by Paul Bogdanor

Rezső Kasztner. (Wiki Commons)

A major injustice is being committed in our time, as a traitor to the Jewish people is being turned into a hero, and the anguished cries of Holocaust survivors are being silenced.

From May 1944 to July 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. The enthusiastic perpetrators of this crime — the fastest destruction of any Jewish population during the Final Solution — were Adolf Eichmann's SS unit and the Hungarian government.

Throughout the preparations for, and the implementation of, the deportations, the Nazis conducted "rescue negotiations" with a small Jewish committee led by Rezső Kasztner (also known as Rudolf Kastner). The Nazi aim in these "negotiations" was to buy time for the mass murder operation by holding out the prospect of a rescue deal. As Himmler told one of his officers: "Take what you can get from the Jews. Promise them what you like. What we keep is another matter."

That the Nazis tried to trick Jewish leaders is no surprise. What is shocking is that Kasztner, who was supposed to be in charge of the Jewish rescue effort in Hungary, was induced to play along.

The bait was the promise to free a trainload of 1,684 specially selected "prominents," who were first moved to a Nazi-guarded camp in Budapest, then held hostage in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and finally released to Switzerland.

In return for this "concession" — supposedly the first stage of a grand bargain to spare one million Jews in exchange for goods from the West — Kasztner was expected to collaborate in sending the Jews of Hungary to their deaths.[1]

Kasztner knew that the trains from the Hungarian ghettos were taking their victims not to a resettlement site — as the Jews had been told — but to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Yet he ordered his committee to send messages to the ghettos telling local Jewish leaders to prepare their communities for agricultural work in the countryside. By doing so, Kasztner guaranteed that there would be no significant escape attempts, even though some of these Jewish communities were near the country's borders, and the Romanian authorities — at this stage of the war — openly tolerated the arrival of Jewish refugees.

What Kasztner did is not speculation.

In his postwar report on his activities, Kasztner admitted to knowing in advance that Auschwitz was the destination of the Jewish men, women and children boarding the death trains. He also disclosed the specific instructions that he had received from the SS. Eichmann, he wrote, "wanted no fuss" as the ghettos were emptied. Therefore, "the 'rescue secret' had to be kept."

Kasztner's activities during the Holocaust were the subject of a sensational libel trial[2] in Israel in the 1950s. The outcome of that trial — in which the judge ruled that Kasztner had "sold his soul to the devil" — caused the collapse of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett's government. The verdict was overturned by Israel's Supreme Court, but not before Kasztner's assassination at the hands of right-wing extremists.

For the past decade, a campaign has been afoot to exonerate Kasztner. Books have been written applauding him as an "unknown hero" of the Holocaust. There have been repeated efforts to name an Israeli street after him. A hagiographic documentary, "Killing Kasztner,"[3] has been shown to countless audiences in North America and beyond. Soon a play celebrating Kasztner will be staged by Israel's National Theater.

This campaign has been fueled by awareness that the last Hungarian survivors of Auschwitz are dying off, and can no longer speak out[4] against what is happening. Some of those who remain alive have been put under considerable distress by the insensitivity of Kasztner's apologists. At past meetings on the subject, Hungarian Holocaust survivors have been shouted down.

All this comes as conclusive evidence of Kasztner's guilt has emerged.

My new book, Kasztner's Crime,[5] quotes from the letters he sent to his foreign Jewish contacts during the Holocaust. In one of these letters, he referred to Auschwitz-Birkenau not as a death camp, but as an "industrial center." In another, he asserted that the Jews sent there were alive and well in "Waldsee" — a fictitious location used as a decoy by the Nazis.

Kasztner also openly promoted the Nazi propaganda line. "If there was anything humane at all to be said about the handling of the deportation," he wrote at the height of the mass murders, "it was paradoxically always to be attributed to the SS."

It is time to call a halt to the whitewashing of Kasztner's legacy. Respect for the memory of the Jewish victims demands no less.








As Paul Bogdanor notes, "It is time to call a halt to the whitewashing of Kasztner's legacy." His actions were not heroic. But the evaluation of Rezso Kasztner is not as settled as we might wish. Paul Bogdanor's article is a compelling summary of the view that Kasztner betrayed the Hungarian Jewish community. But was he a one-dimensional monster cut in the same mold as, say, George Soros, who has been video-ed saying that his helping the Nazis capture Jews and steal their property was the happiest time of his life? "Don't Blame The Tragedy of Hungarian Jewry on Kasztner" by John H. Merey on the Amazon website page on Bogdaner's book lays out another interpretation of Kasztner's actions:

I commend the author for his extensive research. However, the book has an agenda: laying the tragedy of the Holocaust in Hungary at the feet of Dr. Kasztner. This is totally unfair.

