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Exposure of Perth parishioner's alleged war crimes

While Hungarian authorities investigate retired Perth nurse Charles Zentai for alleged war crimes including murder, the 83-year-old widower has "taken comfort from the quiet support of the Catholic parish that has known him for more than 40 years".

The Australian reports that at a church service led by friend Fr John Luemmen yesterday, Mr Zentai sat with parishioners in the front row at the Queen of Apostles Parish in the southern Perth suburb of Riverton.

Mr Zentai has been accused of being one of three soldiers who tortured and murdered 18-year-old Jew Peter Balazs in Budapest in 1944 while serving in the army of Adolf Hitler's wartime ally, Hungary. It is alleged their victim was targeted for not wearing the yellow Star of David.

The 18-year-old was allegedly taken to a barracks in Budapest where he was beaten, tortured and murdered. His body was then weighed down with rocks and dumped in the Danube.

Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which investigates Nazi war crimes, said the other soldiers, Bella Mader and Lajos Nagy, were convicted and served time in prison for the murder.

Dr Zuroff claims to have new information implicating Mr Zentai in numerous war crimes. He has delivered the information to military prosecutor Ferenc Nemesc in Budapest. An Australian Federal Police investigation into Mr Zentai is already under way, after that organisation received documents on the matter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade last February.

Mr Zentai has maintained his innocence and has never been charged. He claims he was not in Hungary at the time of the murder. At the church near Mr Zentai's modest southern suburbs home yesterday, 85-year-old Father Luemmen was in no doubt of his friend's innocence. The pastor emeritus described Mr Zentai as a fine man incapable of committing the crimes of which he has been accused.

"Everybody who knows this gentle and kind man, they know he could not do it," Fr Luemmen told The Australian.

Fr Luemmen, who migrated to Australia from Germany in 1951, said he met Mr Zentai at the church in the early 1960s, soon after the Hungarian came to Australia.

Alleged war criminal seeks solace (The Advertiser/The Australian 7/2/05)

Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church, Riverton
Simon Wiesenthal Center | Wiesenthal Centre Urges Hungarian and Australian Authorities to Expedite Investigation of Suspected Hungarian Nazi War Criminal living in Perth, Australia Discovered by "Operation: Last Chance"

7 Feb 2005