"Jews For Sale": The Rudolph Kasztner Transports

Introduction By Peter Landé and Joyce Field

· Background
· Database
· Acknowledgements
· Searching the Database

Background

During the years that the Nazis controlled Germany and then large parts of Europe there were numerous attempts to bribe officials in order to save individuals, including large numbers of Jews.  These efforts, mostly futile, are described in Yehuda Bauer's Jews for Sale? : Nazi-Jewish negotiations, 1933-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

Small as they were, compared to the total Jewish population held by the Nazis, two efforts in 1944 were successful.  More than 1,900 Jews, mostly Hungarian Jews, were delivered by train across the Swiss border.  The principal negotiator for these two transports, Rudolph (Rezs÷) Kasztner, remains a controversial individual, who was later murdered in Israel.  On the night of March 3, 1957, Rudolph (Rezs÷) Kasztner became the first Jewish victim of a Jewish political assassination in the State of Israel, murdered for determining which Hungarian Jews to save from extermination during the Holocaust.  Persons interested in greater details on Kasztner may wish to read Anna Porter's Kasztner's train: the true story of Rezs÷ Kasztner, unknown hero of the Holocaust (2007), and examine a website devoted to Kasztner's efforts at http://www.kasztnermemorial.com.  At this site, the following is written:

"He [Kastzner] was murdered for what some would consider 'playing God,' determining which Hungarian Jews to save from extermination during the Holocaust.  Like Oskar Schindler, Kasztner negotiated with the Nazis to save lives.  Unlike Schindler, however, Kasztner's actions and motives were questioned by Hungarian Holocaust survivors whose families were not included in the select group of Jews to be saved."

The memorial site, the purpose of which is to resuscitate Kasztner's reputation, and is thus sympathetic to him states:

"The prospect of saving Hungarian Jewry through ransom, odious as it appears, proved an alluring chance at beating the final solution to Kasztner and his associates....  A number of historians have also credited Kasztner and the Vaadah with saving the remnants of the Budapest ghetto and Kasztner in particular with saving the Jews who remained alive in places like Bergen-Belsen immediately at war's end.  Despite the many lives saved and the heroic efforts expended it was clear at war's end that the grand plan of saving Hungarian Jewry failed.  The record of Kasztner's heroism was buried under the rubble of that failure."

Particularly interesting is the transcript of the interview by Claude Lanzmann with Hansi Brand, wife of Joel Brand, one of the members of the Relief and Rescue Committeee of Budapest (the Vaadah, or Vaadat Ezra ve'Hatzalah, generally referred to as the Vaadah, or the Committee).  Hansi describes how the Hungarians thought they would escape the "Holocaust"; however, when the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, their illusions were shattered.

The Committee was established in 1943 to help Jewish refugees, particularly those from Slovakia and Poland, who had fled to Hungary to escape the Nazis.  The leaders of the Committee were Rudolph (Rezs÷) Kasztner, a Zionist from Cluj; Joel Brand, also from Transylvania and, in the words of Saul Friedlander, "something of an adventurer in politics" (Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, p. 621), and Otto Komoly, an engineer from Budapest.  Around March/April 1944 the focus changed to negotiations with Eichmann for the exchange of Hungarian persons for military trucks.  Eichmann told Brand that 10,000 Jews could be saved for every truck delivered to the Germans.  The final proposal was the exchange of 800,000 Hungarian lives for 10,000 trucks.  Brand was to be allowed to go to Istanbul to raise the funds along with Bandi Grosz, another Hungarian Jew.  On May 19, 1944 Brand met with the Yishuv (Jewish community in Mandate Palestine) representatives in Istanbul.  The intricate details of the meetings of all parties-in Turkey, Palestine, and Syria -- are described by both Brand and Friedlander.  Hansi and her children remained in Hungary, as hostages one presumes; but Hansi describes her meeting with Eichmann, which surprises Lanzmann.  Brand's mission ultimately was not successful.

Hansi brought Kasztner to meet Eichmann, which began the negotiations to bring the Jews from the provinces -- including Cluj -- to Budapest.

