To the End...

From S. B. Beit-Zvi, Post-Ugandan Zionism on Trial (S. B. Beit-Zvi, 1991), vol. 2, ch. 13:

In the course of time, after the Rescue Committee made contact with the Jewish Agency delegation in Istanbul, its disagreements and quarrels with Moshe Kraus intensified. In the period under discussion, Spring 1944, the committee usurped the contacts with the Germans. The committee was now headed by Dr. Israel (Rudolf) Kastner and Joel Brand.

Brand’s memoirs indicate the nature of the relations that were formed between the members of the Rescue Committee and the German secret service. The beginnings lay in the search for ways to forge ties abroad. In Summer 1942 a man named Erich Popescu, who was frequently in Istanbul as a German counterintelligence agent, was sent to the Jewish Agency delegation in Istanbul. The ploy succeeded: Popescu returned with a letter from Melech Neustadt and cash in the amount of 7,000 pengo. He was followed by Bandi Grosz, at that time a Hungarian intelligence agent who later worked in the service of the Germans. Of Grosz, Brand wrote that “through him we were able to acquire for our service people whose help was of the utmost importance.”

The important helpers were nearly all members of the Wehrmacht’s counterintelligence service. There was Rudi Scholtz, “the most sympathetic of the German agents,” and Rudi Sedlaczek, “one of the intellectuals whom Kastner regarded as the most decent among those in counter-intelligence.” There was Captain Klausnitzer, “who played a treacherous role on the night of the German entry into Hungary,” and there was Jozsi Winninger, “a highly doubtful type, who dominated the contacts with Austria and Slovakia.”

The circle was closed when Winninger introduced Brand to his superior, the commander of the army’s counter-intelligence group, Dr. Schmidt. Henceforth the Rescue Committee benefited from the services of the entire group. “Schmidt needed money and was ready to do anything. His people also helped us in return for money. It was a saliently commercial transaction.”

The Rescue Committee was pleased with the services. Letters reached their destinations smoothly. Money was transferred in full, following the deduction of an agreed commission. The reliability of the German service may be gauged from the following case: Bandi Grosz received a package for the Rescue Committee which contained over a quarter of a million Swiss marks, $57,000 and 30-40 letters. He handed over the package to his German masters, and it ended up in Eichmann’s hands. Eichmann then summoned Brand to him, and gave him both the money, in full, and the letters, some of which were “extremely dangerous.”

As such, the relations with German intelligence do not annul the value of the work done by Brand and his colleagues. The establishment of the link with Istanbul, with Bratislava, and with other places entailed risks of a very high order. But the benefits reaped by Aid and Rescue were palpable and weighty. At a certain stage (perhaps from the beginning) the agents’ greed was supplemented by an established policy of counterintelligence, which chose this method of monitoring the Jews’ activities. This policy was a factor in the service’s stability and its commercial “fairness.”

Moreover, German counter-intelligence extended its protection to Brand, Kastner and their colleagues against the harassments of the Hungarian police. Several times the Germans forestalled their arrest and even extricated them from prison. On the day the German army entered Hungary, the counter-intelligence personnel concealed Brand in the home of one of the agents so that he would not be seized by the Gestapo...

When all is said and done, it seems to us that the balance of desires and goals against the agents of German counter-intelligence tilted in favor of the Brand-Kastner group – until the appearance of Eichmann’s special commando unit.


Eichmann, as we saw, followed Wehrmacht counter-intelligence in playing the game of protecting Kastner and his friends. The head of the SS security office in Hungary, von Klages, did likewise. The two took a tolerant attitude toward the foreign contacts of the Rescue Committee and on various occasions protected its members from persecution by the Hungarians. However, this was no longer the main thing. Eichmann had not come to Budapest in order to involve himself in the clandestine activities of a group of Jews. His scheme was to exterminate Hungary’s Jews in a short time and in the face of detrimental conditions. In Spring 1944 the free world knew a good deal about the annihilation of the Jews in Europe, and the possibility existed of active Allied and neutral intervention in defense of the Jews in Hungary, as indeed happened – though very late. On the other hand, the arch-murderer, Himmler, was having hesitations and doubts that threatened to wreck the entire operation. Eichmann, who never hesitated and never doubted, came to Budapest to oversee the operation personally and to overcome all possible obstacles. He was determined to exploit his relations with the Rescue Committee to further his goal.

