Zentai case – J-Wire talks to Zuroff

March 11, 2009 by J-Wire
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Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, spoke to J-Wire today from his Jerusalem office about the Zentai case.

Charles Zentai

Charles Zentai

Charles Zentai is an 87-yr-old Perth man who fled Hungary after the war but remains wanted for questioning by the Hungarian Government about the part he

Efraim Zuroff

Efraim Zuroff

allegedly played in the murder of 18-yr-old Jewish man Peter Balazs in Budapest in 1948. Balazs, living under Swiss protection, was known to his killers who spotted him in a tram not wearing the yellow Star of David. He was bundled off the vehicle and manhandled back to army barracks where he was severely beaten and allegedly murdered. His body was weighted and thrown in the Danube.

Zentai, whose name at the time was Karoly Steiner, escaped into the American Zone after the war, fleeing to France, Italy and finally Perth.

His lawyers pleaded in the Federal Court in Perth this week that a magistrate-approved extradition request was not legal as the alleged crime was written before the invoked law. Zentai also told media he had willingly taken a lie-detector test which showed him to be innocent. He now awaits the result of his appeal.

Meanwhile in Israel, a frustrated Zuroff told J-Wire : “There is not a country in the world that will accept into evidence the results of a lie detector test. They are totally irrelevant. It’s shameful that he can exploit the legal technicalities in Australian law to delay this case. In my view, his behaviour is that of someone with something to hide.”

During a visit to Australia, Zuroff visited Zentai’s children in Perth who tried to convince him that their father was innocent and could not have committed such a crime. Zuroff said: “Sadly, there are a lot of cases of families where parents hold dark secrets their children rarely discover. It’s not that unusual.”

Zuroff questions Zentai’s unwillingness to return to Hungary to answer the courts there. “This is not a backward country, ” he said. “Hungary is member of the EEU and very sophisticated. He would get a fair hearing…what is he scared of?” On the state of Zentai’s health, Zuroff added: “They claim he is not a well man…but he is still managing to live on his own so he cannot be in serious ill health.”

Zuroff and Zentai await the decision of Federal Court Justice John Gilmour.

Australia has never brought a known Nazi war criminal to justice.


One Response to “Zentai case – J-Wire talks to Zuroff”
  1. Ernie Steiner says:

    I am the son of Charles Zentai. I would like to explain why I consider that my father is totally innocent and take the opportunity to correct some of your information. Firstly my father has had the name “Zentai since he was 13 years old. The family name was changed by his older sister Julia on May 27, 1935. This was a common practice in Hungary at the time. As my father was a young boy at the time he had no say in the matter. He was pleased when we decided to return to the original family name in 1987. The information Efraim Zuroff has used as evidence against my father in relation to the death of Peter Balazs are falsified testimonies by Hungarian Soldiers in fear of their lives. My research over four years of the documents and history from the People’s Court of Budapest reveal torture of the witnesses relevant to this case, by the AVO secret political police. Some evidence is also admitted by the witnesses to be hearsay. It is significant that not one Jewish forced labourer made accusations against my father in relation to the death of Peter Balazs. This is from a review of 69 statements from 35 witnesses. The People’s Court of Budapest did not allow witnesses for the defence and its activities were linked closely to the AVO and AVH. It was a corrupt system. Unfortunately Peter Balazs’s father Dezso heard this falsified evidence and in his grief understandably believed it. But the evidence remains that my father was not in Budapest on November 8, 1944 the day of the young man’s murder. Captain Bela Mader and Lieutenant Lajos Nagy were, and I conclude that they killed young Peter. It is their testimonies that have been most damaging to my father and were picked up by the People’s Court. I have testimony to my father not being with Mader and Nagy on November 8, 1944 and that he was on his way to Hanta on November 7. mid morning, to relocate the Transport unit and Military school. It was a large convoy of military and civilian personnel fleeing the Russians. My father was not fleeing from justice at all. He was also never in France as reported but did work as a truck driver in the French sector in 1949. He remained in Hanta until just after Christmas ’44 when they were ordered to relocate to Ostffyaszonyfa, Hungary. This is where my mother and father were married in January ’45. My parents crossed the border into Austria with the convoy, which was by now around 800 people plus horses on March 29,1945. They lived in Germany for five years, always at a registered address using their own names. This was required to receive aid from the IRO. I have much testimony from my aunty Julia Zentai who travelled the whole time with my father and mother. My aunty passed away last year but her testimony remains.
    I would also like to state that my father was never in the Arrowcross, never conducted people roundups and was never a Nazi as has been widely reported. He steered well clear of extremists and was never even remotely involved in holocaust activities. He detested the German occupation of his country and was a conscripted soldier. Some have mocked my father’s his ill health but his statements are based on specialist medical diagnoses. His polygraph test by a reputable police accredited team was a genuine effort by an innocent man keen to show others he had nothing to hide. He did the test three times by the way. Contrary to Efraim Zuroff’s statement, and he is a US citizen who should know this. Polygraph evidence is permitted in criminal cases in the US in 36 States(http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/19/1092889266542.html). So they must have some credibility to many learned people. My father has always said that he would be willing to face a court in Australia in relation to the charges made against him but a military court in Hungary I think most Australians would agree is not a comparable system of justice. Efraim Zuroff has made a serious mistake in the case of Charles Zentai, my father. Sadly in the end it will reflect badly on the excellent work done by The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in other areas such as peace, reconciliation and education. There is much more to my father’s story. Evidence which I will eventually present to the Attorney General when completed. I was venturing into the unknown when I started but I am now certain that my father is innocent. It has been a terrible ordeal for him and our family but it has brought us even closer together. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Regards
    Ernie Steiner

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