A 97-year-old Hungarian man has been acquitted on charges of involvement in the murders of 35 people in the Serbian city of Novi Sad during World War II.
Judge Bela Varga handed down the verdict of the three-judge panel in Budapest after informing the court that the defendant had arrived via ambulance after spending a week in hospital due to being given the wrong medication.
Sandor Kepiro was charged for his role as a gendarmerie captain who commanded a patrol that killed four people during the raid. Around 30 others were also murdered, allegedly by Kepiro, on the banks of the Danube River.
The anti-partisan raid on Novi Sad was carried out on January 23, 1942 by Hungarian forces, which participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia, which at the time included Serbia. Hungary was allied with Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan.
During the trial, Kepiro denied all the charges, having returned to live in Hungary in 1996 after decades of living in Argentina.
His existence was discovered in 2006, in Budapest, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “This was an outrageous verdict and an insult to the victims of the Novi Sad massacre,” said Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, director and chief Nazi hunter of the Center. “We will do everything possible to overturn the verdict and ensure Kepiro ends his life in jail,” he added.
“I am innocent,” Kepiro said in a statement that was read to the Buda District Court by his psychologist. “I never killed, never stole. I served my country,” The Associated Press reported.
Kepiro claimed that although he was involved in the identification of vicims who were rounded up, he was not aware of killings until after they were carried out. The former Hungarian captain was convicted by a military court in 1944 for his role in the raids, but only served a few weeks of a 10-year sentence – which later was annulled. His rank was reinstated.
A total of more than 800 Serbs and at least 400 Jews are believed to have been murdered in the raids, in which Kepiro is believed to have had involvement as well.