BERLIN -- A prosecutor in Budapest filed war-crimes charges against a Hungarian man, now 98, who is accused of regularly beating Jewish men, women and children under his supervision and helping to send almost 12,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II.
The man, Laszlo Csatary, was charged on Tuesday with having committed acts that "intentionally assisted the unlawful executions and tortures committed against Jewish people" for his role in the deportation of Jews from the ghetto in Kassa, now called Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, according to a statement by Tibor Ibolya, the prosecutor.
The charges against Mr. Csatary come at a time when the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is facing mounting criticism over recent changes it has made to the Hungarian Constitution. Among other things, the changes altered the role of the judiciary and rolled back protections for human rights while raising the protection of the "dignity of the Hungarian nation." Two European Union bodies are scheduled to decide this month whether to impose sanctions on Hungary for violating European law.
A far-right political party, Jobbik, has also gained greater influence in recent years, and Hungarian fascists have been publicly praised as the country has argued over how to assess the country's role in World War II, when Hungary was an ally of Germany.
Against that background, the charges against Mr. Csatary are "a way of showing good will and doing the right thing," said Efraim Zuroff, who leads the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. "The message that has to come from this trial is that the heroes of the new Hungary cannot be people like Csatary."
Mr. Csatary has been listed for years near the top of the center's list of most wanted war-crimes suspects. He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to death by a court in 1948 in the former Czechoslovakia; he fled to Canada to escape that verdict and eventually became a Canadian citizen. In the 1990s, he was stripped of that citizenship when it was found that he lied to immigration officials about his actions during the war, Mr. Zuroff said.
The center lost track of Mr. Csatary after that, until it received a tip in September 2011 that he was living quietly in Budapest. Mr. Zuroff said he tracked down Mr. Csatary there and then notified the Hungarian authorities, who began an investigation.
The indictment says that in May 1944, Mr. Csatary was the commander of a concentration camp in Kassa where Jews were collected for deportation. The charges say he "regularly beat the interned Jews with his bare hands and whipped them with a dog-whip without any special reasons and irrespective of the sex, age or health condition of the assaulted people."
Further, it says that on June 2, 1944, when a freight train was loaded at the camp with interned Jews bound for Auschwitz, he "prohibited cutting windows on the wagons which could have helped the about 80 people being crammed under inhuman circumstances in the windowless wagons to get more fresh air."
Bettina Bagoly, a spokeswoman for prosecutors in Budapest, told Reuters that the case would be tried within three months.
Palko Karasz contributed reporting from London.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.