Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Articles from now on get a page here on this site, with links to originals. The reason, quite obviously, is that published articles are often taken off or archived under new URLs. Instead of broken links, you will be able to find the linked articles right here. (comments are disabled - if you have something to add, say it in the article that sent you here.)
That the commie pigs over at the backward whitewash a Nazi collaborator who aided Eichmann is no chiddush for any of us. But now the Yated Lo-Ne'eman is at it too! Zochowski, is there anything for which you won't prostitute yourself? http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5763/MTS63features.htm
The Kasztner Trial
by S. Fried [who is this ass Fried, anyway? - J.I.]
"The year is 1953. I am 30 years old . . . One day Eli Malkiel Greenwald and his daughter Rina come to me . . . `Would you be able to take on Abba's defense?' asks Rina, showing me the indictment the State filed against her father . . . "
This is how Shmuel Tamir opens the story of his involvement in the trial that he managed to transform from "the Greenwald Trial" to "the Kasztner Trial." During the hearings, blame for the failure to save Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust fell on Dr. Yisrael Kasztner, the Zionist leader in Nazi-held Budapest.
In his recently released autobiography, 'Ben Ha'aretz Hazot', published years after his petiroh, celebrated attorney Shmuel Tamir provides a comprehensive review of the showcase trial that began half a century ago.
"A few years ago," writes Tamir, "Judge Halevi was asked if he still held his original opinion regarding the ruling in the Kasztner Trial. Halevi replied that he remained steadfast in his opinion and stuck to his ruling with all of its components and implications, but that the expression `he sold his soul to the devil,' he might have rephrased."
The phrase "he sold his soul to the devil" is what stuck in the collective consciousness from that trial. It is the memory hook that many people use to recall the affair. If you ask people whose memories are vague about this dismal affair, they are likely to say, "Kasztner? You mean the guy from the Holocaust who sold his soul to the devil?"
Only the better-informed will recall that Kasztner was eventually assassinated as a result of the trial and that the High Court, by upholding the State's appeal, cleared Kasztner of all allegations--posthumously. "He sold his soul to the devil" is the ruling that will go down in history.
The Kasztner Trial involved the names of numerous leaders, jurists and witnesses. Some of them have been almost wholly forgotten, whereas others continued to stand out in other contexts, such as High Court Judge Chaim Cohen who trampled over every Jewish value, or Yosef Lapid, the now-infamous party leader of Shinui, then working as a young journalist for the Hungarian- language newspaper Uj Kelet edited by Yisrael Kasztner. To this day, Lapid believes Kasztner was right.
Yet probably no one has positive recollections of Malkiel Greenwald, the man who opened up the Pandora's box with his pen.
"My friends, members of Mizrachi of Hungary! The stench of a corpse is passing beneath my nostrils! This will be the best funeral money can buy! Dr. Rudolf Kasztner must be eliminated! ..." Malkiel Greenwald opened with these glaring statements to induce whoever saw his leaflet to continue reading all of the grave accusations he lodged against Kasztner.
For many years, Greenwald, an old, embittered Jerusalemite and the owner of a wretched pension on Jaffa Street, wrote and disseminated incriminating leaflets against various public figures. Producing the leaflet cost a considerable sum in those pre-computer days, but apparently for Greenwald it provided a way to vent his frustrations.
He told of his youth in Austria at the beginning of the Nazi takeover, when he was badly beaten and humiliated for being a Jew, but managed to escape and come to Israel. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust and apparently he suffered from unfounded feelings of guilt for having remained alive and therefore resolved to fight the battle of those who stayed behind and were killed. These leaflets were handed out in botei knesses on leil Shabbos, and may have been the forerunners of this genre.
At the time Greenwald was living in his pension with his daughter. His wife had passed away and his son died in the Israeli war of Independence in 5708 (1948). A few years later his daughter committed suicide, accusing her father, in a letter she left behind, of harsh treatment.
Greenwald's extended leaflet goes on to indict Kasztner, saying, "For his underlying criminal ways and his collaboration with the Nazis, I see him as the indirect murderer of my dear brothers."
Had Kasztner blended into the general population quietly following his aliyah, Greenwald would not have chosen to stir up a debate with him about the role of Jewish leaders during the Holocaust. But Kasztner, who his friends say arrived in Israel with nothing, soon made his way into the Mapai leadership. A glance at his headlines during the Holocaust immediately reveals his close ties with Yishuv leaders such as Moshe Sharett, Ehud Avriel, Teddy Kollek and others, and Greenwald realized that his warm reception was due to the Mapai heads' desire to cover up the part they played in deserting European Jews and to keep Kasztner from talking.
"Who is spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce and Trade today?" continued the leaflet. "Who licks the Mapai leaders' plate clean? Who is the broadcaster in Hungarian and Romanian on Kol Tzion LeGola? Who clinched Mapai's control of the Hungarian newspapers?" Greenwald also mentions that Kasztner was a candidate on Mapai's first and second Knesset lists (though he was in an unrealistic spot and did not enter the Knesset).