In the meantime the standing and behavior of the Kastner-Brand twosome took on a definite pattern. The junior partner, Brand, drew ever closer to the circles of German intelligence. Business transactions were intermixed with social diversions, drunken parties and riotous banquets. In his testimony at the Greenwald trial, Bandi Grosz told about a card game played by Brand and Kastner with German agents until 3 AM. So involved were the two in intelligence affairs that they became part of an internal German dispute. When the SS security service decided to oust the army’s counter-intelligence group, its agents let Brand in on the secret and induced him to help. Finally two of Schmidt’s men were arrested in Brand’s apartment, though nothing happened to Brand himself except that he held a get-acquainted talk with the new dispenser of protection, the head of the security service, von Klages.

Kastner’s position was considerably strengthened with the Germans’ entry into Hungary. In the face of the torpor and impotence of the non-Zionist population, the Rescue Committee stood out as the only group capable of carrying out purposeful actions. Kastner, who headed the committee, was in control of foreign contacts and of the large sums of money that arrived from Istanbul and Switzerland. His first purposeful step was to channel a great deal of money into an operation which soon produced clear-cut results. When Kastner learned that Wisliceny had arrived in Budapest and had met privately with Freudiger, he paid $20,000 to Dr. Schmidt of the counter-intelligence group and another $3-4,000 in “pocket money” to his assistants in return for an important service – to set up a meeting between himself and Brand with Wisliceny. The meeting was held with the participation of three intelligence agents, two of whom were arrested shortly afterwards. In the presence of these witnesses the head of the Rescue Committee sought to renew the cautious and clandestine negotiations that were conducted previously in Bratislava under the sage guidance of Rabbi Weissmandel. They knew, they said, what requests Wisliceny had made to Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann in connection with the Europa Plan, and they were willing to fulfill them for Hungarian Jewry. They would pay $2 million in ten monthly installments of $200,000 each. They were ready to make the first payment immediately if the following four conditions were met

1. No ghettos would be established in Hungary.
2. Jews would not be executed and no pogroms would be perpetrated against them.
3. There would be no deportations from Hungary.
4. Jews could emigrate to Palestine.

This put an instant end to Wisliceny’s role as a secret mediator between Himmler and the Jews. His reply, in its form and content, was that of an arrogant and prevaricating Nazi. In a lengthy and twisting speech he promised that no ghettos would be set up, but Jews would be concentrated in communities of no fewer than 10,000 persons “in order to defend them more effectively against irresponsible elements.” The Germans would not perpetrate pogroms, but it was self-evident that “he would not impose on the SS the task of protecting Jews.” The matter of emigration to Palestine was complicated, and he was unwilling to commit himself on the subject. One thing he could promise faithfully, with a full guarantee and responsibility: there would be no deportations of Jews from Hungary. That was entirely out of the question.

He was not sure, he said, whether the proposed $2 million ransom was sufficient. However, he agreed to take the down payment of $200,000. This could be also paid in Hungarian currency – at the black market rate.

Kastner did not relent. Perhaps, he asked, the Obersturmfuehrer would allow out, on a one-time basis, a group of 600 people who had been assured entry visas to Palestine? Wisliceny did not reject this special request out of hand. He promised to consider it and asked for a list of the candidates for the select group.

Wisliceny did not turn up for the next meeting. As later emerged, Eichmann removed him from the negotiations with the Jews and sent him to set up the ghettos in the provinces. He was replaced by another officer, Krumey, who reprimanded the Jews for not bringing the down payment in full. Krumey refused to talk about the issues that had been raised in the first meeting, with one exception: he announced that his superiors had agreed to allow the exit of Kastner’s 600 Jews. Henceforth this would be the main topic of the contacts between the Rescue Committee and the Nazis.


One day (April 15, according to Brand) Eichmann summoned Brand and told him he was to go abroad and make an offer to world Jewry in his, Eichmann’s, name: the Nazis would release from their area of control one million Jews in return for 10,000 trucks and a few thousand tons of tea, coffee, soap and other goods. The Nazis undertook not to use the trucks in the West, but solely on the Eastern front. On May 18 Brand flew with this proposal from Vienna to Istanbul aboard a German plane; he carried a forged identity card and was accompanied by a professional intelligence agent, Bandi Grosz.

The proposed deal was not consummated, nor was there ever any chance that it would be. When the Western Allies were apprised of the terms, they feared a Nazi provocation and quickly informed the Russians, who, in turn, lost no time in vetoing any further talks on the subject. Brand, after spending two weeks in Istanbul, proceeded by rail to Palestine, was arrested en route by the British, and despite the protests of Moshe Sharett, who met with him in Aleppo, was taken to Egypt and held there for over four months. His mission seemed to have ended without achieving any results.

In fact, it did produce results.

