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March 29, 2017 6:52 am

Rezső Kasztner: The Man Who Betrayed 400,000 Jews

avatar by Paul Bogdanor

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Rezső Kasztner. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A major injustice is being committed in our time, as a traitor to the Jewish people is being turned into a hero, and the anguished cries of Holocaust survivors are being silenced.

From May 1944 to July 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. The enthusiastic perpetrators of this crime — the fastest destruction of any Jewish population during the Final Solution — were Adolf Eichmann’s SS unit and the Hungarian government.

Throughout the preparations for, and the implementation of, the deportations, the Nazis conducted “rescue negotiations” with a small Jewish committee led by Rezső Kasztner (also known as Rudolf Kastner). The Nazi aim in these “negotiations” was to buy time for the mass murder operation by holding out the prospect of a rescue deal. As Himmler told one of his officers: “Take what you can get from the Jews. Promise them what you like. What we keep is another matter.”

That the Nazis tried to trick Jewish leaders is no surprise. What is shocking is that Kasztner, who was supposed to be in charge of the Jewish rescue effort in Hungary, was induced to play along.

The bait was the promise to free a trainload of 1,684 specially selected “prominents,” who were first moved to a Nazi-guarded camp in Budapest, then held hostage in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and finally released to Switzerland.

In return for this “concession” — supposedly the first stage of a grand bargain to spare one million Jews in exchange for goods from the West — Kasztner was expected to collaborate in sending the Jews of Hungary to their deaths.

Kasztner knew that the trains from the Hungarian ghettos were taking their victims not to a resettlement site — as the Jews had been told — but to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Yet he ordered his committee to send messages to the ghettos telling local Jewish leaders to prepare their communities for agricultural work in the countryside. By doing so, Kasztner guaranteed that there would be no significant escape attempts, even though some of these Jewish communities were near the country’s borders, and the Romanian authorities — at this stage of the war — openly tolerated the arrival of Jewish refugees.

What Kasztner did is not speculation.

In his postwar report on his activities, Kasztner admitted to knowing in advance that Auschwitz was the destination of the Jewish men, women and children boarding the death trains. He also disclosed the specific instructions that he had received from the SS. Eichmann, he wrote, “wanted no fuss” as the ghettos were emptied. Therefore, “the ‘rescue secret’ had to be kept.”

Kasztner’s activities during the Holocaust were the subject of a sensational libel trial in Israel in the 1950s. The outcome of that trial — in which the judge ruled that Kasztner had “sold his soul to the devil” — caused the collapse of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett’s government. The verdict was overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court, but not before Kasztner’s assassination at the hands of right-wing extremists.

For the past decade, a campaign has been afoot to exonerate Kasztner. Books have been written applauding him as an “unknown hero” of the Holocaust. There have been repeated efforts to name an Israeli street after him. A hagiographic documentary, “Killing Kasztner,” has been shown to countless audiences in North America and beyond. Soon a play celebrating Kasztner will be staged by Israel’s National Theater.

This campaign has been fueled by awareness that the last Hungarian survivors of Auschwitz are dying off, and can no longer speak out against what is happening. Some of those who remain alive have been put under considerable distress by the insensitivity of Kasztner’s apologists. At past meetings on the subject, Hungarian Holocaust survivors have been shouted down.

All this comes as conclusive evidence of Kasztner’s guilt has emerged.

My new book, Kasztner’s Crime, quotes from the letters he sent to his foreign Jewish contacts during the Holocaust. In one of these letters, he referred to Auschwitz-Birkenau not as a death camp, but as an “industrial center.” In another, he asserted that the Jews sent there were alive and well in “Waldsee” — a fictitious location used as a decoy by the Nazis.

Kasztner also openly promoted the Nazi propaganda line. “If there was anything humane at all to be said about the handling of the deportation,” he wrote at the height of the mass murders, “it was paradoxically always to be attributed to the SS.”

It is time to call a halt to the whitewashing of Kasztner’s legacy. Respect for the memory of the Jewish victims demands no less.

Kasztner’s Crime by Paul Bogdanor (Transaction Publishers) is available now in paperback, priced at $29.95. Visit

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  • George Donath

    I am a Hungarian Holocaust Survivor, in my teens at the time, my own and my family’s lives were saved from the door of the Auschwitz bound wagons by Otto Komoly, Rezso Kasztner and their group.

