In Kasztner’s Crime
, Bogdanor has assiduously attempted to dispel the fog of these distractions and to analyze Kasztner’s actions in 1944. He develops the arguments put forward by Ben Hecht and Uri Avnery decades ago, presenting not only evidence, but also presumption and interpretation. It is a convincing case and he demands a guilty verdict.
The Nazis wanted to avoid – at all cost – another Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but were ideologically committed to the extermination of all Jews. Bogdanor argues that the tortuous negotiations with the Jews were designed to dangle the hope of rescue and to drag them out for an eternity while the deportations continued apace. It served the Nazi desire for a total absence of resistance.
When Eichmann arrived in Hungary in the spring of 1944, he was accompanied by 150 to 200 staff who were expected to deport 750,000 people. The Hungarian Interior Ministry offered 20,000 gendarmes to support Eichmann in the belief that the Jews were merely being sent to “work” camps.
In this lethal card game, the Nazis held the aces while the Jews looked for any scintilla of salvation. Kasztner promised to pay the Nazis $200,000 per month in the hope of postponing the deportations and prolonging the negotiations as the end of the war approached. Based on examples from Slovakia, the possibility of bribery from funds raised by free Jewry was considered. Everything came to naught, and such proposals were buried in the cemetery of wishful thinking – a cemetery guarded by Eichmann’s SS.
Kasztner appears to have become entrapped in a delusion of self-importance and a belief that eventually his many compromises would pay off. He even wrote that the deported Jews were alive in ‘Waldsee’ – a Nazi euphemism for the reality of Auschwitz.
Kasztner had met Oscar Schindler in November 1943, and was well aware of the extermination of European Jewry in the camps to the East. Yet he did not warn the Jews of Cluj, his home town, and other nearby locations, to escape across the nearby Romanian border. Did he wish to avert widespread panic – which would serve German aims? Did he refuse to call for an armed revolt because so few arms had been secured from Tito’s partisans? Did he believe that the few had to be sacrificed so that the many should live? The mother of Hannah Szenes did not entertain such ideas during the trial, and accused Kasztner of betraying her daughter and sending her to her death. Yet the Hungarian Service of the BBC was broadcasting dire warnings of what was happening.
Did this fall on deaf ears? Did no one spread such information in Hungary? Bogdanor demonstrates that Kasztner’s story after 1945 constantly changed, peppered by omissions and contradictions.