Even without the Russians’ intervention, the Americans and the British never seriously considered supplying the Germans with salient war materiel such as trucks. Nor did the Jews who dealt with the matter – Ben-Gurion and Sharett in Jerusalem, Weizmann in London, Wise and Goldmann in Washington – make any such request. At the same time, both Jews and non-Jews concurred that the proposal should not be rejected outright. Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius and Dr. Goldmann, with whom he consulted, both agreed that the talks should be prolonged to the maximum and the Germans led to believe that their offer was under serious consideration. Everyone, in both Washington and Jerusalem, thought that the best move was to gain time.

Thus the would-be rescuers walked straight into the trap set for them by Eichmann. Far from gaining, they lost extremely precious time, when no possibility whatsoever existed of reaching an agreement of any kind. Eichmann was not after an agreement: he was after the uninterrupted extermination of Jews. The Brand mission was a fraudulent stratagem to enable him to carry out his mission. Proof of this is not lacking.


In order to get at the truth, we must take note of the corrections to Brand’s account that were made in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Brand, in his book, in the Greenwald trial and at the outset of his testimony in the Eichmann trial, maintained that Eichmann had pledged that if he returned from abroad with a positive answer, then he, Eichmann, would provide a “down payment” of 100,000 released Jews and would blow up the extermination facilities at Auschwitz. Cross-examination in the Eichmann trial undercut the credibility of this testimony. This turned out to be a later Brand version, one that had not existed at the time of Brand’s talks with the Jewish Agency delegation in Istanbul or in his Aleppo meeting with Sharett. The reports on those talks contain no mention of a readiness to blow up the Auschwitz facilities, and the size of the “down payment” was put at 5-10,000. There is also room for doubt concerning the figure of a million Jews that Eichmann promised to release in return for 10,000 trucks. Sharett’s report makes no mention of a million or any other number. Haim Barlas, who held lengthy talks with Brand in Istanbul, quotes him explicitly (Rescue in the Holocaust, p. 114) as saying that the negotiations should be held “with the aim of transferring 50-100,000 Jews to Spain,” all told. These corrections, if justified, relate to the reliability of part of Brand’s testimony, but are immaterial to an assessment of Eichmann’s actions.


In Hungary itself events were taking place that, over and above their lethal consequences, did Eichmann a great service by preventing leaks about his murderous operation. Many of the outlying towns from which deportations were underway were situated close to the borders of Romania, Yugoslavia and Slovakia. A few thousand Jews managed to slip across the border to safety. Had the others known what awaited them, many more would have made the attempt. At the same time, the survivors spread the news about the extermination campaign, increasing the chance that the reports would reach the free world.

But the Jews in the ghettos did not know. The Nazis, following their customary practice, deceived them with assurances that they were going “to work.” In some ghettos rumors were spread that the Jews would be concentrated in the Hungarian town of Nyiregyhaza and put to work in various capacities until the end of the war. In the Kloscz ghetto fake letters were circulated which had ostensibly been received from Jews who had arrived in that town and now wrote about the good conditions they found there.

Unfortunately for the Jews of Hungary, the Nazis’ deception campaign was aided concretely by the Jewish suppression campaign. Leading the latter was Dr. Kastner, and the story begins with the group of 600 aliyah candidates whom he mentioned to Wisliceny.

The Nazis, as mentioned, acceded to Kastner’s request and asked him for a list of the 600 persons involved. Eichmann, in his conversation with Brand, increased the list at his own initiative to 800. When the list began to be prepared, and pressure grew in the community for inclusion on it, the Nazi showed unusual generosity. Ultimately, there were 1,685 names on the list. On July 1 they were taken by train to Bergen-Belsen and from there went on to Switzerland in two groups, in August and December.

Kastner and his assistants devoted most of their energies in drawing up the list of those to be allowed out and in the negotiations with the Nazis over this subject. For the Nazis, Eichmann personally oversaw the operation. When Brand failed to return from his mission, the arch-murderer did not punish his wife, Hansi, who had remained in Budapest as a hostage; indeed, he even intimated to her that he was pleased the deal had fallen through. In place of the deal for trucks came the deal for the group bound for Palestine, and both sides contributed their share to its success.

The Nazis’ contribution was, as noted, generous. The list of candidates grew nearly three-fold as compared with the original number requested. Eichmann, it is true, refused to send the group to Constanza, from where they could embark for Palestine – because of his commitment to his friend the Mufti of Jerusalem, he explained. But with this exception, he upheld what he promised.

The price paid by the Jews was far more generous. Officially, payment was to be in money. Bargaining and haggling went on over the ransom for each individual on the list. In addition to the $200,000 that Brand and Kastner had already given Krumey, Hansi Brand brought to Gestapo headquarters three valises full of gold and diamonds. But money was not the main thing.

