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Kasztner Still Controversial 50 Years On

Letters,
Jewish Chronicle,
June 26, 2009

Half a century after the trial and assassination of Rezsö Kasztner, the controversy about his activities during the Holocaust continues (A Shoah Hero in the Dock, JC, June 19).

This is not the place to speculate as to how effectively Kasztner could have raised the alarm about Auschwitz, how many Hungarian Jews could have avoided deportation if he had acted otherwise, and what Eichmann might have been thinking. But Sir Martin Gilbert’s piece, A Dupe, Not a Villain, (JC, June 19) does not even give Kasztner the benefit of the doubt.

Sir Martin starts by saying that “films, plays, books and articles” portray Kasztner “as a traitor to the Jewish people, who saved a few friends while allowing more than 400,000 Jews to be deported to Auschwitz.” Ignoring all those other films, plays, books and articles that try to judge Kasztner more even-handedly, he announces that “the truth is very different”; Kasztner was a “victim” of Eichmann’s deception.

As one of those saved by Kasztner, I must declare an interest, but having studied the case in some depth, I do believe that in that deadly game of mutual deception, in which Eichmann had all the trumps, Kasztner achieved more than his detractors are willing to admit. To dismiss him as a “dupe” diminishes the stature of a man who was instrumental in saving many lives against impossible odds.

(Professor) Ladislaus Lob

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Arguments excusing Rudolf Kasztner’s actions during the Holocaust in Hungary are contradicted by an authoritative source: Kasztner himself.

Sir Martin Gilbert writes that when two Auschwitz inmates escaped in 1944, Eichmann feared that Kasztner “would learn the truth” about the imminent murder of Hungary’s Jews.

However, Kasztner testified at the Veesenmayer trial in Nuremberg: “We had, as early as 1942, a complete picture of what had been happening in the East with the Jews deported to Auschwitz and the other extermination camps.” When the Nazis invaded Hungary, he understood that this was “a death sentence for about 800,000 Jews existing at that time in Hungary.”

Sir Martin also writes that Kasztner and colleagues were confident that hundreds of thousands of deported Hungarian Jews were “unharmed, awaiting the signing of the deal” proposed by Eichmann to the Allies.

But Kasztner testified in his Jerusalem libel case that he had never believed in this deal, which he called “a perverted approach from the Germans to make the Allies help their war effort.” He had “no illusions that these demands were realistic” and “estimated the chances as very slim, if not impossible.” On the fate of Hungarian Jews boarding the deportation trains, he testified: “I already knew the meaning of deportation to Auschwitz.”

Paul Bogdanor

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In your article A Shoah Hero in the Dock – in which you mis-spelled my name and that of Rudi Vrba – most of my statements were misrepresented. I did not “break my silence” now, since my book Trust and Deceit (Vallentine Mitchell, 2006) contained much of the information you were presenting.

These obvious inaccuracies indicate that the whole article is misleading.

(Prof) G. Vrbova

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Unpublished:

Professor Ladislaus Lob argues that Rudolf Kasztner was “instrumental in saving many lives against impossible odds” (letters, June 26).

The fact is that in less than 8 weeks, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Professor Lob’s own book, Dealing with Satan, states that well before the Nazi occupation, Kasztner knew that Jews were being “gassed and burnt” in Auschwitz according to a “scientific system.”

Professor Lob’s book also quotes Kasztner’s admission that in spite of his own advance knowledge, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were “unaware till the last moment of what it was all about and what was happening.”

Not only were the Jews ignorant of their fate, they were actively misled. The victims’ relatives received postcards stating that they were alive and well in Waldsee. According to the eye-witness testimony of Jewish Agency representative Miklos Krausz, these fake postcards were distributed on the personal instructions of Rudolf Kasztner.

Michael N. Ezra