"Kasztner" Makes an Impact Once Again

This brilliant documentary seeks to establish the hero status of Rudolf Kasztner. Kasztner successfully bargained with Adolf Eichmann to save the lives of approximately 1,600 Jews, who were transported out of Hungary to Switzerland, and an additional 19,000 Jews who were sent to work camps instead of death camps. Shortly before the end of World War II, Eichmann masterminded the killing of near 600,000 Hungarian Jews.

Kasztner ends up in living in Palestine under the British mandate, and eventually becomes a member of the Ben-Gurion government in the new state of Israel. Another Israeli calls him a Holocaust collaborator, who is then sued by the Israeli government for libel. The judge overseeing the case believes Kasztner lied about certain documents and acquits Kasztner's alleged slanderer. Ultimately the Israeli Supreme Court reverses the judgment, but Kasztner's reputation is never fully restored.

The documentary spectacularly sets forth what occurred and establishes, to my satisfaction, that Kasztner was a hero. Kasztner is killed shortly after the first trial finding him to be a collaborator. His assassin, who is presented in the film, comes to the conclusion that he was wrong. He now believes that Kasztner was a hero bargaining with the Nazis to release Jews in exchange for money - $1000 for each Jew.

The movie contains a number of enthralling vignettes. One of those is about the Satmar's founding rabbi, Joseph Teitelbaum, who was saved by Kasztner by being placed on the train to Switzerland. When asked to appear at the Israeli Court on behalf of Kasztner, he refused, saying that Kasztner did not save him, God did. The Satmar, one of the largest Hasidic groups in New York City, is centered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

"Killing Kasztner" will cause you to weep, even without displaying heartrending concentration camps scenes where six million Jews died.  As far as the world is concerned, the Holocaust appears to be slipping into ancient history, like the days of Rome and Athens.

I urge everyone, Jew and Gentile, to see this film and meet the surviving family members of Rudolf Kasztner, particularly his wife and daughter. It is playing at the Cinema Village on East 12th Street, between Fifth Avenue and University Place.  The theater was near full when I went, and the audience appeared to consist of elderly Jews, some of whom may have been survivors.