Salvaging Rudolf Kastner

by Maskil on May 6, 2008

One of my first postings on this blog was a brief item concerning Rudolf Kastner (Reszo Kasztner). The piece contributed nothing new to the controversy, but merely referred to Caroline Glick’s article on Yad Vashem’s decision to honor Kastner and suggesting that, as a form of antidote, the reader get hold of a copy of Ben Hecht’s “Perfidy”.

I first read Perfidy as a teenager in the mid-70s. Unlike Elliot Jager I was not a member of the JDL, although I was at that time a fervent admirer of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane A”H, who recommended it. Without the benefit of the fax or Internet, I scoured bookshops, pored over “books in print” catalogues and laboriously typed letters to obscure addresses to obtain copies of his books, pamphlets and other writings. I corresponded with him on a few occasions and eventually met with him during my stay in Israel, also participating in some Kach/JDL activities, such as a demonstration on behalf of Syrian Jewry.

Even more than 30 years later (and even although Kahane is no longer part of my pantheon of Jewish greats), I still see Perfidy as one of the most searing, powerful pieces of literature of our age, and it shaped my view of Zionism and the Holocaust for a considerable time.

Given the brevity of my initial post regarding Kastner, I’m therefore always surprised that the search term [Rudolf] Kastner has been bringing readers to my blog ever since. Not many, and not for very long, but consistently. Perhaps when I have more of a grasp of the concepts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), I’ll understand it better.

As a duty to my readers, I therefore thought it may be appropriate to mention that since my original piece was published, at least two books (that I’m aware of) have been published concerning Kastner. Both volumes are available through Amazon, and both appear to be aimed at rehabilitating Kastner’s reputation, although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read either.

Adam Fuerstenberg reviewed Anna Porter’s Kasztner’s Train in the virtual pages of the Forward earlier this year.

A hat tip to a Ynetnews reader by the name of Edward S., who made mention of The Man Who Played God: A Novel About Hungary and Israel, 1944-1956 by Robert St. John. The novel is still available in limited quantities from Amazon.

I remain to be convinced that Kastner should be regarded as one of the heroes of the Holocaust. What we can say, however, is that in an inhuman era, he was expected to make choices no person should ever be expected to make. In our time, more apparent effort is made to redeem one hostage than was made to save 100,000 lives then. This is as it should be, but puts us in a poor position to second-guess him.

With Israel’s 60th anniversary approaching, perhaps it’s time for us to lay those ghosts to rest? To quote from Elliot Jager’s JPOST article:

Today, I see no value in willing ourselves to remain embittered, perhaps in perpetuity, over Zionist ideological divisions during the Mandate and the Shoah era. It’s time to move on.

The true villains of the Shoah, let us never forget, were first the Nazis and their enablers, then those who barred the gates of refuge, and those who rioted to keep them barred.

In a sense, WW2 was two parallel or overlapping wars. The war between the Allies and the Axis was a clear cut struggle between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. In the war against the Jews, however, there were very few Good Guys (even amongst the Allies), and their efforts made little material difference to the eventual outcome.

So, while I’m not suggesting that we sanitise this part of our history, perhaps we should reconcile ourselves to it.

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