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Hung(a)ry for justice: butchered in Budapest

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Friday, 9 July 2010

Siobhán: “It’s been close to seventy years. Why on earth are we bothering to hunt down an aged pensioner, just to prosecute him for … what?”
Liam: “That’s why.”

An exchange heard at a dinner conversation in a St Kilda bar, in Melbourne, June 2010, between two Gen Y’s, while watching the FIFA World Cup

When it comes to asking if some of our current laws (drafted a long, long time ago) serve any useful purpose today, Canberra legislators could do worse than heed an old Hungarian proverb: Jobb kétszer kérdezni, mint egyszer hibázni, which means “(that) it is better to ask twice, than to err once”.


Today he is an 88-year old pensioner, known as Mr Charles Zentai. But in 1944, it is claimed he was 23-year-old Hungarian Arrow Cross Ensign Károly Zentai (also known as Károly Steiner). And he is believed to be guilty of murdering an 18-year-old boy in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

Last Friday he had his day in court. Actually it was one of many such days. And unless Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard intervenes or Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes time out from eating dobosh at Gerbeaud, one of Budapest’s finest cafes, Australians will never know the truth. And relatives of a tortured, beaten and murdered Hungarian teenager, 18-year-old Péter Balázs will never taste justice.

Furthermore Australia, for all its virtues will continue to carry an obscene moniker on its back: that, due to disinterest from a series of post war governments, Australia has become a safe haven for the most wicked of men, whose involvement in unspeakable crimes against humanity, including acts by Hitler’s Nazis (and their collaborators), genocidal maniacs from Cambodia, North Korea, Rwanda, and Sudan continue to pollute our cities. And our wholesale apathy is to blame.

The conduct of many such arrivals is, at the least, worthy of careful examination and in some cases, should merit incarceration, denaturalisation and extradition.

Last Friday we learned a few things. Few of them pleasant. We learned that an 88-year-old resident of Willetton in Perth, wanted for questioning in Hungary for the alleged murder and torture of the Jewish teenager during World War II, successfully appealed his extradition.

It was claimed that an officer of the Royal Hungarian Army, Ensign Károly Zentai was stationed at the Aréna Road military barracks in Budapest in 1944. In October of 1944, Hungary’s equivalent of Nazi Schutzstaffel the Arrow Cross, had assumed power and under the leadership of Fredrick Szálasi, was given free rein to ratchet up the maltreatment of the Jews.


Zentai’s fellow officer was Ensign Lajos Nagy. Both soldiers reported to Captain Bela Máder. After the war, Nagy and Máder were tried for the murder of 18-year old Péter Balázs. Both were found guilty, Máder in 1946, Nagy a year later. The former was sentenced to forced labour for life, while the latter received life imprisonment. Evidence tendered at these trials motivated the Hungarian authorities to charge Károly Zentai with the same crime but, by then he was in Germany, en route to Perth. Although he claims to have still been living in Hungary. Go figure.

Australian historian Ruth Balint recalls that at his trial, Ensign Nagy told of how, under the orders of Captain Máder, Ensign Zentai regularly went out on patrols to perform identity checks and herd Jews for interrogation. According to Nagy, Zentai already knew Péter Balázs, both having grown in Budafok, a village outside of Budapest. Károly was roughly five years older than Péter. Péter was surviving on his wits and false identity papers. On November 8, 1944, Zentai recognised the boy on a city tram and arrested him for the crime of not wearing the yellow star.

Following the arrest, the lad was taken to the Aréna Road barracks. Nagy and Zentai (allegedly) beat the young Péter to a pulp. At Nagy’s trial, several former prisoners testified that at least half a dozen of them were taken to Captain Máder’s rooms where they were shown a boy lying on the floor. It was clear that the boy was dying. The officers present confirmed the body on the cell floor was that of Peter Balázs.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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