The Kastner train was a trainload of almost 1,700
Jews who, in the second half of 1944, escaped from Nazi-controlled Hungaryto safety in Switzerland, while some 450,000 members of the Hungarian Jewish community were deported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The train was named after
Rudolf Kastner, one of the leaders of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, who negotiated with senior SS officer Adolf Eichmannto allow a number of Jews to escape in exchange for money, gold, and diamonds. [Braham, Randolph (2004): Rescue Operations in Hungary: Myths and Realities, "East European Quarterly" 38(2): 173-203.] [Bauer, Yehuda (1994): Jews for Sale?, Yale University Press.] [Bilsky, Leora (2004): Transformative Justice : Israeli Identity on Trial (Law, Meaning, and Violence), University of Michigan Press.] The train included passengers from all social classes and from all over Hungary. There were 40 rabbis, including Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe; well-known Zionists; scholars; two opera singers; journalists; peasants; officers in the Hungarian army; and Slovak and Polish refugees.Porter, Anna. "Kastner's Train". Douglas & MacIntyre, 2007, p. 233.] [Löb Ladislaus."Dealing with Satan". Jonathan Cape, 2008, pp. 115-18.] Hilberg, Raul. " The Destruction of the European Jews", Yale University Press, 2003, p. 903] There were 972 female and 712 male passengers, including 252 children. The oldest passenger was 82; the youngest was born in one of the wagons on the fourth day of the journey. [ Porter, Anna. "Kastner's Train". Douglas & MacIntyre, 2007, pp. 235-37.] [Löb, Ladislaus. "Dealing with Satan". Jonathan Cape, 2008, p. 117.]
Kastner became a spokesman for the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Israel after the war.Bilsky, Leora. [http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/lhr/19.1/bilsky.html "Judging Evil in the Trial of Kastner"] , "Law and History Review", Vol 19, No. 1, Spring 2001.] He was assassinated there in March 1957 by a Holocaust survivor, after an Israeli court ruled, during a libel case brought by the Israeli government on behalf of Kastner, that he had "sold his soul to the devil" by selecting some Jews to be saved, while failing to alert the rest of the community to its fate. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807322-3,00.html "On Trial"] , Time magazine, July 11, 1955.] The verdict was overturned by the Israeli supreme court in January 1958 in a vote of 3 to 2.
On June 30, a train with an uncertain number of Jews left
Budapest. On July 9, it reached Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where 1,684 arrivals were registered: in the early stages of the journey some passengers had left the train, while others joined it. [Löb, Ladislaus. "Dealing with Satan". Jonathan Cape, 2008, p. 114.,] Three suitcases of cash, jewels, gold, and shares of stock, amounting to about $1000 per person, were paid to SS officer Kurt Becherin ransom. [Bauer, p198-199.]
Despite Eichmann's promise that the train would go directly to a neutral country, the Jews were held in
Bergen-Belsen concentration campin a special section for some months. 318 were taken to Switzerlandin August and the remainder in December. There were a number of births and deaths, and about 17 were detained in Bergen-Belsen by the Germans on various pretexts. The total saved was about 1,670. [Löb, Ladislaus. "Dealing with Satan". Jonathan Cape, 2008, pp.198-200] Among those who escaped by this route was Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the rebbeof Satmar, and his whole court, leaders of Orthodox and Neolog communities, members of Zionist youth movements, Polish and Slovak refugees, and many others. Controversially, Kastner included a contingent of 388 people, including several family members and friends, from his home town of Cluj. [Braham, Randolph (2004): "Rescue Operations in Hungary: Myths and Realities," "East European Quarterly" 38(2): 48] [Bauer, Yehuda (1994): "Jews for Sale?". Yale University Press, p. 197.]
The transport played a major role in the Kastner trial in
Israelin 1954, in which the government of Israel sued Malchiel Gruenwald, a hotelier, a political pamphleteer and stamp collector, for libel after he self-published a pamphlet charging Kastner, by then an Israeli government spokesman, with collaboration. A major detail of Gruenwald's allegations was that Kastner had agreed to the rescue in return for agreeing to keep silent on the fate of the mass of Hungarian Jews who were being transported to Auschwitz. This accusation was accepted by the court, leading Judge Halevi to declare that Kastner had "sold his soul to the devil." [Bilsky, p 47.] In 1958, most of the ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Israel, but not before Kastner had been assassinated. The issue remains the subject of heated debate. [Weitz, Yechiam (1996): The Holocaust on trial: The impact of the Kasztner and Eichmann trials on Israeli society, "Israel Studies" 1(2), 1-26; also Braham, Bauer, and Bilsky.]
Aid and Rescue Committee
History of the Jews in Hungary
*Bauer, Yehuda (1994): "Jews for Sale?", Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-05913-2.
*Bilsky, Leora (2004): "Transformative Justice : Israeli Identity on Trial (Law, Meaning, and Violence)", University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0-472-03037-X
*Braham, Randolph (2004): "Rescue Operations in Hungary: Myths and Realities," "East European Quarterly" 38(2): 173-203.
*Hilberg, Raul. "
The Destruction of the European Jews", first published in 1961, this edition Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-300-09557-0
*Weitz, Yechiam (1996): "The Holocaust on trial: The impact of the Kasztner and Eichmann trials on Israeli society," "Israel Studies" 1(2), 1-26
* [http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/internationalus/kasztners_train.html News segment from The National on the www.cbc.ca TV website]
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