Killing Kasztner: Controversial Film Comes to New Jersey

78af12298c835e302bd9_kas1.jpg
Danny Stern, son of a Kasztner survivor and Gaylen Ross, Filmmaker
78af12298c835e302bd9_kas1.jpg

WESTFIELD, NJ - Killing Kasztner, a film by Gaylen Ross, is about a man who saved almost 20,000 Jews and was murdered for it by Jews. Named for Reszó/Rudolph/Israel Kasztner, the Hungarian Zionist leader and liaison to the Jewish Agency (the Sachnut), a unique train left Nazi territory in June 1944 with 1,684 passengers aboard, all of them rescued and released in Switzerland by December 1944. The film tells the story of how Kasztner was murdered in Israel by Jewish right wing extremists for being a Nazi collaborator—which history proves he was not—and brings Kasztner’s daughter and her children face-to-face with his murderer.

The film was shown to a crowd of more than 200 people on Sunday night at Temple Beth-El in Westfield, with filmmaker Ross in attendance. “Kasztner survivor,” 85-year-old Arthur P. Stern (known for building the first transistor radio ever) was “Skyped” in from Los Angeles, and his son, Daniel Stern of Westfield was present with other descendants of passengers on the train. The Stern family was very active in the Jewish community, and helped Kasztner organize it. His grandfather, Leo Stern, who was probably one of the most important, and certainly wealthiest leaders of the Jewish community in Budapest, helped get passengers for the train, but he didn’t testify on behalf of Kasztner in Israel, although he’d received a subpoena.
 
“They weren’t embarrassed to talk about being on the train,” his grandson, Danny, told The Alternative Press. “What put him over the top was the idea that Kasztner, after the war, was filing affidavits on behalf of  Nazis. It was a very difficult experience for him.”
 
Unknown to most people was that from the very beginning, Kasztner, vice-president of the Zionist movement in Budapest, was working on behalf of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish government of Mandate Palestine, and then for the Israeli government—a government that ultimately betrayed him.

Approximately 315 passengers were held hostage in Bergen-Belsen until August and let go as a sign of good faith. The rest were held in that concentration camp for six months before they were released near St. Gallen, Switzerland. Today, many historians agree that Kasztner’s deal also saved an additional ca. 18,000 Jews who were held as potential bargaining chips with the Allies instead of being deported to Auschwitz. Although the movie does not much deal with what happened during the war, the train was part of broader Jewish/Nazi negotiations that began in Slovakia with the Vaad Hatzolah (the Rescue Committee)—an association of Orthodox Jews in New York, London, Turkey, and Switzerland, seeking to rescue Jews from the Nazis for ransom, and Jewish Hungarian representatives of the Jewish Agency in Mandate Palestine. Dozens of high-powered people were involved in or knew about what Adolph Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, called the “Blood for Trucks” deal that culminated in the Kasztner Transport.
 
But because there wasn’t room for everyone on the train, there was a backlash of rage and resentment against Kasztner from those left behind—including accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator and war profiteer who had destroyed Hungarian Jewry.

Sign Up for E-News

In 1953, Kasztner, then living in Israel, was accused of these crimes, in print, by Malchiel Gruenwald, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. At the time, Kasztner was a government spokesman, so the Israeli government decided to sue Gruenwald for libel on Kasztner’s behalf. What damned Kasztner was that he lied on the stand to protect government efforts to recover Nazi loot, and was caught in his lie. Worse, the government didn’t want anyone to know Kasztner had done what he did at their behest and so withheld exonerating documents from the trial. Ross shows those documents in the film—documents discovered by researcher Shoshana Barri long after his murder.

To complicate matters, the Israeli idea of a hero was a soldier who would die fighting for the cause. Kasztner, who saved more Jews than anyone else during the Holocaust, was labeled a Nazi collaborator because he used his mouth and money—instead of guns—to rescue Jews.