What was Greenwald really accusing Kasztner of? Kasztner, he claimed, organized the "rescue train" for several hundred Budapest Jews under the protection of Eichmann, Himmler and Kurt Becher, thereby saving 52 of his family members. The price: abandoning the rest of Hungarian Jewry. He earned tremendous sums in this deal since the suitcases full of gold, diamonds and valuable articles the Jews left with him to pass on to the Nazi rulers remained in his possession and he smuggled them to a safe location.
Greenwald also alleged that Kasztner testified for top- ranking Nazi official Kurt Becher at the Nuremberg Trial, saving him from the gallows. According to Greenwald, Kasztner covered up for Becher to prevent him from revealing his dubious deals with Kasztner.
Greenwald's leaflet claims Kasztner thwarted attempts to bring Hungarian Jews to Israel because he wanted to curry favor with Hungary's communist authorities, who sought to put him on trial for alleged war crimes. "This carries an obligation toward our victims!" he wrote. "This demands the Hungarian Yishuv defend its honor! Kasztner must disappear from political life!"
"When I finished reading the leaflet," recalls Shmuel Tamir, "I asked Greenwald what proof he had. Greenwald, who spoke broken Hebrew peppered with Yiddish, was taken aback. `It's clear,' he said. `It's certain. Everything is clear.' [this is a lie. Gruenwald told him of an anonymous letter he recieved, and was able to verify some of its contents with survivors. Tamir then tells of his intellectual agony over whether to take the case. The long and the short of it is he figured if the gov't was interested going after this oddball Gruenwald, there must be something to it, so he took the case practically pro bono. There are many more lies, inaccuracies and distortions throughout the article - J.I.]"
With this reply Tamir launched a battle to prove Greenwald had not committed libel.
Bringing the Suit
Slander and libel claims are generally between two individuals. Kasztner, who did not have a clean conscience and wanted to turn over a new leaf, did not at first consider suing Greenwald, particularly since the leaflet was only disseminated at Mizrachi botei knesses. It was then- Attorney General Chaim Cohen who wanted to open a libel case. Cohen, who later became a High Court judge, foresaw how far Greenwald's mudslinging could reach and wanted to stop it by taking him to court.
Cohen's decision was surprising. He explained it as an effort to defend a state employee, for Kasztner was serving as spokesman for the Ministry of Trade and Commerce under Dr. Dov Yosef.
Yosef showed no interest and Kasztner showed a lack of initiative, but Chaim Cohen pushed. After seven months of vacillation and another seven-month delay, the case of the State vs. Malkiel Greenwald opened in May 1953, just over 50 years ago.
Building the Case
Shmuel Tamir says he was selected as defense attorney almost by chance because of his slight acquaintance with Greenwald's daughter. Greenwald was not even able to offer payment except for his stamp album, but Tamir decided to accept the case anyway, sensing it would provide him a platform to raise accusations that the Mapai leadership had left European Jewry to the Nazi wolves.
A relatively inexperienced lawyer, Tamir was known for his devotion to revisionist ideas. He was raised in a family of Jabotinsky supporters.
Zeev Jabotinsky was a prominent figure who despised the Haganah and the official Zionist institutions. In his war against the British Mandate, he saw the Zionist leadership as enemy collaborators for colluding with them in hushing reports on the Holocaust in Europe. If Jews in Eretz Yisroel learned the truth they might apply pressure to open the gates and allow unrestricted aliyah. He worked on illegal aliyah in the years before his death in 1940. "Perhaps through some chance of fate," wrote Tamir, recording his thoughts, "I will have an opportunity here to uncover even a bit of the Holocaust period and the responsibility for the errors and sins and crimes right here at home, and not just on the outside."
Greenwald and Kasztner merely played supporting roles, against their will, in the grand production Shmuel Tamir was planning to stage.
And it was a smashing success. During the first three days of the trial, Yisrael Kasztner laid forth, with breezy confidence, his version of what took place in Hungary during the years 1944 and 1945. (The Nazis did not take over Hungary and Romania until 1944, which helped a relatively large portion of Hungarian and Romanian Jews to survive.) Judge Binyamin Halevi, the only judge hearing the case in the Tel Aviv District Court, listened attentively and the proceedings clearly made a strong impression on him.
"I was born in Klozh," Kasztner began, referring to the well- known Chassidic center of Klauzenburg. He later moved to Budapest because of familial ties. Kasztner recalled that Hungarian Zionists had decided to set up the Zionist Aid and Rescue Committee (known as "the Vaadah") in Budapest and decided to negotiate with the Nazis in the hope that they could prevent the deportations of Hungarian Jewry to the death camps--or at least buy time. The plan was to offer them a large ransom in exchange for the Jews. The negotiations were held with Eichmann and Dieter Wisliceny, his representative in Hungary.