Historically, the Jewish Community in Hungary was totally fragmented: Orthodox, Neologue, Status quo ante. The established leadership failed totally in making any preparations for what they saw in the rest of Europe from 1939 to 1944. The "it can't happen here" attitude was totally pervasive and paralyzing.

Mr. Bogdanov gives too much emphasis on the importance of the Zionist movement in Hungary. Though Theodore Herzl was born in Budapest, the Zionist movement never caught on in Hungary where the prevailing attitude was that of assimilation. The Zionist movement never involved more than 5% of the Jewish population.

The day after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19,1944, the leaders of the established Jewish community were summoned by the SS commander Krumey and instructed "to form a Jewish Council which would exercise jurisdiction over all Jews" (Braham). Dr. Kasztner was not a member of the Jewish Council. The purpose of the Jewish Council was to submit orders to the Jewish communities in Hungary.

If there was to be any organized resistance it would have had to come from the Jewish Council. However, they followed the orders of the SS. I do not blame them. They had very few options.

The name Rudolph Kasztner would not have been recognized by anyone in Hungary with the possible exception of those in his hometown of Kolozsvar (Cluj). He was a lawyer, journalist who had recently come up to Budapest from an area that had just recently been reattached to Hungary. He had zero name recognition. The idea that he, singlehandedly, could have or should have warned the communities about their deportation fate is absurd. He just wasn't in any way, shape or form a leader of the mainstream Jewish community. He was a total unknown.

The author blames Kasztner for not alerting the Jewish population of Kolozsvar. That alerting was not as easy as it may sound today. I refer to Ellie Weasel's "Night" where the sexton of the synagogue in 1941 was rounded up as an "alien" Jew and deported to Kamenet's-Podolsk in Poland. He survives the massacre by playing dead and crawls back to his hometown, Szigeth." There he starts to tell people of his experiences. The congregants scream at him that he is a crazy fool and to please "shut up." Denial is an extremely strong psychological force! Zsolt Bela in his "Nine Suitcases" describes a group of men who leave the Nagyvarad ghetto to escape to Rumania a few kilometers away. Half way there, they lose their courage and go back to the ghetto. Mr. Bogdanor on page 149 writes "Until June 16, the forty-one thousand Jews in these provinces had not yet been concentrated and it was by no means impossible to instigate a mass flight to neighboring Yugoslavia and Romania." I beg to differ: absolutely impossible!

The bottom line is that 1684 Jews were saved - against all odds. A hundred things had to go right. Today when we look at the Holocaust in Hungary, we see a historic narrative but in 1944 there was a constantly changing kaleidoscope: Brand's mission a failure -Kasztner takes over, Krumey, Wisliceny take over for Eichmann, increased international pressure on Horthy, and most of all, the declining military fortunes of the Germans and the increasing need by some SS for "alibis."

The 1648 saved Hungarian Jews could have perished in so many ways. Eichmann could have diverted the train to Auschwitz. The train could have been bombed by the Allies on the way into Bergen Belsen and, even more on the way out to the Swiss border. Had Kasztner's negotiations stalled and the victims stayed another six weeks they would have succumbed to the typhus epidemic in Belsen the winter of 1944-45.

Had Kasztner not existed, the Holocaust in Hungary would have proceeded as it did. There just would have been 1684 more victims. By Kasztner's skillful negotiation, his "chutzpah, and his thinking "outside the box," these 1684 were saved.

Paul Bogdanor is an author and researcher based in Britain. His interests include political extremism, genocide, the Holocaust, Zionism, anti-Zionism and antisemitism. His work has been reviewed in national publications in three countries; it has been hailed as "a must-read," "impressive and necessary," "required reading," and "of epoch-making importance." He has contributed to publications on both sides of the Atlantic. His investigative reports on anti-Zionism and on far-left support for jihadist terror were front-page features in The Jewish Press, the largest Orthodox Jewish newspaper in the United States. He is also an activist who has originated national media stories in several countries exposing incidents of anti-democratic extremism and antisemitism. His latest book, Kasztner's Crime (Transaction Publishers; ISBN-13: 978-1412864435; ISBN-10: 1412864437) is now available in paperback. This article appeared March 29, 2017 in Algemeiner and is archived at

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