Health issues halt Nazi war crimes trial

budapest, hungary  |  The war crimes trial of a Hungarian former gendarmerie officer was temporarily suspended on May 10 while doctors tried to determine if he is healthy enough to continue.

Sandor Kepiro, 97, is on trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of about 35 people in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad during an anti-partisan raid by Hungarian forces in January 1942.

Kepiro, who says he is innocent, appeared in court for the third session of the trial looking frail and in a wheelchair. He had trouble understanding what was being said despite his using hearing aids.

Judge Bela Varga said doctors at a Budapest military hospital are expected to examine Kepiro next week.

Before the start of his trial, Sandor Kepiro holds a paper reading “Murderers of a 97-year old man!” in Hungarian. photo/ap/bela szandelszky

As the trial began, Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said, “It’s clear that this is one of the last major trials” of Holocaust-era war criminal suspects. Zuroff brought the case to the attention of authorities in 2006.

In 1941, in the wake of the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, Hungarian forces entered northern Serbia, which had been part of Hungary until World War I. In early 1942, those Hungarian forces carried out raids to counter the growing number of partisan attacks.

Kepiro said his task was to supervise the identification of people being rounded up, but he said he was unaware of the killings until after some 800 Serbs and 400 Jews were reportedly killed.

Kepiro told the court he intervened to save the lives of a Serbian-Jewish family that owned a hotel and was about to be taken by Hungarian soldiers to be shot.

Before the trial was halted this week, a court-appointed historian said he had serious concerns about the credibility and authenticity of part of the evidence against Kepiro presented by prosecutors.

Kepiro went to Austria after World War II and later emigrated to Argentina. He returned to Hungary in 1996.

At the start of the trial, Varga ordered several Jewish students attending the trial to take off yellow stars pinned to their lapels or risk being expelled