Because it was unfeasible to secure the entire sum the Germans demanded in Hungary itself, a proposal was made to send Joel Brand, one of the heads of the Zionist leadership there, to the Zionist office in Constantinople, the organizational headquarters for rescue operations. Eichmann proposed allowing Hungarian Jewry to leave in exchange for goods rather than money-- a deal that came to be known as "trucks for lives"-- because the German army had begun to feel the strain of the Allied push. Brand was sent to Constantinople accompanied by an intelligence agent named Andor (Bandi) Grosz, who never returned to Hungary.
Brand was captured and detained by the British. Soon Eichmann began to lose patience. Nevertheless Kasztner managed to obtain Eichmann's permission to transport a train full of Jews to Spain rather than annihilation as a sign of the Nazis' "good faith." Kasztner put most of his family members on the passenger list, along with most of the leaders of the Zionist movement in Hungary. The money was collected by selling some seats to wealthy Jews. This train, it appears, was slated to be the first of several.
In his testimony, Kasztner touched on the famous story of Yoel Palgi and Hana Senesh, the Eretz Yisroel residents who bravely parachuted into occupied Hungary and were handed over by Kasztner to the Hungarian authorities who collaborated with the Nazis.
Kasztner continued recounting his activities in detail, including his journeys back and forth to Switzerland, Berlin and various other cities to meet with Nazi heads. This was extremely rare -- perhaps even the only case of a Jewish leader who traveled freely in occupied Nazi territory with official permission to hold negotiations for the rescue of his Jewish brethren.
When Prosecutor Amnon Tal asked Kasztner about the alleged claim that he testified for Nazi war criminal Kurt Becher, Kasztner replied that he did not give formal testimony and that Becher was released because the court did not find any evidence that he was guilty of exterminating Jews. [Tamir later found evidence and prove that Becher was acquitted only because of Kasztner's affidavit. Becher lived to a ripe old age, trading wheat with... Israel - J.I.]
In conclusion Kasztner said that after the war certain claims were lodged against him. He himself asked the Zionist movement to look into the matter and a court set up in Basel and headed by Yosef Shprintzak found the accusations were unfounded.
A Dramatic Reversal
The three days of Kasztner's testimony were the only days Greenwald was considered the defendant and Kasztner the plaintiff. As soon as Tamir opened his cross-examination, the wheel turned.
Tamir systematically shattered Kasztner's remarks, quickly transforming the proceedings into "the Kasztner Trial" and generating big headlines.
In his opening statements, Tamir claimed that the Jewish leadership needed a top-to-bottom inquiry by a government investigating committee, but since no such committee had been formed he would take advantage of the court hearings. Tamir displayed an astonishing command of the material and the period, making it clear he had studied the issue thoroughly and he had uncovered gaps in Kasztner's testimony.
He began with the problematic -- and seemingly peripheral matter -- of testifying for Becher, managing to extract from Kasztner an admission that Becher was really released thanks to Kasztner's personal intervention. This cast doubt on Kasztner's credibility.
Later Tamir tried to prove Kasztner could have informed Klozh Jews of the plans to exterminate them which might have induced them to try to flee to the Romanian border, but he refrained from doing so to maintain his good relations with the Nazi murderers.
Over and over again Tamir alleged that Kasztner collaborated with the Nazis by hiding the extent of the Holocaust from Hungarian Jews -- to ensure that the preparations for the underground railroad would not be halted.
At this point the examination turned to the subject of the parachutists. No topic touched the hearts of the Israeli public more than those heroic paratroopers sent into Europe at the height of the war, who were the pride of the Yishuv and the emblem of mobilization in Eretz Yisroel for the sake of European Jews. Their heroic story, particularly the story of how Hana Senesh withstood torture, had quickly become a part of Zionist legend.
Along came Tamir and said the paratroopers did not have a chance to accomplish anything because a Zionist leader coldheartedly turned them over to the Hungarian fascists to avoid any suspicion that he was collaborating by hiding them.
The idea behind the parachuting mission itself was really showy and irresponsible. What could a handful of paratroopers accomplish in an occupied land where it was impossible to hide any Jew from extermination? The idea to send them in order to "do something" was a wanton loss of life as a result of the concepts of "the new Israeli" and not "going like sheep to the slaughter."
Particularly shocking was the testimony of Katrina Senesh, Hana Senesh's mother, who was still living in Budapest at the time. Unaware of her daughter's aerial infiltration and arrest, when the Hungarian authorities suddenly summoned her to the prison in an effort to break Hana's will at the sight of her mother's sorrow. The poor woman tried to pressure the Jewish leadership to save her daughter, testified Katrina, but she was sent away time after time and was not even given an audience with Kasztner.
Kasztner claimed he never knew Mrs. Senesh had tried to contact him. But she claimed that her daughter could have been saved and negligence on the part of the Zionist leadership was responsible for her death.
Witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense were called to the stand, one after another. Most of them were prosecution witnesses in support of Kasztner, but Tamir often managed to ruin their testimony and turn it against Kasztner. Yoel Palgi, Joel Brand and many others admitted that Kasztner, together with leaders such as Moshe Sharett, made inadequate efforts to save European Jewry in general and Hungarian Jewry in particular.
