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May 30, 2013

Rudolf Kasztner, the man who saved Hungarian Jews, but couldn’t win for losing

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:58 am

You can read about the sad case of Rudolf Kaszter in this article:  The Jewish Chronicle – Tragic ghost of Holocaust continues to haunt

It’s complicated, to say the least.  The story might be easier to understand if you read this blog post.

I wrote about the Hungarian Jews at Bergen-Belsen on my website here.  I previously blogged about Kurt Becher, a German who was involved in saving the Hungarian Jews, on a blog post that you can read here.

There is one part of the article in The Jewish Chronicle that I don’t believe is correct.  It is contained in this quote:

And in early April 1945, Kasztner accompanied Becher to Bergen-Belsen where Becher literally compelled SS Commandant Josef Kramer to hand that camp over to the British rather than simply killing all its remaining inmates.

This quote from the article in the Jewish Chronicle tells the story:

Consider the tragic case of Rezao, or Rudolf, Kasztner, who negotiated with Adolf Eichmann and other senior SS officers in Budapest in 1944 to try to save at lease some Hungarian Jews from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  […]

Kasztner, a Zionist journalist from the Transylvanian city of Cluj, was the most prominent member of what was called the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee.  It must be emphasized that he did not belong to any official body designated or appointed by the Germans.  As it happened, there were Nazis in Budapest in 1944 who, for reasons of their own, were willing to engage in negotiations to barter some Jews — a minimal amount to be sure — for cash, trucks, and/or other critically needed consumer goods.

To make a long and extremely complex story short, Kasztner bargained for the lives of more than 1,600 Jews at a cost of $1,000 a head.  On June 30, 1944, they left Budapest on a train supposedly bound for freedom.  […]

At trial in Jerusalem District Court, Kasztner was denounced for failing to warn the doomed Jews of Hungary of what he knew to be their fate, thereby not giving them the opportunity to try to save themselves.  Moreover, the charge that he was an accomplice of the Germans was intensified by the revelation that he had given testimony after the war on behalf of some of the SS men such as the aforementioned Becher with whom he had, depending on one’s perspective, either worked or collaborated. Following a lengthy, highly sensational trial, Judge Benyamin Halevy found for the defendant in the civil defamation case, concluding famously that Kasztner had “sold his soul to the devil.”

Kasztner, who had been responsible for saving literally thousands of Jews, now became a virtual pariah in Israeli society.  By the time the Israel Supreme Court reversed Halevy’s verdict in January of 1958, Kasztner had been assassinated in front of his home.

The way I heard it is that Heinrich Himmler was negotiating with the British to take over the Bergen-Belsen camp for weeks before the British soldiers arrived to “liberate” the camp.  That was the story that was being told at the Belsen Memorial Site when I visited it several years ago.  Josef Kramer stayed in the camp and met the liberators at the entrance into the camp, offering to help with the typhus epidemic that was killing thousands of prisoners in the camp.  He would not have stayed in the camp if he had been making plans to kill the remaining inmates.