By Eli Ajzenman
There would be few times that I would say I was ashamed to be an Australian. The Tampa Boat affair and the gross mistreatment of refugees seeking asylum in the years leading up to that event in 2001, would be one of those that I found abhorrent.
Charles Zentai, an Australian citizen, is listed by the US-based Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center among its 10 most wanted Nazis as having “participated in manhunts, persecution, and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944.”
He has been fighting his extradition now for a number of years for the murder of a Jewish teenager in Hungary during World War II
Magistrate Barbara Lane of Perth Magistrates Court in Western Australia state ruled in August that Zentai could be extradited to Hungary to face war crimes charges. On Tuesday, Zentai’s lawyers appealed the decision in federal court, arguing the war crime he is accused of was not an offense under Hungarian law at the time it was allegedly committed.
If Lane’s decision is upheld, Australia’s federal government will make the final determination on whether Zentai should be extradited.
Australia has an opportunity to somewhat redeem its guilty conscience. Successive governments have been seemingly unwilling to make the right decisions to have ex Nazis extradited for their crimes.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, assigned Australia the second lowest “grade” for its efforts in taking action .Australia was seen as one of the countries, which despite making a minimal effort, had failed to achieve results and had stopped its efforts prematurely in seeking out and charging Nazis with war crimes. Australia is described as:
The only country in the Western world to which large numbers of Nazi collaborators and criminals (at least several hundreds if not several thousands) emigrated after World War II which has hereto failed to take successful legal action against a single one. Australia closed down its Special Investigations Unit on June 30, 1992 at a time when highly important documentation was first becoming available in the former Soviet republics, where most of the crimes carried out by the Nazis living in Australia had been committed.
The Australian government which passed legislation enabling criminal prosecution in Australia but which failed to achieve a single conviction has refused to switch to denaturalization and/or deportation, methods being used with outstanding success, primarily in the United States, but also in Canada. ( Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Nazi War Criminals Prosecution-Annual Status Report April 2001, 18 April 2001.)
In another failed attempt at justice. Konrad Kalejs, the alleged Nazi war criminal, who died aged 88 in 2001, expertly used his Australian citizenship and money from property deals to evade attempts to prosecute him in Britain, the US, Canada and Australia. He was the first and almost certainly the last suspected war criminal to face extradition from Australia for trial for war crimes in Latvia. Both countries were criticised for failing to bring any Nazi war criminals to justice.
Australia is the only major Western country that admitted large numbers of Nazis and ex-Nazis between 1945 and 1950 and has failed to successfully prosecute even a single one. As the Jerusalem Post noted Australia
has failed to convict, denaturalize, deport, expel or extradite a single Nazi war criminal”, making it “a haven for some of the worst of Hitler’s henchmen
The Sydney Morning Herald in August of 1999 uncovered documents showing that scientists and technicians were brought from Germany to Australia as part of a scheme to bring in highly trained technicians. The Employment of Scientific and Technical Aliens Scheme (ESTEA) operated between 1946 and 1951, bringing in 127 German scientists of whom almost one-third were affiliated with either the Nazi Party or other Nazi groups. In addition some of the remainder had worked for the Nazis in military research or for I G Farben, the notorious chemical firm that used concentration camp inmates as workers
As soon as the story of the ESTEA scientists was released, Jewish groups called for an investigation. Dr Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) was quoted as saying,”It is a deplorable and shocking revelation that fully-paid up Nazi party members, including those who belonged to Nazi killing units, were permitted to enter Australia and start new lives, often at taxpayers’ expense.”
As far back as 1986, Mark Aarons, an ABC radio journalist presented a program, Nazis in Australia. He subsequently developed his research for the radio program into the book Sanctuary, published in 1989, in which he expanded and detailed his argument. In both he charged that not only had Nazi war criminals been allowed to immigrate to Australia but that many of them came with the knowledge, even the complicity, of Australian authorities.
He further charged that subsequent Australian governments had refused to act to extradite Nazi war criminals, even going so far as to “muddy the waters” in terms of identifying them. In the same year as the radio program and largely as a result of it, the Labor Government of Prime Minister Robert J Hawke established an inquiry under the directorship of Andrew Menzies, QC, former deputy director of the Attorney-Generals department.
Menzies conducted an investigation into the charges that Nazis had slipped into Australia as a part of the ESTEA scheme. His report appeared to clear the scheme and this, in turn, closed the door on any further investigation of those who had come in as a part of it. However, he did find that “significant numbers of Nazis had arrived in Australia and special action was needed.” Following the report, the Hawke government set up a Special Investigations Unit in 1987. The SIU was charged with investigating and prosecuting any individuals in Australia who were believed to have committed crimes against humanity during World War II.
Robert Greenwood, QC was appointed director of the SIU, which had more than 800 cases referred to it for investigation by the time of its closure, by Labor’s Attorney-General, Michael Duffy, five years later, on 30 June 1992, it became clear that no new cases would be opened or even investigated.
The timing of the closure could not have been worse. Archives in the former Soviet Union were being opened and new evidence on existing suspects and information about previously unidentified war criminals was being found.
During its existence, the SIU was responsible for the mounting of three prosecutions, all of which failed. A fourth case was quashed by Attorney-General Michael Duffy on the political grounds that the Australian public perceived the cost of such prosecutions as excessive. Finance Minister, Peter Walsh who referred to the SIU as a “crazy exercise,” and urged its termination, supported Duffy’s view.
Conversely German prosecutors said Wednesday they have charged retired auto worker John Demjanjuk with more than 29,000 counts of accessory to murder for his time as a guard at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp, and will seek his extradition from the US.
Demjanjuk is accused of participating in the murders while he was a guard at the Nazi camp in occupied Poland between March and September 1943.
“In this capacity, he participated in the accessory to murder of at least 29,000 people of the Jewish faith,” Munich prosecutors said in a statement.
Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at Israel’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he was “very pleased that the German authorities have taken this step.”
“We hope that the process can be expedited to ensure that this Holocaust perpetrator will finally be appropriately punished,” Zuroff told the AP in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. “We’re on our way to a victory for justice today.”
I can only hope that this time around that the Australian Government will fulfill the natural justice that the victims of the Holocaust so deserve.
At a time when the “beast of antisemitism” is back as Bernard Henri Levy put it, and world is seemingly heading back to the days when Jews and Israel are being demonised once again for the worlds ills, it would be comforting to know that those who escaped punishment for so long, for actual crimes against humanity will finally be brought to justice.
Portions of this blog are direct excerpts from the following on line publications