The list of candidates for freedom, with all that it entailed, became a crucial factor in the events relating to Hungarian Jewry. It separated from the community a special group, which was assured, with explicit assent, a different fate. The task of drawing up the list devolved on Kastner and his assistants in Budapest, and on functionaries close to him in the provinces. The list included the functionaries themselves and their families (34 from Kastner’s family), and wealthy individuals who contributed large amounts to the ransom. The longer the list grew, the greater became the disparity between the interests of the general populace and those of the group of officials designated to lead them. The direct interest of the privileged functionaries dictated that they ensure that nothing occur liable to jeopardize their impending freedom. It was to this concern that all the efforts of Kastner and his associates were devoted.

Eichmann did not make his agreement to release the privileged group conditional on Kastner’s cooperation in executing the deportations to Auschwitz. A condition of this kind, if presented overtly, undoubtedly would have been firmly rejected. But a direct condition was superfluous.

The very fact of drawing up the list, selecting candidates and preferring them over others, brought those engaged in the work into cooperation with Eichmann in the area of greatest importance to him – hiding the truth about the fate awaiting the deportees. Otherwise it would have been difficult, next to impossible, to proceed without the rage and despair of the condemned triggering riots and unrest that would hamper the work of choosing who was to live and who to die. No such riots occurred anywhere. It follows that nowhere was the truth known.

This is not to say that all the functionaries who saved themselves and their relatives concealed the truth they knew. Very probably many of them, perhaps the majority in the provinces, did not know and did not understand the full harsh significance of the events. However, it is also a safe assumption that the overwhelming majority unconsciously did not strive at all costs to learn a truth that might have embarrassed them. By means of an enticing stratagem, Eichmann was able to paralyze the entire community’s capacity for judicious discernment.

But in Budapest many knew. They knew the deportees were being taken to Auschwitz and they knew what was done to them there. They knew about a letter in this regard from Rabbi Weissmandel, and there were no illusions. More than anyone, Kastner knew – from Eichmann, whom he took to visiting frequently after Brand’s departure for Istanbul. He later said he learned “the whole truth” from Eichmann at the end of May. In his presence, Eichmann said to Hansi Brand: “You may inform your husband that I am operating the mill and that I fear nothing.” “The mill” meant the gas chambers at Auschwitz, which were working at top capacity.

Eichmann had good reason not to fear anything. In addition to the mirage of the trucks deal which was in progress in the West, the active leadership of Hungarian Jewry had been trapped in the web of deception he had woven around the emigration of the privileged. The secret of the extermination was well concealed from the destined victims and from the thousands who managed to escape. The upshot was that it took time for the news to reach the people and institutions who wanted to help and could have helped – but whose help came too late.

We will conclude our discussion of this subject with several observations. Just how far Dr. Kastner had become entangled with the Nazis is illustrated, among other examples, by the affair of the two parachutists Peretz Goldstein and Yoel Palgi who arrived in Budapest in June. When the (unconfirmed) fear arose that Goldstein had been caught by the Hungarian authorities, Kastner could find no other recourse but to send Palgi to the Gestapo and inform the Germans that he and his comrade had come, supposedly, to clarify details about the deal for the trucks. Palgi was later arrested and tortured by the Hungarian secret service, admitted everything, and revealed that Kastner, too, knew the real objective of their mission – but no harm befell Kastner. Finally, in order not to jeopardize the train of the privileged that departed that day for Bergen-Belsen, Peretz Goldstein was forced to turn himself in – to perdition.

Eichmann, before he was seized by Israeli agents, had his own version of his relations with Kastner. In an interview with a pro-Nazi journalist, he had the following to say about the talks between them:

This is how the illegal immigration was usually organized. A certain group of Jews would be arrested and taken to the place that was decided on by Kastner and his people. There the SS would guard them so that no harm should befall them. After the Jewish political organizations prepared their departure from the country, I would order the border police not to interfere with the crossing of these transports. They usually moved at night. This was the gentleman’s agreement I had with Kastner.

In the Greenwald trial, Kastner confirmed that after the German invasion, groups of refugees and Zionist pioneers constantly made their way to various border points between Hungary and Romania. Whether this was effected as part of a “gentleman’s agreement” with Eichmann, he did not say.

In his trial in Jerusalem, Eichmann made some comments which can be interpreted as an attempt to return to the subject of his special relations with Kastner. Referring to his superiors’ order that he lie in order to hide his intentions, he added that there was one Jewish official to whom he had spoken frankly. However, the Attorney-General, who was cross-examining him, did not ask him to specify who that official was.

[Footnotes omitted]