TORONTO, MAY 25 -- A 77-year-old retired restaurateur and former policeman who was accused of manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery involving the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps in 1944 was acquitted of all charges today in Canada's first war crimes trial.
Imre Finta, a Hungarian who emigrated to Canada in 1951, was found not guilty following a six-month-long jury trial in an Ontario court under legislation passed in 1987 that allows Canadian courts to try persons for war crimes and crimes against humanity outside of Canada.
Several alleged Nazi collaborators or war criminals have been prosecuted in the United States under immigration laws and deported, but none has been tried for war crimes during the Holocaust.
Finta, who maintained his innocence, was accused of supervising the deportation of 8,617 Jews from the Hungarian city of Szeged in June 1944. Several survivors testified that Finta supervised the loading of the Jews into boxcars, in which they were transported to Nazi concentration camps in Poland and Austria.
In charging the jury, Justice Archie Campbell stressed that Finta was not accused of complicity in the extermination of Jews at the Nazi camps, noting that a historian had testified that no one in Szeged knew anything about that in June 1944.
Campbell also told the jury that it might be dangerous to convict Finta of manslaughter because there was no direct evidence as to what caused the deaths that the survivors said occurred on the trains.
Finta did not testify or present any evidence, but his lawyer said in summation that the defendant could not be found guilty because he was acting under orders of a legal Hungarian government. The jury deliberated for two days before returning its verdict.
Defense lawyer Douglas Christie argued that the prosecution had not proved that Finta was in charge of loading the deportees, but that even if he had been, the responsibility for the lives of those put on the train lay with the persons in charge after it left the station.
Jewish groups here expressed shock over the verdict, and the Canadian Jewish Congress said it would ask the government to appeal, which it can do under Canadian law. Frank Diamond, of B'nai B'rith Canada, said the verdict was particularly painful to Jews at a time of a resurgence of antisemitism in Europe, marked by the desecration of Jewish graves in France and elsewhere in recent weeks.
Several survivors of Nazi death camps who attended the trial said after the verdict that the jurors were too young to understand what happened in Europe during World War II, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Finta burst into tears when the verdict was read, the television report said.