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May 5, 2012

Hungarian Jews saved by Rezso Kasztner — the famous “Jews for trucks” deal

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — furtherglory @ 11:08 am

I learned from this news story that at least one of the Jews, that were saved by Rezso Kasztner during the Holocaust, is still alive.  Professor Ladislaus Löb recently spoke to students as part of a recent visit organized by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET).  He was a prisoner at the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp who was saved by Kasztner.

This quote is from the news story:

Ann Mutluer, who is head of faculty for Humanities and Liberal Arts and subject leader for History, said: “Prof’s Löb’s talk was the culmination of our year-long focus on the survivors of the Holocaust, which has included an exhibition and visit to Auschwitz. His personal testimony of life in Belsen concentration camp and description of the daring work of Rezso Kasztner, the man who saved him, provided students with a unique insight.”

Here is the back story on how Rezso Kasztner saved some of the Hungarian Jews at Bergen-Belsen:

In his book entitled The Last Days, David Cesarani wrote that an attempt to save the Hungarian Jews was made by Otto Komoly and Dr. Rezso Kastner, two leading figures in the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Hungary.

In 1942, the Jewish Council of Slovakia had tried to bribe Dieter Wisliceny, an SS man, to stop the deportation of the Slovakian Jews. When Wisliceny arrived in Budapest, Komoly and Kastner revived the proposal first made to Wisliceny in Slovakia, offering him a $2 million bribe to save the Hungarian Jews from deportation to the death camps. Wisliceny suggested a down payment of $200,000 to show good faith, but while Komoly and Kastner were trying to raise the money, Wisliceny left Budapest to organize the deportation of the Jews in eastern Hungary to Auschwitz. According to Cesarani, the Jews confronted Wisliceny with his betrayal, and “he coolly offered to save 600 Jews of their choosing. Soon afterwards Eichmann himself took up the negotiations.”

The following information is from the book Auschwitz, a New History by Laurence Rees:

On April 25, 1944, in his office at the Hotel Majestic in Budapest, Eichmann met with Joel Brand, another leading member of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee. Brand had already attended previous meetings with Eichmann and other SS officers in an attempt to bribe them to allow a number of Jews out of Hungary. Now Eichmann said to Brand, “I am prepared to sell one million Jews to you.”

Eichmann proposed an exchange of “Blood for Goods,” in which the British and the Americans would give the Nazis one new truck for every one hundred Jews. Eichmann promised that the trucks would only be used on the Eastern front where the Germans were fighting against the Communist Soviet Union. Brand was asked to go to Istanbul in Turkey to negotiate the deal. Eichmann hoped to obtain 10,000 trucks in exchange for one million Jews. But even before Brand reached Turkey on May 19, 1944, Eichmann had already ordered the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, which began on April 29, 1944.

On August 21, 1944, three SS officers (Kurt Becher, Max Grüson and Hermann Krumey) who were representing Himmler, and a representative of the Budapest Jews, Rudolf Kastner, met with Saly Mayer, a leading member of the Jewish Community in Switzerland.

The meeting took place in the middle of a bridge at St. Margarethen, on the border between Germany and Switzerland, because Mayer refused to enter Germany and he also did not want the SS men to enter Switzerland, according to Yehuda Bauer. Becher asked for farm machinery and 10,000 trucks, and in return, he promised to free 318 Hungarian Jews from Bergen-Belsen. In a show of good faith, the train with the 318 Jews was already waiting at the Swiss border. Mayer offered minerals and industry goods instead of the trucks.

According to Yehuda Bauer, Becher later claimed that he had persuaded Himmler not to deport the Budapest Jews, and that was why Himmler issued an order to stop the deportation three days later.

After the Hungarian Jews had entered Switzerland, there were false reports by the Swiss press that the Jews were being ransomed in exchange for asylum for 200 SS officers who were planning to defect. When Hitler heard about this, he ordered all further releases of Jews for ransom to stop. Nevertheless, Himmler continued to release Jews from the concentration camps, as he continued to negotiate with the Allies.

According to Laurence Rees, SS officer Kurt Becher, who was a Lt. Col., equal in rank to Eichmann, was trying to blackmail the Weiss family, owners of the biggest industrial conglomerate in Hungary, into giving its shares to the SS in return for safe passage out of the country.

This quote is from the book by Laurence Rees :

By the time of his meeting with Brand, Eichmann knew that his rival Becher had successfully arranged for shares of the Manfred-Weiss works to be transferred to the Nazis; in return, about fifty members of the Weiss family were allowed to leave and head for neutral countries.

Brand was accompanied to Istanbul by another man named Bandi Grosz, a former agent of the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency, whose operations in Hungary had been taken over by an SS officer, Lt. Col. Gerhard Clages. At the last meeting with Brand, SS officers Clages, Becher and several other Nazis had been present.

The following quote is from the book by Laurence Rees:

It was not until May 26, 1944 that the head of the Jewish Agency in Palestine notified a British diplomat, Sir Harold MacMichael, of the Nazis’ proposals. But it only took the British a matter of moments to reject the Brand mission, seeing it as an attempt to split the Western allies from the Soviets.  [...]

In mid-June, Grosz was interrogated in Cairo by British intelligence officers and the story that he told was a surprising one. He claimed that Brand’s mission was only a camouflage for his own. Under the direct orders of Himmler, Grosz had been sent to facilitate a meeting in a neutral country between high-ranking British and American officers and two or three senior figures from the SD – Himmler’s own intelligence service. The purpose of the assignation was to discuss a separate peace treaty with the Western allies so that – together – they could fight the Soviet Union.

Himmler’s offer was immediately turned down. The British perceived Germany to be a threat to the British policy of “balance of power” and had refused all offers to become allies with Germany before the war; they had also refused several peace offers from Germany before the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Great Britain and America needed the help of the Soviet Union in their plan to destroy Germany and in return, Churchill and Roosevelt had promised eastern Europe to the Communists as early as 1943 at the Tehran Conference.

According to Wikipedia, at the Tehran Conference, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to the following:

Poland’s borders were declared to lie along the Oder and Neisse rivers and the Curzon line, despite protests of the Polish government-in-exile in London. Churchill and Roosevelt also gave Stalin free rein in his own country, and allowed the USSR to set up puppet communist governments in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic states, Romania, and other Eastern European countries.

By turning down Himmler’s offer of an alliance against the Soviet Union, the lives of a million Hungarian Jews were sacrificed; in the end, the British lost their empire and Hungary became a Communist country. Great Britain and America eventually became allies with Germany in 1948 against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, which lasted until 1989.

Between April 6 and April 11, 1945, the Hungarian Jews were evacuated from Bergen-Belsen on the orders of Himmler who was planning to use them as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the Allies. The Jews in the Star Camp and also in the Neutrals Camp were also evacuated, along with the Hungarians, in three trains which held altogether about 7,000 Jews who were considered “exchange Jews.”

One of these trains arrived with 1712 people on April 21, 1945 in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Two weeks later the Theresienstadt Ghetto was turned over to the Red Cross, just before Russian troops arrived. The other two trains never made it to Theresienstadt because they had to keep making detours due to frequent Allied air attacks, according to Eberhard Kolb (Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945).

One of the trains finally stopped on April 14, 1945 near Magdeburg in northern Germany; the guards ran away and the Jews on the train were liberated by the American troops. The third train halted on April 23, 1945 near the village of Tröbitz in the Niederlausitz region; they were liberated by Russian troops after the guards escaped.

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