It ended in ignominy when the judge accused Kasztner of having sold his soul to the devil, acquitted Gruenwald and fined him the equivalent of $1. After Kasztner was assassinated in front of his Tel Aviv home in March 1957, the High Court reversed that decision and cleared him. Though Kasztner had paid with his life for saving so many Jews, people would spit on and throw rocks at his young daughter, ZsuZsi.
 
Says filmmaker Ross: “In the ten years of researching and filming the Kasztner story, I’ve grown to perceive this as a tragedy on so many levels: the decades of mistruths and falsehoods characterizing both the rescue and the man, the politicization in Israel of the Holocaust during the Kasztner libel trial, and finally how Kasztner was forsaken by the very country he represented. The last the worst of all—that the evidence uncovered in Israeli archives by researcher Shoshana Barri (increasingly accepted  by historians) shows that Kasztner gave the testimonies for former Nazis on behalf of the Israeli government—in order to locate Hungarian Jewish money to rebuild Israel, and for information in finding Eichmann and the Mufti of Jerusalem for their war crimes. That the government abandoned Kasztner and kept silent during the trial and for half a century after, shows that Kasztner may have been the greatest scapegoat of the post-Holocaust era. Hopefully his legacy, once defined by that betrayal, will see new understanding and interpretation today.”

Since its American premiere last year, Ross’s film has stirred the controversy anew, even as research continues to exonerate Kasztner. For some, it is a very personal story, because they are Kasztner survivors and Kasztner family members. For others, it is the story of political terrorism, as described by Kasztner’s murderer. Recruited by Shin Bet (the Israeli Secret Service) to spy on a radical-fringe right-wing group, Ze’ev Eckstein then joined it. After the trial, he believed if Kasztner was killed, the Ben-Gurion government would fall. Kasztner was killed, and nothing changed.

“Killing Kasztner” took seven years to make, and when it started, the Kasztner family did not know Ross was going to focus on the man who murdered their father and grandfather. When it premiered in Israel, it was as if history had been rewritten. Yes, there are bitter Hungarian Jews who will never be convinced that Kasztner did the right thing, yet there the tens of thousands of Jews who exist today and are grateful that Kasztner did what he, and they, believed was the right thing to do. 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Westfield

22nd Annual Union County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Off March 10

February 23, 2018

UNION, NJ — Twenty-one years after the first Union County St. Patrick’s Day Parade stepped off on Morris Avenue the tradition continues on Saturday, March 10 at 1 p.m. sharp with thousands of marchers and spectators gathering to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland.

This year’s Grand Marshal, John McPartlan of Scotch Plains, will lead the march of bagpipe ...

Mayor Brindle’s Update

February 15, 2018

The following are highlights from the update that Mayor Shelley Brindle gave at Tuesday night’s town council meeting.

I first want to congratulate Nick Calello and David Went for their promotions to patrol officers in the Westfield Police Department. I’d also like to welcome and congratulate new Patrol Officer Fortunato Riga, who joins the police department this week upon his ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_9cfec6f1d81f034823a4_1d4v9602

Sat, February 24, 1:00 PM

Westfield Area YMCA, Westfield

Free Kids Expo and Water Safety Event

Arts & Entertainment Health & Wellness

Sat, February 24, 7:00 PM

Grand Summit Hotel, Summit

The Burlesque Ball

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Carousel_image_2e2e4830042112095f66_94f09724857a937db1ac_d6404e0a-7afd-4279-b56f-19b0f9b2138c

Sun, February 25, 10:00 AM

Camp Riverbend, Warren

Camp Riverbend Open House

Westfield Police Blotter: Man Steals 60 Pairs of Pants from Downtown Store & More

February 21, 2018

February 14, 2018 10:53 p.m.

Officers Gill and Weiss arrested Luis Murillo, age 30, of Rahway, NJ, for two outstanding warrants out of Westfield Municipal Court ($500) and Woodbridge Municipal Court ($500) pursuant to a motor vehicle stop in Scotch Plans Township. Subject was transported to headquarters, processed and released after posting requisite bail.

 

February 15, 2018 5:24 ...

