Simon Wiesenthal on the Kasztner Affair

Dokuzentrum Wien 6314441535 ECM
Translated from German

Since the Kasztner trial veridct in Jerusalem has provoked a very lively debate throughout the Jewish press, I feel free to disclose for the record some details of my own experience of Kasztner, in order to supply Jewish history with the required clarification of this aspect of the Nazi era.


In the immediate post-war years, I was busy trying to help bring Nazi criminals to justice. I initially met Dr. Kasztner in 1946 at the first post-war Zionist Congress in Basel. I met him in person there and I knew him from then on. He enlightened me about his wartime activities. But in the years 1945-6, as I later discovered, I also encountered friends of Kasztner. When I met Kasztner in Basel, I already had some background and idea of his activities. After seeing him, I forwarded a few sets of photographs for his attention with a request to try to identify Eichmann in them, as the Allies believed at the time that Eichmann was in one of their POW camps under an alias. Because I myself was then busy writing an account of the Mufti of Jerusalemís actions, Kasztner assisted me with some details of the Muftiís presence in Budapest in 1944, which were used in my study of the Mufti. I had nothing against Kasztner. Proof that I was not prejudiced against Kasztner is the fact I commented very positively about him and his role in the rescue of Hungarian Jews. I mentioned these facts in the book I wrote about the Mufti.


While staying in Nuremberg in the years 1948 and 1945, I had a chance to learn about Kurt Becherís role during the Holocaust and to speak to the people providing the trial documents. I also obtained written submissions seeking to exonerate Becher. I concluded that the Jewish court personnel working on the case were shocked at how quickly Kasztner turned up there during his Nuremberg visit as a Jewish Agency representative Ė I do not know whether or not this was legitimate and cannot comment on whether it is justified Ė and how Kasztnerís intervention on Becherís behalf hastened Becherís release. One of Professor Kempnerís aides told me at the time that Kasztner was afraid of the consequences of a possible Becher trial for his own fate. Becher was such a savvy operator that in the final stages of the war he sought an alibi for himself and tried to conceal it from his colleagues. To the people working for the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, it was clear that Becher and Kasztner both knew full well why Eichmann had been sent to Hungary and what Eichmannís policies towards the Jews were.


Here I want to add a most intriguing comment. Kasztner was collecting many documents in the Nuremberg archive about Nazi activities in Hungary. He also took with him a file on a Jewish agent of Eichmann inside the Haganah movement in Palestine. On his visit to Palestine in 1934 [sic] in the guise of a Berliner Tagesblatt reporter, Eichmann was accompanied by this agent to Cairo. This man was a Nazi agent. I have no knowledge of this personís fate.


In 1949, Josef Urban, former SS colonel and SD deputy commander in Budapest, was in prison and I had the chance to talk to him. Urban explained to me without any hesitation that Rezso Kasztner was his V-Mann in Budapest. (V-Mann was a German term for an agent.) I was not then Ė and am not now Ė in a position to judge the truth of this claim. I do, however, have indications of the truth in one respect. This specific point is that I enclosed 2 copies of Urbanís photograph in registered letters, one to Kasztnerís Tel Aviv address, the other to his Jerusalem address. I sent them to both addresses, asking briefly if he knew this person and if the latter had done anything against the Jews in Hungary. Both letters remained unanswered by Dr. Kasztner.


I want to clarify one more question. The Jewish public knows little, if anything, of the Becher affair. Shortly before Becher managed to escape from Hungary, he took suitcases of Hungarian Jewish money as well as diamonds and other valuables worth an estimated SF3 million to $3 million. Also in these suitcases was the list of individuals who had given them to him. On May 12, 1945, Kurt Becher surrendered to American authorities in Bad-Ischl in Austria and handed over these suitcases. In Becherís entourage were a few working Jews from Budapest. Among them was Kasztnerís friend Dr. Schweiger, whom Becher had removed from Mauthausen. Four weeks after Becherís arrest, the American CIC physically searched Becherís Jewish companions and found a suitcase of valuables. The Jewish Agency was looking for stolen Jewish assets at the time and I informed the Jewish Agency of the facts just stated. In 1949, after lengthy negotiations, the Becher Deposit was handed over to the Jewish Agency. Dr. Arian went to Salzburg for this purpose and I told him about the gold and the diamonds. Later I was not surprised to hear that the Becher Deposit was worth just $75,000. I assume that a few people who are still alive have the rest.