Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Letting go doesn't mean forgetting

The constant clamor for a guilty verdict before the evidence has even been presented. The call for someone to pay for what happened. A verdict that stuns the folks expecting to celebrate a conviction. The inevitable cries that the jury didn't know what it was doing.

The Casey Anthony trial in Florida?


The Sandor Kepiro trial in Budapest.

But who is Sandor Kepiro, you might ask.

Mr. Kepiro was accused of being a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of 36 Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in 1942. He was acquitted this week.

In 1944, Mr. Kepiro was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but that conviction was overturned  after a coup d'etat put the fascists in power in Hungary. Mr. Kepiro fled the country and eventually found himself in Argentina. In 1946 the newly installed Communist government tried Mr. Kepiro in absentia and, surprise, convicted him.

Mr. Kepiro returned to Hungary in 1996 and was charged for his alleged role in the massacre in 2009. Those charges were later dropped. He was charged once again earlier this year. 

Mr. Kepiro's chief accuser, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wasn't particularly happy with the verdict.

As he left the courtroom, Mr Zuroff said he found the verdict "outrageous, absurd" and that the Simon Wiesenthal Center would do "everything possible to see that it's overturned".
He said Mr Kepiro had "devoted all his energy to the murder of innocent men, women and children" and that the Wiesenthal Center found it "absolutely outrageous that a person like this was never punished for his crimes".
"We'll continue to do whatever we can so that Sandor Kepiro doesn't end his life sitting in peace and tranquillity... but ends his life where he belongs, in a Hungarian jail. This is a joke."

For true believers, the thought that a rational thinking person could come to a contrary conclusion is heresy. The only possible explanation is that the judge or jury hadn't the foggiest clue as to what they were doing.

We are talking about an incident that took place almost 70 years ago. There can't be many witnesses left - Mr. Kepiro is 97. The case must be built on documents - documents that may not even exist anymore. Maybe Mr. Kepiro escaped justice -- and just as likely he did not.

The larger issue, however, is at what point does it end? I have no doubt that there are Nazi war criminals that have escaped justice. I'm equally certain that, at some point, we just have to call it a day. Whose interest is served in putting a 97 year-old man on trial for a crime that occurred in 1942?

The genocide that took place at the hands of the Nazis cannot be excused and must never be forgotten. But we must also acknowledge that, there is no purpose served in hunting down men in their 80's and 90's and trying them for crimes committed during the 1930's and 40's. These men are old - and, more importantly, they aren't the same men who presided over the killings of millions of people.

At this point in time our children and their children are better served by documenting the atrocities that took place and examining how and why they were allowed to occur.

Always remember that history is written by the victors. No one prosecuted President Truman or any of the soldiers involved in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing thousands who had no role in the war. No one prosecuted Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon, or their military commanders, for the slaughter of innocents in Southeast Asia. No one will prosecute Presidents Bush or Obama or their minions for the torture inflicted upon detainees in the witch hunt after 9/11.

Closure is an illusion. Sometimes you just have to move on.

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