Nov 9, 2012
Kepiro: Fascist beast or Mr. Nobody
Vladimir Todorovic

Who was Sándor Képíró, the man who was, near the end of his long life, identified as the last Nazi criminal among other things?

Data from his biography show that he was a lawyer, the captain of the fascist Hungarian gendarmerie, that he took part in Novi Sad raid in 1942, and that he was the officer assigned to deport Jewish people to death camps in 1944. He was also a fugitive, a textile worker in Argentina, and when he returned to Budapest, he was a retired man from the Frankel Leo street, that lived in the house across from the synagogue.

Because of the things he did during the war, he was sentenced to 10 and 14 years, in the court processes in 1944 and 1946. He served neither sentence. He was found innocent right after the first one was reached, which can be connected to the fascist overturn in Hungary.

The second one never concerned him, as he had already emigrated. He was brought before the court at the beginning of May 2011 as the last Nazi war criminal. In mid July it was found out that the court council consisting of three members didn’t accept the facts based on which it was possible to prove that he was directly guilty for deaths of over 30 people from Novi Sad in the raid. He was cleared from charges which thrilled the majority in the courtroom.

During the second or the third minute verdict reading, I was one of about fifteen appalled people, who left the courtroom, which was a sign of protest.

Those were the moments while the president of the three member council was still presenting the decision, trying to establish the order in the courtroom. Kepiro’s clearing was followed by a loud explosion of thrill, and it was difficult to say whether the applause spoke of the fact that the philanthropist was in the court process, or that the Nazi was, in Novi Sad doing the “right thing” at the time.

The reactions of the prosecutor and the defense attorney afterwards witnessed that neither side was satisfied. The attitude of the defense was that Kepiro should have been, with the verdict, placed in the order of honorable war participants, and due to this fact they filed a complaint.

Contrary to that, the prosecutor filed a complaint as they thought the jail sentence had to be ruled. This is how the question whether the former captain of the fascist Hungarian gendarmerie was black or white still hovers above our heads. His death made sure that we’re left in a dilemma – legally, and maybe based only on the material prepared for the trial. But from the human aspect? No way.

This is how Efraim Zuroff spoke of the subject in ” The Prague Post” on May 11th:

- The only reason he (Kepiro, author’s remark) says he is innocent, is because he thinks one is, unless they did the killing with their bare two hands. It is also true that he wasn’t the most important officer. He wasn’t. He wasn’t Heinrich Himmler. Still, his responsibility exists and we cannot disregard it.

In the trial prior to this one, also in Budapest, in 2010, the former Nazi officer made sure that Dr. Zuroff sat on the test stand. Kepiro found  the guilt of the first man of the “Simon Wiesenthal Center” in the fact that the director of the notable institution called him “a moral monster and one of Holocaust protagonists”.

The council of the District Court, with Victor Vardas PhD as the president, released Dr. Zuroff from the responsibility on December 16th, after it was determined that the statement wasn’t given to disturb Kepiro, but to influence the governing Hungarian organs to reinvestigate his case.

Some time later, Zuroff spoke about it in Novi Sad:

- I called him a war criminal and… In the time of Novi Sad raid, in 1942 Kepiro had already been a lawyer, and he must have known that a raid is a crime. Even though he knew that, he agreed to take part.

In Novi Sad, where he is the honorary citizen, Dr. Zurof started his investigation in August 2006. During his meeting with Dr. Ana Frenkel, the former president of the Jewish Community, and an important collaborator in the case, he announced the beginning. From Scotland, on the other end of Europe, the firm evidence about Kepiro living in Budapest had already arrived.

It was presented to the media by his former driver, Steven Brendon, who was also a former captain of the fascist Hungarian gendarmerie Istvan Bujdoso. The circle around Kepiro was getting smaller, and the number of people involved in the chase grew. From those who are at the top of the government in Belgrade, over the most important people from Novi Sad, important representatives of the Orthodox Church of Serbia, to young people from the Holocaust Museum in Budapest…

Finally, Hungarian prosecution took a step and on February 14th 2011 drew a bill of indictment against Kepiro for war crimes committed in Serbia during the World War Two. He was charged for taking part in the Novi Sad raid from 21st to 23rd January 1942, when members of occupation forces of Nazi Hungary killed a still unestablished number of innocent people. Some were even thrown in the frozen river Danube. According to sources that are most cited, there were 1246 victims in Novi Sad back then, and according to other sources more than 2000, but also 3000 and 4000. According to some, there were more than 4000, and even 6000 and 7000! For instance, there’s a report that says there were 10.000 killed people. Regardless of the differences, everyone agrees about one thing: the majority of victims were Jews, Serbs and Roma people. Kepiro was also suspected for deportation of Novi Sad Jews to the concentration camp Auschwitz in 1944, and most of them never came back.