Widening the Net
Tamir's strategy was not just to demonstrate how the Zionist leadership in Hungary tried to conceal the Holocaust. He was also out to implicate the Zionist leadership in Eretz Yisroel and the U.S., claiming that those leaders saw the destruction of European Jewry as an impetus for the establishment of a national home in Eretz Yisroel.
In his book on the affair, Joel Brand writes that when he met with Tamir, who wanted to convince him to testify in court, Brand told him, "I have such incriminating and shocking material against the heads of the State--then the heads of the Jewish Agency--that it could shake the whole country . . . If I testify, blood will run in the streets of Tel Aviv . . . "
"You don't know the Yishuv," replied Tamir. "Not a single pane of glass will break in Tel Aviv . . . Senses are dulled and the body politic does not exhibit normal reactions."
"I'm talking about the biggest crime to take place in the last thousand years," continued Brand. "The principal and real culprits are the heads of the Jewish Agency, Chaim Weizmann and others, not Kasztner. The Nazis did not need his help to murder the Jews . . . But the Allies, particularly the British, did not allow any rescue activities, and the Jewish Agency collaborated with them on everything, without demanding anything."
Following a painful exchange with Tamir, Brand said, "They wouldn't let me say everything I have to say. I'm beginning to worry. Lately I've begun to sense strange movements around me. They won't let me. They simply cannot afford it." Brand also said that when he was arrested in Egypt after traveling to Eretz Yisroel under Eichmann's auspices, the British minister to the Middle East, Lord Moyne (who was later assassinated by the underground), said, "What will I do with a million Jews? Where will I put them?"
During the trial Tamir quoted a book by Yitzhak Greenbaum, a well-known Zionist leader, and a hater of the chareidim. "When I was asked [whether I could] give Keren Hayesod funds to rescue the Jews from Diaspora countries I said, `No. In my opinion we must stand up to this wave, which would push Zionist activity to [a position of] secondary importance.'"
The written evidence was particularly shocking. Tamir presented one of the letters written by Rav Weissmandel, which described in great detail the Nazis' deeds and their means of extermination, issuing a call for help to Jews around the world. Directed toward Jewish leadership, the letter read in part, " . . . For the sake of the cruel silence you have been keeping and for the sake of the arm- crossing you have been maintaining. You have the ability to prevent and delay right now! Therefore with the blood of thousands upon thousands, the tears of thousands upon thousands, we ask and beseech and demand that action be taken immediately . . . Our brothers, the Sons of Israel, have you gone mad? Do you not know what Gehennom we are living through?"
All the evidence had been presented. The closing arguments by prosecutor Chaim Cohen lasted one day. The closing arguments by Shmuel Tamir lasted seven days, ending just before Yom Kippur 5715 (1954). The trial had been spread out over almost a year-and-a-half.
Judge Halevi considered his verdict for nine months. The reading of the verdict, which was dozens of pages long, began early in Tammuz 5715 (June 1955). In his ruling Halevi describes sequentially and in detail what occurred in Hungary from the time of the Nazi invasion and the destruction of the Jews at Eichmann's orders.
"A deeply disturbing picture of the deception of thousands of Jews on one hand, and the failure of Jewish leaders on the other, is revealed in the testimony of members of the large former communities of Klozh and Nodvorod in Transylvania," wrote Halevi, making special note of Kasztner as a participant in concealing the dimensions of the Holocaust from Jews who might have been able to flee.
Halevi writes that these leaders did not go with the community to the concentration camps, but saved their own skins on the Kasztner Train. He states that Eichmann and his assistants permitted the rescue train to encourage the "privileged" to cooperate in allaying the concerns of Hungarian Jewry. The rescue of a minority was essentially a gift to Kasztner, and "by receiving this gift Kasztner sold his soul to the devil."
This phrase was not the end of the ruling, but it sent out huge shock waves. The press ran large headlines and the debate raged. Later Halevi recounted the parachuting mission, including harsh accusations of informing, the abandonment of Hana Senesh and the testimony for Nazi war criminal Kurt Becher. "The accused [Greenwald] has proven the truth in the allegations [against Kasztner]," he concluded.
The heads of the Yishuv, by then the heads of the State of Israel, could not allow themselves to be cast as leaders who left the Jews of Europe to face their fate alone as the price to pay for gaining the cooperation of the British. Attorney General Chaim Cohen decided to appeal to the High Court, which accepted the case and set up a bench of five judges. The hearings began in Teves 5717 (January 1957).
During the appeal Cohen decried the ruling handed down by Judge Halevi. "A perversion [of justice] has not been done by any court, either in Israel or among the nations, like the perversion [of justice] done to Mr. Kasztner."
