6" x 9"
Biography & Autobiography
The True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust
Part political thriller, part love story, part legal drama and part gripping race against time, "Kasztner's Train" is the true account of one man's heroic attempts to defy almost impossible odds and save the Jews of Hungary during the last chaotic days of World War II; it also explores his later trial for treason, shocking murder and ultimate redemption in Israel after the war.
"In the summer of 1944 in wartime Budapest, two men, a Nazi and a Jew, sat negotiating through a fog of cigarette smoke. One was notorious: Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust. The other was less well known: A Hungarian lawyer and journalist called Rudolf Kasztner. The topic of their discussion was a train to be filled with Jews." The Independent, 23 August, 2000.
The train would carry 1,685 passengers out of German-occupied wartime Hungary. They were a motley group: industrialists and Orthodox rabbis, Zionists and anti-Zionists, Polish and Slovak refugees from pogroms and concentration camps, the oldest 85, the youngest a month old. The wealthy Jews of Budapest paid $1,500 for each family member to be included, the poor paid nothing. The selection process was arduous. Its memory is deeply distressing to those whose relatives did not survive the Holocaust. The money was paid in cash, share certificates, jewellery and gold bars and was delivered in two large suitcases to Himmler's economic advisor in Hungary.
It was a deal that would haunt Rezso Kasztner to the end of his life.
"Kasztner's Train" sets the scene for the Nazi occupation of Hungary, taking the reader from the relative safety of 1939-43 in one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, through the occupation of March 1944 and the mass deportations to Auschwitz. As Jewish leaders' desperate ly tried to prevent total annihilation, a little-known rescue committee run by Kasztner began long, drawn-out meetings with the Nazis while 400,000 Jews were being murdered; the lucky few they saved made a dramatic escape on Kasztner's train. They also negotiated with Eichmann to keep another 20,000 people - who Eichmann called "Kasztner's Jews on ice" - alive for approximately $100 a head, against Kasztner's promise to obtain goods for Germany. That Himmler's negotiations on the Swiss-German border for coffee, tea, sugar and trucks from the Americans were also a cover for his aim to reach a favourable peace agreement with the Allies was only guessed, not known, by Kasztner.
It is an irony of fate that the man who saved more Jewish lives than anyone else during the fateful years of Hitler's insane Final Solution, should have been judged in Israel for having "made a deal with the devil". Prior to being exonorated, Rezso Kasztner was murdered in Israel in 1957.
"Kasztner's Train" explores the nature of Kasztner, the hero, the cool politician, the proud Zionist, the romantic lover, the man who believed that promises, even to convinced Nazis, had to be kept. Eichmann described him as "an ice-cold lawyer" and talked of their mutual trust. Hanzi Brand, his lover, talked of a "passionate believer in human values"; his daughter remembers his jokes and his laughter. Thousands owe their lives to him. Thousands more still decry his "deal with the devil".
Kasztner's deals with Eichmann and Becher raise questions about moral choices, about courage in extraordinary circumstances, about the nature of compromise and collaboration, about how far a man should go to save other people's lives. These questions are as valid now as they were in the 1940s. They continue to haunt the world today.
November is Jewish Book Month.
Anna Porter was born in Hungary. Her family settled in New Zealand after the 1956 Revolution. She began her publishing career in England, then moved to Canada in 1969. Anna Porter is the founder of Key Porter Books, and one of Canada's most respected publishing professionals. She is the author of three crime novels, Hidden Agenda, Mortal Sins and The Bookfair Murder and the non-fiction book The Storyteller, a memoir of growing up in Hungary. She is an officer of the Order of Canada. Anna Porter lives in Toronto with her husband and two daughters.
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