Lance to Speaker Ryan: Bring Background Check Bill Up for a Vote

February 23, 2018

Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) today led 18 Republican lawmakers in a letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for H.R. 4477 – the Fix NICS Act, to come up for a vote as a standalone measure.  The Fix NICS Act reauthorizes the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and institutes compliance certification measures and penalties for failing to comply.  ...

The Missing Moses

A seemingly dubious distinction belongs to this week’s Parshah, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20–30:10). It is the only reading in the Torah — from the first Parshah of the book of Exodus (in which he is born) until the end of the book of Numbers — where the name of Moses is not mentioned. Tetzaveh’s opening words are V’atah ...

‘Month of Hope’ at Wilson School

Inspired by the HOPE Week Initiative introduced in 2009 by the New York Yankees, Mr. Joseph Malanga, principal of Wilson School and a fan of the American League professional ballclub, declared January the “Month of Hope” at Wilson.

Malanga called on the school’s faculty Acts of Kindness Committee to choose the charitable organizations to be recipients of the weekly donation ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 12

On this week’s episode of AtlantiCast, decade of excellence makes headlines, as Atlantic Health’s place on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For List leads off the newest episode of AtlantiCast. Also on this week’s show, check out the newest “hybrid” operating room at Morristown Medical Center and find out how Atlantic Health is helping local ...

Would the Stock Market Affect Your Home Purchase?

"Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night." ("All About Eve.") While most people misquote this as "It's going to be a bumpy ride," the actual quote works better for the movie. Bette Davis delivers this with the classic style that made her one of the most loved actresses of her generation.

Well for the stock market it’s been a wild bumpy ...

Good News in NJ for Veterans

Beginning in the 2017 tax year, New Jersey will give an additional $3,000 exemption for military veterans. You are eligible to claim this exemption NJ state income tax return if you are a military veteran who was honorably discharged or released under honorable circumstances from active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States on or before the last day of the tax year.

 

The ...

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 13, 2018

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating, leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred yesterday. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The school shooting ...

Love Craft Beer But Hate the Tour? State Assembly Moves to Make it Easier for You to Belly Up to the Bar

Good news is a brew for New Jersey craft beer advocates. In February 2018, the New Jersey Assembly’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee paved the way for the introduction of Bill A2196, which would remove a current licensing rule requiring breweries and distilleries to provide a tour of their facilities before serving alcoholic beverages to consumers. Currently, breweries holding a ...

'What Stays' exposes family secrets and lies

‘What Stays’ exposes family secrets, resentment and lies

By Liz Keill

SUMMIT, NJ – In an original play by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre has provided an enlightening, funny and heart-felt view of family foibles.

Ekstrand has said that the germ of the play came from conversations with the ensemble members of the troupe, based on ...

Is FAANG Long in the Tooth?

Investors love to rally around a stock story. Today it’s all about the FAANG stocks. Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Google (GOOG) are a major reason why the S&P 500 rallied so much in 2017. Mr. Market is convinced the FAANGs are impervious to a sell-off. “Its different this time” is ringing loud and clear, but will the outcome really be that ...

Imagine a Chatham Toboggan Ride from the Top of Fairmount Avenue to Main Street

Did you know….
there was a time when Chatham kids could ice skate from downtown Chatham all the way to Florham Park? And that a toboggan ride could last from the top of Fairmount Avenue down to Main Street and beyond?

Those were the days!

This was back in the early to mid-1900s. The Passaic River meandered through grassy meadows and woods on the north side of Chatham. The marshy ...

Obituaries

Kathleen Marie Christian (nee Helmstetter), age 73 of Surf City, NJ, passed away peacefully at home ...
Read more

NBA Star Dennis Rodman Enjoys Life in Livingston

February 23, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Former National Basketball Association (NBA) star Dennis Rodman’s friends say he is “living like a Livingston kid” while he is in town doing an outpatient program for Turning Point Rehab Center.

Livingston native Chris “Vo” Volo, an agent for Prince Marketing Group, has been representing Rodman for seven years and the two quickly became ...