Rudolf Kastner

Rudolf Kastner

Rudolf Israel Kastner (1906 – March 15, 1957) was an Austro-Hungarian-born Jewish Zionist activist journalist and lawyer. He became known for facilitating the 'Blood for goods' proposal which was supposed to help Jews escape Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. He was assassinated in 1957 after an Israeli court accused him of having collaborated with the Nazis. His granddaughter is Merav Michaeli a member of the 2013 Israeli parliament – the Knesset.

Kastner was one of the leaders of the Va'adat Ezrah Vehatzalah —the Aid and Rescue Committee, or Vaada— a small Jewish group in Budapest who helped Jewish refugees escape from Nazi Europe into Hungary during World War II, then helped them escape from Hungary after the Nazis invaded that country too on March 19, 1944. Between May and July 1944, Hungary's Jews were being deported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz at the rate of 12,000 people a day—for "resettlement," as the Nazis said. Kastner negotiated with Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS officer, to allow 1,685 Jews to leave instead for Switzerland on what became known as the Kastner train, in exchange for money, gold, and diamonds.

Kastner moved to Israel after the war, becoming a manager in the intelligence unit at the Prime Minister's department in 1952. He was also nominated as a candidate to the Israeli parliament for the MAPAI (Israeli Labour) party In 1953, he was accused of having been a Nazi collaborator, in a pamphlet self-published by Malchiel Gruenwald, an amateur writer. The allegation stemmed in part from his relationship with Eichmann, and with Kurt Becher, another SS officer; and in part from his having given positive character references after the war for Becher and two more SS officers, thus allowing Becher to escape prosecution for war crimes. The Israeli government sued Gruenwald for libel on Kastner's behalf, resulting in a trial that lasted two years, and a ruling in 1955 that Kastner had indeed, in the words of Judge Benjamin Halevi, "sold his soul to the devil." By saving the Jews on the Kastner train, while failing to warn others that their resettlement was in fact deportation to the gas chambers, Kastner had sacrificed the mass of Jewry for a chosen few, the judge said. The verdict triggered the fall of the Israeli Cabinet.

Kastner resigned his government position and became a virtual recluse, telling reporters he was living with a loneliness "blacker than night, darker than hell." His wife fell into a depression that left her unable to get out of bed, while his daughter had to endure her school peers throwing stones at her in the street. The Supreme Court of Israel overturned most of the judgment in January 1958, stating in a 4–1 decision that the lower court had "erred seriously," but not before Kastner had been assassinated. He was shot on March 3, 1957 by Zeev Eckstein, and died of his injuries twelve days later.

Read more about Rudolf KastnerThe Libel Trial, Descendents, Follow Up and New Documents, Documentary, See Also

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