On the eve of Purim 5717 (March 4, 1957) Dr. Yisrael Kasztner was murdered by a young Jew (see side bar). The assassination did not halt the hearings since Mapai heads wanted to clear their names. Officially they achieved their goal. One year after the appeal began, the five judges read their rulings. Each of them wrote a separate decision, but all determined that Kasztner could not be judged by objective standards.
They maintained he must be judged according to the conditions under which he acted, out of a genuine desire to save what could be saved. Perhaps his decision-making was flawed, but finding fault in retrospect is easy. Judge Cheshin, for instance, wrote, "A man sees an entire group is doomed. May he make efforts to spare the minority, even if the efforts involve hiding the truth from the masses? . . . It seems to me the answer to this is clear: What profit is there in the blood of the few if all go down to the grave?"
Most of the judges did not address all of the individual libel accusations. From a purely legal standpoint, if even one instance of libel can be proven the defendant is guilty. So they found at least one instance. Greenwald received a suspended sentence of one year imprisonment and a monetary fine of 200 liras. (Greenwald continued his leaflet campaign in spite of the suspended sentence, but nobody sought to try him again.)
The partial exoneration, which acknowledged the facts but interpreted them differently, satisfied the heads of the Yishuv. Ma'ariv's Shalom Rosenfeld wrote, "This is the day Kasztner has been waiting for, and he got it. This is the day on which not only did the High Court judge reverse . . . the conclusions of the Court President . . . Halevi, but he also totally cleared Dr. Kasztner's name and crowned him with the garlands of dedicated public activism for the rescue of his community . . . all that was dark and gloomy in the lower court decision turned to white and pure in the higher court decision . . . "
Here the legal proceedings came to an end, but the historical and moral deliberations had just begun. Over the years since the trial and the assassination, several studies and books on the subject have been published. Most of them justify Kasztner's actions in one way or another or seek to judge him in the historical context.
The more information on the Holocaust becomes available the harder it becomes to judge the people who lived through it from our own perspective.
While Kasztner may not have been guilty of everything Greenwald accused him, neither was he as white as snow. Clearly the feeling of power misled him; clearly he benefited from the preferential treatment he was given by the Nazis; clearly he put his own relatives first. And it was even clearer that the Zionist leadership did not do enough to alert the world and publicize what was taking place in the concentration camps and in the gas chambers. This is what most bothers the historians, the majority of whom belong to the Leftist camp.
Dov Dinur, for example, claims the Kasztner trial was held at a time when the Yishuv was steeped in self- reflection. He asserts that the country felt relieved to have found the guilty party--a Jewish leader by the name of Kasztner. "Many years had to go by," writes Dinur, "until the Jewish state learned that timing, pressure and a lack of alternatives give rise to special modes of leadership that cannot be judged according to general criteria."
In conclusion he writes, "Already now it is clear that many of us will have to go up to his grave to ask forgiveness, in the ancient Jewish tradition passed down through the generations." Yechiam Weitz entitled his book, The Man Who was Murdered Twice.
The Israeli public, however, which has since been witness to the Eichmann Trial (a case that was certainly impelled by the Kasztner Trial), did not entirely exonerate him. Opinions are still split.
Yisrael Kasztner's granddaughter wrote, "Shmuel Tamir, the man who built his career as an attorney on the blood of my grandfather, Yisrael Kasztner, had the honor of having a street named after him. This honor has been denied to my grandfather . . . The State of Israel accused Greenwald of libel, but through Tamir's initiative and leadership the deliberations turned into the Kasztner Trial . . . Yisrael Kasztner's family members tried and are still trying to have a street named after him. We have not succeeded . . . "
Perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps it is better not to revive a debate drenched in Jewish blood. [Uh-huh. The good ol' Agudah MO, sweep everything under the rug, eh? Kasztner, child abuse, rampant cprruption, what not. Let's just forget about it. What a mazel ther was no Yated Ne'eman in old times - 70% of Tanach would have been censored! - J.I.]
An Underground, an Agent Provocateur or a Conspiracy?
Three shots rent the night. "I've been shot! Call a doctor! Help! I'll die here!" shouted the man. The neighbors woke up and called Magen David Adom, but the wound was severe. The man died after a few days in the hospital. That was Yisrael Kasztner's bitter end.
The public's initial impression was that Kasztner had been murdered as a result of outrage at the tales against him in court. According to this theory the killers decided to take the law into their own hands, acting in the name of the Holocaust victims.
Recounts Yechiam Weitz in his book, The Man Who was Murdered Twice: "Thousands of mourners crowded into the courtyard, including leaders of the ruling party and its Knesset representatives . . . Alongside them stood delegations from several kibbutzim, including Maagan, Kfar Choresh and Kfar Maccabee, whose members were among the only supporters who stood by Kasztner in his times of difficulty. Also on hand were several of the main heroes in the drama that stirred the country for three years, including Attorney General Chaim Cohen."
Said Weitz, "With his own two hands Kasztner saved more Jews than any Jew before him or since. For this deed an Israeli court passed judgment and soon afterwards he was murdered." Elsewhere Weitz declared, "Chaim Cohen's remark that Judge Halevi thought he was playing with words but was actually playing with fire suddenly assumed real meaning."
