Thursday, January 21, 2010

Killing Kasztner (Rhoades)

“Killing Kasztner” Is Untold History
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve seen “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama. You remember it, the pretty-much-true story about Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of some 1,200 Polish Jews by employing them in his factories during World War II.

But have you ever heard of Dr. Rezsö Israel Kasztner, a Hungarian lawyer who saved 1,685 Jews by shipping them to Switzerland on a train?
Similar stories, right?

Not really. Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, was hailed as a hero for his manipulation of the Gestapo to save Jewish lives. While Kasztner, himself a Jew, was branded a traitor because he’d negotiated with Adolf Eichmann in order to save the lives of his Jewish countrymen. And rather than being regaled as a hero, he was murdered for this so-called collaboration with the Nazis.

The story is told in “Killing Kasztner,” a documentary that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

To make this film, American director Gaylen Ross traveled to Jerusalem to meet with survivors who rode the Kasztner Train, as well as with Kasztner’s family and Ze’ev Eckstein, the man who killed him.

Until now, Ross was better known as an actress, the star of “Dawn of the Dead” and “Creepshow.” But here she gives us a real-life horror story – the Holocaust.
In 1944, twelve thousand Hungarian Jews a day were being shipped to their deaths in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. A small Zionist rescue group called Va'adat Ezrah Vehatzalah (Vaada) was attempting to save people from this fate. One of the group’s leaders, Rezsö Kasztner, entered into negotiations with SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann,

Eichmann was willing to barter Jewish lives for war materials. “Goods for blood, blood for goods,” he called it. He offered to sell one-million Jewish lives for 10,000 trucks.
When Kasztner couldn’t get the Allies to come up with the trucks, he raised private funds, enough to buy a trainload of Jews otherwise destined for Auschwitz. Made up of rabbis and scholars and family and friends, he called it Noah’s Ark. The 1,685 people on the train cost $1,000 per head. Kasztner stayed behind.

At first Eichmann detoured the train to Bergen-Belsen, another death camp, his intention to hold the passengers captive until he got his payment. Eventually, the train was released and made it ways to the safety of Switzerland.

Years later, Kasztner was accused of having “sold his soul to the Devil,” allowing millions of Jews to die in order to save his trainload. By then serving as a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, he was forced to clear his name. The trial didn’t go well, but the verdict was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in January 1958 in a vote of 4 to 1.

Kasztner didn’t live to see this reversal. Reviled by his compatriots, he was spat upon and pushed off buses, his daughter harassed at school. Then on March 15, 1957, he was shot in front of his Tel Aviv home by an assassin who had been a child living in Palestine at the time of the Holocaust.

This documentary not only records the praise of Jewish survivors for Kasztner, but the accusations of his detractors. And in a stunning scene, it brings Kasztner’s daughter and three grandchildren face to face with the man who murdered him.

“Killing Kasztner” is fascinating as it unfolds a page of nearly forgotten history. I’d love to see what Steven Spielberg could do with this story.
[from Solares Hill]

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