"She says that Eichmann told her husband that he should hurry on his mission to Istanbul, because 12,000 Jews per day were taken to Auschwitz.  Lanzmann questions Hansi Brand about the highly controversial rescue mission, the Kasztner Train (Lanzmann does not use this term), especially about the "privileged" nature of the transport and the 388 passengers from Cluj, Kasztner's home town."

"Lanzmann says that Kasztner is sometimes criticized for not warning the Jews in Cluj, for example, about what would happen to them in Auschwitz.  Hansi Brand says that is the most evil lie and gives examples of Jewish leaders from Cluj (she uses the German name of the town, Klausenburg) who knew quite well what Auschwitz meant.  Lanzmann says that some people from Cluj who survived Auschwitz later complained that they were not told what it meant to be sent to the camp.  Hansi Brand says that many people did not want to know that the Jews were being exterminated.  She finds it impossible that anyone could not know by 1944 what was happening in German-occupied areas.  She talks about the postwar Kasztner trial, in which Judge Benjamin Halevi believed the witnesses against Kasztner.  They continue to talk about how much information was or should have been given to the Jews of Cluj."

A timeline of events is available at http://www.kasztnermemorial.com/apr44.html. A small part is excerpted below.

In the Kasztner Report, Lanzmann feels that Kasztner seems to express some guilt.  There has been the accusation that Kasztner "saved certain people from Cluj (his own family and Zionists)."  Lanzmann asks Brand to explain how people were chosen for the transport to Bergen-Belsen (the so-called Kasztner Train rescue mission).  "She says that the types of people chosen varied greatly but included the most endangered refugees, Zionists, Jewish intellectuals, orphans, and rich people, whose wealth helped pay the $1,000 per-person ransom demanded by the Germans."  Lanzmann asks Hansi why she thinks her husband's mission to Istanbul did not succeed and she replies "that the English did not want to help the Jews because they did not want to deal with the problem of Palestine.  She says further that the Jews in Palestine were not informed as to what was happening.  She ends the interview by defending her husband against historians who say that he did not return to Budapest out of fear for himself (Joel Brand was arrested by the British in Aleppo and eventually ended up in Palestine)."

Leora Bilsky, in "Judging Evil: New Departures in Israeli Legal History," quotes the judge in the trial of Kasznter:

"The judge . . . derived from this contract the main explanation for Kastner's subsequent betrayal of his people: The benefit that K. gained from the contract with the Nazis was the rescue of the "camp of prominent Jews" and the price that he had to pay for this was a complete surrender of any attempts at real rescue steps benefiting the "camp of the people."  The price the Nazis paid for this was to waive the extermination of the "camp of prominents."  With this contract to save the prominent Jews, the head of the Aid and Rescue Committee made a "concession" with the exterminator: in return for the rescue of the prominent Jews K. agreed to the extermination of the people and abandoned them to their fate."

Sources:

Database

Separate lists exist for each of the two transports.  The transport in August 1944 (List I) includes approximately 300 Jews, and the transport in December 1944 (List II) includes approximately 1,600 Jews.  Both lists are combined in this database but identified by list number.

A list of the persons on the larger transport has long been available on http://www.kasztnermemorial.com, but the names of the persons on the smaller transport have been more difficult to find.  Both lists were recently located in a World Jewish Congress collection held at the United States Holocaust Museum archives, (RG 39.013M reel 10).  The information on the December transport is given as it appears on the above cited website.  The August transport list required considerable editing and complete dates of birth were added.  If the information on the World Jewish Congress list differed significantly from Bergen Belsen records, both were included.  This database includes a total of 1,939 individuals from both lists:

    List I: 318 Records
    List II: 1,621 Records

The fields for this database are as follows:

Acknowledgments

The information contained in this database was indexed from the files of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM File RG 39.013M reel 10).  The Hansi Brand interview is at Story RG-60.5002, Tape 3109-3111.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum purchased the Shoah outtakes from Claude Lanzmann on October 11, 1996.  The Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection is now jointly owned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem - The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.  Joint copyright belongs to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem - The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, and the State of Israel.

In addition, thanks to JewishGen Inc. for providing the website and database expertise to make this database accessible.  Special thanks to Warren Blatt and Michael Tobias for their continued contributions to Jewish genealogy.  Particular thanks to the Research Division headed by Joyce Field and to Nolan Altman, coordinator of Holocaust files.

Nolan Altman
August 2008


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