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An 11 Year Old's Memories on Kastner's Train

An 11 Year Old's Memories on Kastner's Train

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Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm
at The Wort Hotel, 50 Glenwood St, Jackson, WY 83001
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Adam Heller was born in 1933 to Jewish parents in the Romanian city of Cluj, Kolozsvár in Hungarian. In April 1944, the Hungarian administration confiscated his family's property, and in May the family was forcibly relocated, along with more than 18,000 other Jews, to the ghetto within the open-sided brick drying sheds of the city’s brickyard. In late May the prisoners of the ghetto were transported out of the ghetto as part of the Nazi Final Solution. Heller and his immediate family survived on Kasztner's train. Yisrael (Rezsö) Kasztner, after whom the train was later named, like Heller’s father Ephraim, were Labor Zionists and friends. 

Kasztner’s train consisted of 35 cattle trucks that left Budapest on 30 June 1944, carrying 1,684 Jews to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany.  Five months later, in December 1944 - four months before the capitulation of Germany - they were transported in a passenger train to safety in Switzerland. Kasztner was a de-facto self-appointed Labor Zionist leader in Hungary, a country where most Jews hated Zionism. He negotiated, as instructed by the Istanbul-office of the Labor-led Jewish Agency for Palestine, which became in May 1948 the Government of the State of Israel, with two German Nazis: Kurt Becher, the SS officer in charge of confiscating Jewish property reporting directly to Heinrich Himmler; and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of deporting Hungary's Jews for extermination in Auschwitz. Kasztner also negotiated the payment of five million Swiss francs in exchange for the transfer of 21,000 Jews from the ghettos of four Hungarian cities, Baja, Debrecen, Szeged, and Szolnok, to work as forced laborers in industry and agriculture in the city of Strasshof in Austria. Almost all of the 21,000 Jews, including old people and children, survived. The monies came mostly fromof the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee through the Jewish Community of Switzerland.

Arguably, no one saved more Jewish lives than Yisrael Kasztner during the Holocaust. 

Heller, aged 12, emigrated to British Mandate Palestine which later became Israel, in 1945. Two years later Kasztner arrived in Israel, where the friendship between Heller’s parents and Kasztner and his wife resumed. Kasztner became the press officer of the Israeli Ministry of Commerce and Industry and a senior member of Mapai, the ruling Labor Party, headed by David Ben Gurion. In August 1952 Malchiel Grünwald, a bitter Jew, published a mimeographed pamphlet accusing Kasztner of  collaboration resulting in the deaths of 400,000 Hungarian Jews and (correctly) stating that he had testified at the Nuremberg trials on behalf of Kurt Becher. The government sued for libel on Kasztner’s behalf, but did not allow him to disclose that his trip to Nuremberg was paid for by the Israeli government, which apparently hoped to recover Jewish property looted by Becher through Kasztner. The Grünwald’s Nationalist Herut member lawyer, Schmuel Tamir, turned the trial into an indictment of the Mapai leadership for its alleged failure to save Europe's Jews. The district judge, found for Grünwald, ruling that Kasztner had "sold his soul to the devil" by negotiating with Eichmann and by selecting some Jews to be saved while failing to alert others. Kasztner was then assassinated in Tel Aviv in March 1957 by a member of Heller’s Boys Scout Troupe, Zeev Eckstein, who refused to disclose who instructed him to murder Kasztner.  Nine months later the Supreme Court of Israel overturned most of the lower court's ruling finding for Kasztner and against Grünwald. For his attacking the Labor government, Tamir was made in 1965 a Herut member of the Knesset, then Minister of Justice in Menachem Begin’s government from 1977 until 1980. He was a supporter of Rabbi Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League. 

Books in English: 
• Anna Porter:  Kasztner's Train: The True Story of an Unknown Hero of the Holocaust, Walker Books; Reprint edition (March 10, 2009) ISBN-10: 0802717411
• Ladislaus Lob: “Dealing with Satan: Rezsö Kasztner's Daring Rescue Mission” Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (February 14, 2008) ISBN-10: 0224077929

Books in Hebrew: 
• Zeev Venia Hadari: Tzomet Kushta:Shlichut Keneged Kol Hasicuyyim 1942-1945 (Against all Odds, Istanbul 1942-1945), Israel Ministry of Defense Press, Tel Aviv, 1992,  ISBN:  965-05-0583-0
• Yehiam Weitz: Haish Shenirtzach Paamaim; Haiav, Mishpato uMoto shel Dr. Yisrael Kasztner (The Man Who Was Murdered Twice), Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1995 ISBN: 965-07-0517-1 

 
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