However this was refuted by other developments. The police and the Security Services (Shin Bet, the forerunner of today's General Security Services) boasted of their extraordinary success in solving the case. They said they caught the murderer and some of his accomplices in just two hours. Then a successful Security Services investigation led by Isser Harel led to the arrests of Yosef Manx, Zeev Ekstein, Dan Shamar and Attorney Yaakov Cheruti, who at first represented the defendants.
The investigation pursued several different leads and the detectives found, to their amazement, that the suspects belonged to a broad Jewish underground conspiracy. Searches uncovered weapons dumps. Police officials claimed, "This underground organization planned many future activities. The assassination of Dr. Kasztner was just the first." The police claimed that their work averted grave damage to the State and its citizens.
The tabloid Rimon (which was later shown to be sponsored by Isser Harel and the Security Services) wrote, "There was a plan to cause so much trouble it would have put the entire country in real danger." The Mapai mouthpiece, Hapoel Hatza'ir, openly charged, "Kasztner was chosen as a symbol . . . [to show that terror is] the only way to open the door for a change in the ruling structure."
In short: not murder to avenge all those who perished in the Holocaust but a revisionist Jewish underground whose goal was to topple the government.
In his book The Truth about the Kasztner Murder: Jewish Terror in the State of Israel Isser Harel claimed there was a combination of two motives. Throughout the book he railed against Tamir and Uri Avneri, editor of Haolam Hazeh, accusing them of incitement that led to the murder. (Tamir and Avneri worked together at the beginning of the trial and had a serious falling-out toward its end.) Harel claimed that their efforts were essentially aimed against the Mapai government and that all of the allegations that the assassination was a government provocation (detailed next) were libels.
The Rightist opposition had a different interpretation of the events, attributing the assassination to the Security Services as a provocation. Reporters found that Ekstein was indeed a Security Services agent, that the Security Services knew about the plans to murder Kasztner and that they suddenly stopped protecting Kasztner shortly before the murder.
They speculated that the Mapai government felt that its power was threatened because of the withdrawal from the Sinai (after the war in 1956) and to make sure the Right would have no chance to get political power, the Security Services, led by Isser Harel, concocted a story about a dangerous Right- wing underground -- when really it was under constant surveillance.
Shmuel Tamir describes at length--and convincingly--how the Security Services tried to involve him in illegal activities through an agent provocateur. Zeev Ekstein was a Security Services informer for a long time, he explains, a fact the Security Services never denied. After the murder they notified Ekstein he was about to be arrested as a suspect in order to hide his ties to the Security Services.
Tamir claims Harel wanted to have him accused of the murder to break the association of Mapai with Kasztner, but the primary motive for the murder, according to Tamir, was to silence Kasztner.
"It is likely that the assassination was not done as a result of passion about the revelations and arguments presented in court but was the result of a plan. Who longed to silence Kasztner forever? Who was afraid of what he was capable of saying about the hidden and secret affairs? Who preferred Kasztner take his secrets with him to the grave?
". . . And the most awful thought of all: Could it be that circles close to the government had a hand in the crime? . . . Did the Haganah not murder Dehaan in Jerusalem? Did not the heads of the Mapai sit down and concoct testimony to bring Stavsky, Rosenblatt and Achimeir to the gallows?"
Tamir goes on to note that after just a few years in prison the defendants were granted clemency through Ben Gurion's intervention, although this is really the president's duty.
And if this tale seems all too familiar perhaps these events have an uncanny similarity to events in the more recent past.
© deiah vedibur Yated hogwash 2006
Articles from now on get a page here on this site, with links to originals. The reason, quite obviously, is that published articles are often taken off or archived under new URLs. Instead of broken links, you will be able to find the linked articles right here. (comments are disabled - if you have something to add, say it in the article that sent you here.)
Sign of Haredi society coming to grips with the Holocaust
By Tamar Rotem
The conference on rabbinical writing in the Holocaust, held at Jerusalem's Binyanei Hauma Convention Center Sunday evening, may mark a step forward in the ultra-Orthodox community coming to grips with the Shoah. The conference was organized by its sponsors, the Jerusalem Municipality's Torah Culture Department, as an evening for women. Indeed, Holocaust education and documentation has become predominantly a women's occupation in ultra-Orthodox society, as women are the ones who advance it in the educational seminars and colleges. The conference hosts presented a CD-ROM containing a database of prefaces to religious texts - Torah interpretations and meditative literature - written from 1945 onward by rabbis who survived the Holocaust. Only one of the prefaces was written before the end of World War II.
