Some Facts Won’t Go Away

Viewers of The Kastner Trial may be interested to know what the good doctor did after the war.

Elyakim Ha’etzni,
Jerusalem Post,
November 8, 1994

In tune with the spirit of the times, an Israeli “docu-drama” now being shown on Israel Television debunks old heroes and reserves new seats of honor in our national pantheon for figures that are questionable, at least by the standards of the Israel we used to know.

The Kastner Trial sullies the image of Hanna Szenes, who parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1944 in an attempt to rescue Jews from the clutches of Adolf Eichmann. Captured by the Hungarians, she was tortured and eventually executed. The TV film implies, without any historical grounds for doing so, that under torture Szenes informed on her fellow parachutists.

The hero of the film, in accordance with the new, “post-Zionist” stance, is Dr. Rudolf Kastner. Kastner made “arrangements” with the Nazis and saved 1,600 Jews; Hanna Szenes faced a firing squad standing upright, drawing the admiration of her tormentors for her pride and dignity, but saved no one.

In this era of accommodation, of giving up and giving in, the political and cultural parallels are too obvious not to be exploited by the professional drum-beaters.

I should like to introduce a note of dissonance – some hard facts – into this revisionist symphony.

Our Supreme Court exonerated Kastner from all allegations of collaboration with the Nazis, raised against him by Malkiel Grunwald in the 1950s.

But what about Kastner’s actions after liberation?

Col. Kurt Becher was one of Himmler’s closest assistants. Chief of the SS’s economic staff, Becher organized the extortion of living victims, then plundered the property of the dead.

What was Becher’s lot after the war? This is what Chief Justice Shimon Agranat said in the Supreme Court decision (Criminal Appeal 232/55): “On August 8, 1947, Kastner made a declaration on oath before an official of the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg, recommending Becher as ‘worthy... of the fullest possible consideration... Becher did everything within his power and standing to save the lives of innocent people... I do not doubt for one moment the good intentions of Kurt Becher... I make this statement not only on my own behalf, but also in the name of the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress.’”

Justice Agranat pointed out that, according to the testimony of the Jewish Agency’s Eliahu Dobkin, “Kastner made use of the name of the Jewish Agency without permission.”

In a letter to finance minister Eliezer Kaplan, written in 1948, Kastner said: “... Becher was released... by the occupation authorities thanks to my personal intervention.”

In the same Supreme Court decision, Justice Silberg quoted Kastner himself: “The Judenkommando exterminated, [Becher’s] Economic Staff collected.” Justice Silberg described Becher as “a leviathan among war criminals.”

Asked Justice Cheshin: “What is it that drove Kastner to speak good of a war criminal? The motive for this has been and will remain one of the mysteries [of that period of horror].”

Some time after the Supreme Court handed down its judgment, two more Kastner affidavits were discovered in the Pentagon archives. These declarations, also made after the war, saved the necks of two additional Nazi hangmen.

One was Hermann Krumey, a principal exterminator of Polish Jewry, and the murderer of the Lidice children. Lidice was a village in Czechoslovakia. Its adult inhabitants were all murdered, and the children deported to Poland, where they perished at Krumey’s hands.

The other Nazi Kastner saved was SS General Hans Juttner, chief inspector of all the concentration camps.

Testifying before a District Court, Kastner said: “Wisliceny [another Nazi] and Krumey belonged to the Kommando – Nazis who for years participated in various functions in the extermination. They were directly linked with the extermination.”

In his deposition in favor of Krumey at Nuremberg, Kastner had written: “Krumey fulfilled his task with remarkable good will...”

It bears repeating that these declarations on oath were made in 1947 and 1948, two and three years after the liberation. TV viewers may care to remember them as they watch The Kastner Trial, featuring the “heroic” doctor, this week.

A footnote: 12 years after Hermann Krumey was cleared of charges of being a war criminal as a result of Kastner’s testimony, there were second thoughts in Germany. Krumey was rearrested, retried, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The writer, a lawyer and former MK, is a resident of Kiryat Arba.