Australia, where his persona changed yet again to Charles Zentai. We understand he was born in 1921.”
Zuroff added that the center passed the information on to Tim George, the Australian ambassador in Tel Aviv, two months ago.
George “assured us that he had forwarded it to Canberra and that the Australian federal police were on the case,” Zuroff said. “But nothing has happened, so the time has come to bring the matter into the public arena. We have heard nothing from the Hungarian government.”
Australia’s Channel Nine News broadcast the story throughout the country on Sunday. Zentai appeared on the program and told his interviewer, “All I have to say and want to say at this stage is that this is all wrong and I’m prepared to go back to Hungary to defend myself.”
Although the Australian federal police have told media that the case is yet to be presented to them, a spokesman for the minister for justice said it was being referred to the police.
Zuroff told JTA: “As far as hunting down those who perpetrated heinous crimes against Jews in World War II, there are no time limitations. Anyone who killed Jews in 1944 is just as guilty in 2005. Time does not lessen these crimes.”