Should we still hunt Nazis?

This story came out a week or two ago, but I’ve been chewing on it since then: Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary was recently arrested in Budapest for war crimes against Jews and others dating to WW2:

Csatary was the chief of an internment camp, in the Slovakian town of Kassa, now Kosice, from where Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

He as a “commander” in the Royal Hungarian Police, was present in 1944 when the trains were loaded and sent on their way, say prosecutors. He declined a request by one of the 80 Jews crammed into a wagon to cut holes in the walls to let air in.

Csatary “regularly” used a dog whip against the Jewish detainees “without any special reasons and irrespective of the assaulted people’s sex, age or health condition”.

There is no doubt that this man is guilty of his crimes – he was convicted in abstenia after the end of the war – but I’m not sure that is the most pressing question here. It isn’t in the least bit difficult to understand how so many people would want this man to spend time in prison for the atrocities he committed, but what purpose does that serve? Is it in the interest of justice? I don’t mean merely equally the scales (at least insofar as they can be equaled in a circumstance like this). Rather, I mean, does sending this person to prison at the age of 97 make society a safer, better place?

I’ve written several times in the past that the U.S. justice and prison system has significant problems. We put people behind bars for incredibly long periods sometimes, but all we create are people who are better, bitter criminals. Our motivation for doing this, in addition to a general distaste for crime, is often revenge. That feeling traverses the pond. When someone has wronged us, we want to equally hurt that person. It usually doesn’t matter if doing so will result in a better world. We convict and punish people on emotion, not just rationality.

So my question here is, Can justice be justice if it is driven by emotion? How can it be blind if its motivation is not rational in nature?

Again, I understand the desire to punish this ex-Nazi for the crimes he committed, but I don’t see the purpose it serves any longer. Would this be a deterrent against future war crimes? Would it make the world a safer place? Is this man still a threat?

10 Responses

  1. I think I can rationally answer some of the questions you asked by asking another question.

    Do we want to establish that there is (effectively) a statute of limitations on horrific crimes against humanity? I think the answer is no, at least in my mind. Symbolism is important and I am content to have crimes of a certain caliber pursued indefinitely.

  2. I’m not advocating for any statutes, but I think discretion is necessary. What good is being done by locking up a guy who probably has trouble walking to his own bathroom?

  3. I’m not talking about a real statute of limitations as we have for some crimes, I’m directing my words more towards those who commit horrific crimes and spend years on the run. Do you think it would serve the cause of justice to say, “The penalties of some unspeakable crimes are only to be applicable while you can manage to not piss yourself.”

    I would prefer to send the message that, “you may run, but even if you have pissed yourself, you will still have to face the music, you’ll just be wearing depends while it plays.”

  4. It’s not about whether putting this guy away will make the world a safer place – in this case, it won’t make a difference. It’s about finally punishing him for the unspeakable crimes for which he’s been convicted. Let the asshole rot in prison for what little time he has left on the planet.

  5. Nate – I think discretion needs to be used. That is, this should be done on a case by case basis. I don’t know the specifics of this guy’s life in Budapest over the years, but I have my doubts that at the age of 97 he poses any sort of threat. That’s likely the case for nearly every surviving Nazi (or any other person who did shitty stuff 70 years ago).

    Susan – That’s just revenge.

  6. I agree with Nate that such war criminals should be punished no matter their age, and I think it is indeed a deterrent. I want tyrants and war criminals to know that no matter how well and how hard they hide, they’ll eventually be hunted down and punished.

  7. In this instance, what’s wrong with wanting a tiny bit of revenge? And in my opinion, putting a convicted criminal in jail at age 97 is hardly any revenge at all. It’s not appropriate revenge nor is it justice. Rather, it’s a small symbol.

  8. You make one good point, and that is, “what is wrong with putting a convicted war criminal in jail at 97?”

    If he were in jail and 97, few would take issue with that if he were simply still serving his sentence. I wonder, at what age does one no longer have to face the consequences of their crimes? 95? Perhaps 75, few people still pose any kind of threat at 75. Then again, if this was about the threat he posed, why put him in prison at any age, obviously he wasn’t likely to do what he did again, as he seemingly has not.

    If he shouldn’t be in jail now, then why should he have ever been in jail?

  9. Nate – The point of putting someone in prison is to prevent harm from the happening to the rest of society. At least, that’s the only defensible point (we also do it out of petty revenge). At 97, why should he be in prison? Unless he’s one of those guys who is in insanely good shape and/or still have any sort of Nazi influence, send him on his way.

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