The database project was initiated by ultra-Orthodox Holocaust researcher Esther Farbstein, director of the Holocaust Education Center at Jerusalem's Michlala Women's College in Jerusalem, with the support of the Holocaust Claims Conference. The delegation of this work to women is typical for Haredi society: the holy book itself is written for the ultra-Orthodox men who must study the Torah, whereas the marginal autobiography of the holy book's author is left for the women. But Farbstein has managed to turn the writing of the marginal memoir into the main issue. Through her researches, the stories of the rabbis who wrote at this critical time become the source of new historic insights into the Jewish communities before and during the Holocaust, and about the dilemmas troubling the rabbis who went through the era. Farbstein is seen as a trailblazer in Holocaust studies in the ultra-Orthodox community. Some say that had she not been the daughter of a family of rabbis, she would not have been permitted to go so far. But if the ultra-Orthodox public is eager to hear about the Holocaust, it is thanks to her. Even Yated Ne'eman, a newspaper symbolizing the conservative end of this community, has reported at length on the new database.
For almost two generations, the ultra-Orthodox avoided dealing with the Holocaust, at least officially. Farbstein says this derives from the trauma they experienced after the great destruction, the need to rebuild their communities and to survive in the face of secular Israeli society and Zionism. It may also derive from their revulsion at the Zionists' appropriation of the subject. Professor Menachem Friedman, however, one of the leading experts on ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel, attributes it to Haredi society's reluctance to confront the most difficult questions arising from the period. Questions like "Where was God in the Holocaust?," and those raising doubts about the rabbis' performance during those dark years. These questions were seen by ultra-Orthodox society as threatening to their way of life, and pushed it into a defensive stance. "Even now, the Haredim cannot ask, at least not openly, how the Gerrer, Satmar and Belzer rebbes and others fled and saved themselves, leaving their followers behind. The question is not only why the rabbis refrained from warning their followers, but also why they prevented them from migrating to Israel for fear of 'spoiling' them," says Friedman.
Friedman says these questions, which Agudat Yisrael newspapers dealt with passionately immediately after the Holocaust, gradually became taboo over the years. Only after the attitude toward Holocaust study in ultra-Orthodox society began to change again, was the Holocaust study chair founded in the Michlala Women's College, and archives documenting the Jewish communities and the destruction of Haredi Jewry were opened. At the same time, countless books were written and published privately by Orthodox survivors documenting their Holocaust experience and the miracles they experienced. But has there been any critical discourse about the leadership during the Shoah? The database provides an opportunity to examine this. It consists of about 100 mainly autobiographical introductions, which document the story of the writer and his community. Farbstein, who presented the research at both Haifa University and Yad Vashem, believes these are historic documents that shed light on various issues and add insights into Jewish life before and after the Holocaust. For example, they teach much about the Jews of Hungary, specifically, the attempts made to rescue the refugees in Budapest; the last yeshivas there, and other dilemmas that occupied the country's Jews during the period. The most interesting dilemmas are those pertaining to survival itself. Rabbi Weinberger of the town of Turka, in Galicia, contends with the question of whether or not to leave. Despite family pressure to leave, he decides to remain with his community. The prefaces also reveal that the option of pretending to be a gentile presented a halakhic dilemma, as adopting a non-Jewish identity can be tantamount to idol worship. The question of whether to go to the Land of Israel also worried the ultra-Orthodox rabbis, many of whom strongly objected to Israel for ideological reasons.
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Tracking Kasztner’s Train
By Adam Fuerstenberg
Wed. Feb 13, 2008
Train Tracks: Nearly 2,000 people were saved by the plan, but it remains controversial to this day.
Kasztner’s Train: The True Story of an Unknown Hero of the Holocaust
By Anna Porter
Walker & Company, 464 pages, $27.95.
Why are thousands of non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust memorialized in Yad Vashem, while the one Jew who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews is virtually forgotten?
This is the moral injustice that Anna Porter, prominent Canadian publisher and author — Hungarian born and not Jewish — tries to rectify in her impressive biography of Reszo Kasztner, “Kasztner’s Train.” Although he saved 1,684 Jews, Kasztner remains a controversial figure. His frantic efforts to negotiate a “trucks for Jews, goods for blood” deal with Adolf Eichmann, master bureaucrat of the Holocaust, ultimately earned him vilification as a Nazi collaborator after the war. Ironically, while Eichmann or any of the other SS officers Kasztner was forced to confront daily could easily have shot Kasztner, a fellow Jew on a quiet street in Tel Aviv fatally gunned him down in 1957.
Kasztner, a Transylvanian journalist and lawyer, arrived in Budapest in late 1941, alarmed at the news of the horrors that were descending on Jews in Poland under Nazi rule. He soon became a leader of Hungary’s small Zionist movement and plunged into rescue and relief work on behalf of Polish and other Jews escaping Nazi persecution in Hungary. He partnered with Joel and Hansi Brand, a resourceful Zionist couple involved in the same relief work. By late 1942, Kasztner and the Brands were convinced that the Germans would occupy Hungary and institute the same destruction of Hungary’s Jews that was decimating Polish Jewry. In contrast, those of the Hungarian Jewish leadership refused to believe they were in danger as long as Admiral Horthy, the Regent, was still in control. Nevertheless, an Aid and Rescue Committee was established, with Kasztner as its head, giving him authority to negotiate on behalf of Hungarian Jewry.
