As reported in this issue, Hungarian prosecutors have, at last, indicted Laszlo Csatary for aiding in the execution and torture of Jews during the Holocaust. This vicious fiend served as the chief of an internment camp for 12,000 Jews at a brick factory in Kosice, a Slovak city then part of Hungary.
Csatary, who is now 98 years old, is said to have beaten Jews with his bare hands and a dog whip, and refused to allow ventilation holes to be cut into the walls of a railcar crammed with 80 Jews being deported.
In Monday’s edition, we reported the shocking story of Michael Karkoc, a 94-year-old former commander of an SS-led Nazi military unit who has lived quietly in Minneapolis for the past six decades. An Associated Press investigation found that Karkoc served as a top commander in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion during World War II.
Despite their advanced ages, both seem to be in fairly good health, and Karkoc recently came to the door without the help of a cane or a walker. Unsurprisingly, he would not comment on his wartime service. “I don’t think I can explain,” he said.
Indeed, there can be no explanations for the atrocities perpetrated by the unit he led during WWII, including the burning of villages filled with women and children.
Some wonder, what is the purpose of prosecuting nonagenarians? After all, even if they live long enough to be put on trial — in the case of Csatary, the first session of the trial must be held within three months, and Karkoc has yet to be charged — it is unclear whether at such an advanced age they will be sent to prison. Furthermore, even if after 70 years of comfort and freedom they do spend their final days in a prison cell, such punishment would be a mockery in contrast to the enormity of the crimes they committed.
There can be no doubt that true justice will not come in a mortal courtroom. As Torah Jews with a firm belief in a World to Come, we are confident that in the end real justice will prevail.
Chazal (Rosh Hashanah 23a) states that there are deeds for which no rectification is possible. The Gemara quotes a passuk in Yeshayah (60:17) which describes how the valuables that were plundered from Am Yisrael will be returned many times over when Moshiach comes. “In the place of the copper I will bring gold, and in the place of iron I will bring silver; in place of wood, copper; and in the place of the stones, iron.”
“But what can be brought to replace Rabi Akiva and his companions [who were brutally murdered by the Romans]?” Chazal ask, and reply: “Of them the passuk (Yoel 4:21) says, “Though I will cleanse [them of other sins], their bloodshed I will not cleanse.”
We have no inkling of the greatness of the exalted place in Gan Eden set aside for the kedoshim of all the generations. We also can’t possibly grasp the punishment in Gehinnom meted out to their murderers and those who aided them.
Nonetheless, the prosecution of these old men in this world does serve an important purpose.
For one thing, it sends a clear message to all those who contemplate doing evil: eventually, the long arm of the law will reach them. It will send a powerful signal to all those who have committed war crimes in the past that they, too, aren’t immune from prosecution.
It is also a very valuable educational tool for a young generation that knows little, if anything, about the Holocaust. The publicity caused by such investigations and prosecutions will hopefully help remind the public of the obligation of zachor, to remember and educate the coming generations about both the horror of the aggressors and the heroism of the kedoshim and the survivors.