Monday, December 2, 2019

Kasztner's Train: the True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust by Anna Porter

I picked up this somewhat older book at a book sale, and confess it was a little too academic for my liking (I struggle when reading any book for pleasure that has a multitude of footnotes).

Despite that I got sucked into the story and finished the book even though at the start I doubted that I would.  It helped when I realized it didn't really matter if I precisely remembered who each and every character was as constantly checking the index for that started to drive me a bit crazy.

Kasztner was a Jewish lawyer and journalist living in Budapest at the time of the Nazi invasion of Hungary.  In 1944 he somehow managed to meet Eichmann and other senior Nazi officers and negotiated a deal to allow over 1600 Jews to escape to Switzerland rather than being shipped to Auschwitz.  In other dealing he also may have saved about 40,000 other Jews already living in camps.

The book goes through these negotiations and all the characters involved in painstaking detail.  We get insights into other Jewish community leaders, those who supported Kasztner and those who didn't, various Nazi officers, and Jewish leaders in Switzerland, Turkey, Palestine and the US.  Kasztner struggled both during and after the war to get the support of these other leaders - many of whom were just in denial about the gravity of the Nazi action in Hungary.

After the war Kasztner settled in Israel where he was accused of selling his soul to the devil.  His reputation in tatters he was eventually murdered.

While his tactics may have been questionable there is no doubt several thousand people and their descendants owe their lives to Kasztner.  In addition to knowing nothing about him before reading this book, I also learned far more than I ever did about the Nazi action against Jews in Hungary.

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