The Nazis took control of Hungary on March 19, 1944, and replaced Horthy with Ferenc Szálasi’s puppet regime. Kasztner’s worst fears were realized when Eichmann arrived and began the deportation of Hungarian Jews from Ruthenia on April 29. By July 1, according to Eichmann’s assistant, 475,000 Hungarian Jews had been transported to Auschwitz.
Amazingly, an SS official hinted to Joel Brand and Kasztner that Heinrich Himmler might be willing to trade 10,000 trucks for 1 million Jews. The two also realized that they could bribe some of the local SS officers for individual exchanges of Jews and occasional delaying of trains. In the process, Kasztner developed a “trading” relationship with the SS colonel Kurt Becher, an “economic” emissary from Himmler and a powerful rival of Eichmann in Budapest — one that would soon prove fruitful.
In March, Becher realized that the Nazis were headed for failure and that it might be prudent to have Jews who could testify on his behalf at war’s end. At the same time, Kasztner convinced Eichmann to put 20,000 Jews “on ice” for future trading by sending them to work camps in Austria instead of to Auschwitz. As an added “goodwill” gesture, authorized by Himmler, Eichmann reluctantly released 1,684 Jews and provided a train to Switzerland.
But Kasztner now had the dreadful task of choosing whom to save. Because they needed money for bribes to Becher and others — the 20,000 Jews “on ice” in Austria cost $100 each — the wealthy who were chosen were charged $1,500 per person in jewelry or gold. The poor paid nothing.
With Himmler’s apparent approval, Brand was allowed to leave for Turkey on May 17 to negotiate for the trucks with the Allies and Jewish organizations, including the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency of the Yishuv in Palestine (the latter headed by Moshe Sharett, ne Moshe Shertok). Whether Brand or Kasztner believed that the Jewish organizations could convince Britain and the United States to agree to such a scheme is moot; they correctly saw an opportunity to slow the trains, hoping that the war would end soon enough to prevent Eichmann from completing his gruesome mission.
But Brand was soon arrested and incarcerated by the British, never to return to Hungary. He was convinced that the Jewish Agency had betrayed him. Neither he nor Kasztner fully realized how little influence or money Jewish organizations had. It was now up to Kasztner and the remaining Hungarian Jewish leadership to rescue as many individuals as possible and to try to delay the shipping of Budapest’s Jews to Auschwitz. Kasztner worked desperately with the Swiss consul, Carl Lutz, to establish safe houses and distribute thousands of Swiss identity cards. Porter also cites evidence that in the dying months of the war, Kasztner was able, with Becher’s assistance, to rescue some additional Jews and, during the last days of Nazi rule, prevent the killing of some of the surviving concentration camp inmates.
Settling in Palestine in 1947 with his wife and young daughter, Kasztner became a leading operative in David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party and was a candidate for the first Knesset. In 1954, the Herut opposition under Begin tried to embarrass the Mapai government under Moshe Sharett by arguing that Sharrett had negotiated with Brand, and thus indirectly with Himmler and Eichmann. The opportunity to embarrass the Sharett government arrived when that government initiated a libel suit against an elderly Herut supporter, Malchiel Grunwald, who had libeled Kasztner, accusing him of cooperating with the Nazis. The sensational proceedings became a trial of Kasztner rather than the libel suit, and Kasztner lost. The atmosphere of disgust and hate unleashed against Kasztner during the libel trial led a young man, Zeev Eckstein, assisted by two others, to shoot Kasztner in front of his apartment building as he arrived late from his editing job. Kasztner died of his wounds 11 days later, on March 15, 1957. Less than a year later, in January 1958, the Supreme Court reversed the earlier judgment and found that Grunwald was guilty of libel. Kasztner was exonerated.
Is Kasztner an unsung hero? Porter feels he is. In 464 pages of densely detailed prose, plus a number of pages of documentation — the fruit of six years of research on three continents — she vividly brings to life those frenetic months in Budapest before the Nazi collapse. Although she shows Kasztner with all his weaknesses and flaws — egotistical, vain, ambitious and unfaithful to his wife — she concludes that he was indeed heroic in risking his own life daily and saving thousands of Jews. Yad Vashem, releasing the results of its study of Kasztner’s voluminous documents, notes and correspondence, recently came to the same conclusion.
“There was no man in the history of the Holocaust who saved more Jews and was subjected to more injustice than Kasztner,” said Yad Vashem chairman Joseph Lapid, himself a survivor from Hungary, in July 2007, releasing the conclusions of Yad Vashem’s research on Kasztner’s papers. “This is an opportunity to do justice to a man who was misrepresented and was a victim of a vicious attack that led to his death,” he added, calling Kasztner, “one of the great heroes of the Holocaust.”
Adam Fuerstenberg is professor emeritus at Ryerson University and the former director of Toronto’s Holocaust Centre.
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