In the court, Kepiro claimed he was innocent. He said that he was an insignificant officer, even undisciplined.

For instance, at the meeting before the Raid he required the orders in writing, but his authorities refused to do so. However, he never took much time to explain how he managed, if he was as insignificant and undisciplined, to evict a group of soldiers from the apartment that belonged to the family of five, the Tanurdzic family, from where they were supposed to be taken to the Danube and executed.

He also stated that the Raid wasn’t organized in order to control Jews or Serbs, but that it was directed against partisans. He swore to god that he wasn’t a war criminal, and all the evidence against him he called appalling lies.

Just like in many processes, this one was full of appalling lies as well. One gets the impression there were no accusations. Is it really common to entrust marginal people with tasks such as taking part in an operation, allegedly, directed against suppression of armed forces in the part of occupied Vojvodina?

Or, with the exception of Kepiro’s case, it is unknown that people managed to get promoted even if they refused to obey orders for important operations. He arrived to Novi Sad, before the Raid in 1942 as a lieutenant, only to become a captain in 1943!

A lucky man, one could conclude. But, in the life of this (former) Nazi, there were too many things one could perceive as sheer luck.

For instance, he spent quite little time in jail in 1944, although he was sentenced to ten years. After that, he managed to escape the Red Army – by car! One must agree that at the time it wasn’t so common for every officer to be given a car.

Cars weren’t available to those with a higher rank than Kepiro’s. He had his driver, Bujdoso who drove him from Miskolc, where he was appointed with some (again) insignificant tasks, and all the way to Linz. Luck strikes again! What he was doing in Austria isn’t clear.

Bujdoso remembered some things, Kepiro remembered something completely different. In 1947 he transferred from Austria to a port, and sailed to Argentina from there. Insignificant! Was there really space for such people as well in the under deck?

His entrance in Buenos Aires wasn’t noticed. An accident, luck, or… He decided to work in the textile industry. There was also the huge Nazi Fridrich Slotman, the Ustasha criminals Ivo Rojnica and Dinko Sakic, Mussolini’s youngest son Vittorio, Slovenian quisling Vuk Rupnik… A guest star among beasts!

He also said that he was mistakenly mentioned in the novel “Cold days” by Tibor Ceres. There he was mentioned by his name and rank. Mistakenly? How? This Hungarian writer wrote the novel based on documentation.

According to his daughter Magdolna, in his new motherland Kepiro began organizing meetings of former Hungarian and Argentinean gendarmes. There are more responsible people for such tasks than those stubborn, that refuse to do what they’re ordered.

He also didn’t mind the fact that the researcher Uki Goni put his name on the list of 227 was criminal fugitives from Europe to Argentina and published the list on the Internet, for the world to know who is in question. A streakof luck after a streakof luck for this lucky man. At the end of the process from last summer luck stood by him as well.

Just before the verdict was announced, he took the wrong medicine, but was recuperated at the hospital enough to hear that he was cleared from the charges.

The verdict from July 18th 2011, a text by Vojin Dimitrijevic PhD, from “Pescanik” called “Old Evildoers and Evil Old Men”, as well as the report from the boss of Hungarian General Staff from January 9th 1942 to German military authority in Banat about the situation in Zabalj are enclosed in the book.

The report of the officer of police security from February 25th 1942 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin about the situation in Backa, and the report of a German intelligence officer from March 7th 1942 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin about the massacres Hungarians did in Curug and Novi Sad are also enclosed in the book.

The foreword was written by the prosecutor for war crimes of the republic of Serbia Vojislav Vukcevic, the vice president of Vojvodina assembly, the lawyer Branimir Mitrovic, as well as the president of Jewish Community in Novi Sad, engineer Goran Levi.