Dark chapter in Hungary's history

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AT the centre of Hungary's wartime history lies a gaping hole. Documentary evidence of the reign of terror by the notorious fascist Arrow Cross regime during World War II is missing and there are few surviving witnesses.

One building that should be a source of historical records is the Arrow Cross party headquarters at 60 Andrassy St, Budapest -- known as the House of Loyalty.

To Melbourne pensioner Lajos Polgar, it was the House of Fidelity. Now a war crimes investigation by Hungarian authorities into Polgar may fill some of history's gaps. And if the investigation results in an extradition request for Polgar, he will become the second Australian pensioner this year to face prosecution for alleged war crimes.

Perth pensioner Charles Zentai is facing extradition to Hungary accused of bashing 18-year-old Peter Balazs to death in a Budapest army barracks.

What is known of the House of Loyalty is that Jews were tortured and possibly killed in the building's basement. "It was a notorious building. It was the headquarters of the Arrow Cross," says Hungarian Holocaust historian Tom Kramer. "They used it basically as a torture chamber, as a means of intimidating potential opponents."

Polgar insists he's innocent of any war crimes and that he held the lesser role of secretary at the House of Loyalty to hanged party henchman Jozsef Gera. Polgar laughs when told the Hungarian authorities suspect him of genocide. "I am absolutely innocent. I never made any crime at all," he says.

Polgar hid his wartime history when he emigrated to Australia in 1949 and subsequently befriended the family of former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. He lived a quiet life until four months ago when Labor MP Michael Danby raised questions about his wartime history in federal parliament.

Court papers obtained by The Australian reveal Polgar was a key figure in the brutal Arrow Cross regime. Gera claimed he personally appointed Polgar as "commander of the House of Loyalty".

Whether Gera was telling the truth when he named Polgar as commander is likely to be critical to the Hungarian investigation, says Kramer, author of the book From Emancipation to Catastrophe: the Rise and Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry.

"There is no question at all in my mind that whoever was in command of the House of Loyalty was in fact a major war criminal," Kramer says. "Polgar is probably attempting to airbrush himself out of history, painting himself as an innocent bystander who was just shifting paper backwards and forwards, whereas the commander would be the one issuing the instructions."

Polgar rejects Kramer's version of events saying "there is no such thing, commander. Of course, anything I wanted there from the rest of the people in the House of Fidelity, they had to obey that. This is not commander, I never have been. Commander was Dr Gera. I was an assistant. My job was the working order, I looked over everything."

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