    I read with horror Paul Bogdanor’s article in your columns and his book on which he exclusively bases his article ignoring most recognised and respected sources. I am shocked by the the abysmal ignorance he demonstrates of conditions in Hungary at the time and the background leading to these conditions. He vilifies the group which saved my life, and that of thousands of others, for not organising resistance or flight without saying how this was to be accomplished given a population of predominantly women and children with no access to arms. As to flight I can only quote my own experience: we waited twice in the middle of the night the first time for the transport previously paid for and the second outside a closed gate behind which we had a prepaid safe-haven which we could not reach. Third time “lucky” we hid on a farm for a week only to be betrayed and arrested. Hungary was no place to hide or escape.

    Bogdanor manages to misrepresent each and every rescue achievement of the group as an act of betrayal and when he cannot he just “overlooks” the rescue. He reaches a peak when he alleges that the famous “Kasztner Train” was allowed to progress from Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland not as a result of Kasztner’s untiring efforts, but due to the action of that friend of the Jews Heinrich Himmler.

    The article and the book are most helpful to the antisemitic groups alleging Nazi/Zionist collaboration. I would like not to believe that even Bogdanor could have sunk so low as to have this as a purpose. What was it than? Could it be the mediocre son’s attempt at recognition in face of an eminent father?

  • Tomi Komoly

    Most misleading book
    about the Hungarian Shoah.

    I survived in Budapest during that period and give talks to English schools about it, based on my own experience and thorough research. I also have direct access to the diary of my uncle Otto Komoly who was chairman of the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee and President of the Hungarian Zionist Federation.

    I take issue with this one dimensional book on several
    counts :

    1. Several facts are misrepresented, but more importantly it suffers from ‘confirmatory bias’. It tries to impress with unduly detailed painstaking quotations from the immediate aftermath of the tragic events, while ignoring several important publications, which subscribe to a view contrary to his. My 129 references also show that he almost completely ignores contemporary Hungarian historians’ books and papers, conflicting with his work.

    2. The cornerstone of the book is that had Kasztner acted differently, or not at all, the fate of Hungarian Jewry would have altered for the better. It particularly centres on what he terms the suppression of the Auschwitz Protocol. What can be proved from the evidence he neglected is a) there was a wide distribution of it b) broader distribution was impossible and/or carried huge risks and c) The Hungarian Jewish population was not only incapable of responding to and acting on such news but they even refused to listen to it when available.

    3. The author is either ignorant of, or intentionally not considering, the human condition and attitudes of Jews at the time in the country. They trusted the goodwill of society and government until the start of large scale deportations. By then they had been stripped of most men between the ages of 14-60 and women 16-50 and there was no appetite or possibility for resistance – which could only have led to a terrible massacre. Neither was there any likelihood of hiding among hugely anti-Semitic populations (who gained conservatively estimated $40 million from grabbing Jewish property), with huge numbers of gendarmerie and Arrow Cross fascists.

    There was only one group of criminals in this story: the Germans and their Hungarian helpers. The accusations brought against Kasztner and others who worked to save Jewish lives, at enormous risk to themselves and their families, are therefore totally unacceptable.

    Theodore Roosevelt said at the Sorbonne in April 1910:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man
    stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit
    belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
    and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great
    devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at
    least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those
    cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Ultimately, I am not talking about the errors or accuracy of individual writers, or the correctness of data or quotations. I am challenging whether a 21st century critic, who cannot possibly understand what it took to exist under the circumstances of Hungary in 1944, can have the right to sit in judgement and burden our hearts with distortions of reality.

    My full study is on

  • jeanettefriedman

    THIS IS A TOTAL AND COMPLETE LIE. ASK PROF. YEHUDA BAUER. MORE THAT 18,000 PEOPLE WERE SAVED BY KASZTNER AND WEISSMANDL. My mother was one of them, and those who say he was a Nazi collaborator are lying through their teeth for political purposes.

  • mikey248

    Who is behind this whitewashing of Kasztner?

    Is it the children of those 1,600 elites he saved?

    Is it anti-Semitic Soros?

    Does anyone know the answer who can explain it here?

  • Patrick Dempsey

    If we are to accept that Hitler sought to destroy 11,293,300 Jews, and subsequently had 6,000,000 of them Murdered, Kasztner save more than what Hitler allowed for. If we are to accept that one man, in 1944 could achieve what no Allied government sought to achieve in the 12 years prior to this, how can one Man be to blame. I have my own Agenda in Remembering, not only what happened to these 6,000,000 Jews, but what we allowed to happen to them!

  • Thought is Free

    Why would anyone defend him?