Killing Kasztner

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The Jew Rezso Kasztner who faced down Eichmann, saved thousands – and paid with his life. True stories rarely contain a historic mystery, a courtroom drama, a political murder, and a family saga, but all can be found in the contentious story of Rezso Kasztner.

In Nazi occupied Hungary, Kasztner, a Jew, dared to negotiate face to face with the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann. While the Nazi killing machine was at its peak, Kasztner secured a rescue train for 1684 Jews from Budapest, and bargained for tens of thousands of more lives. It may have been the largest rescue of its kind during the Holocaust, more than were saved by Oskar Schindler.

Yet Kasztner was condemned as a traitor in his adopted country of Israel; accused as a collaborator in a trial and verdict that divided a nation and forever stamped him as the “man who sold his soul to the devil.” He was ultimately assassinated by Jewish right wing extremists in Tel Aviv in 1957.

After receiving critical acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival and playing to sold out houses in Israel, American director Gaylen Ross’s Killing Kasztner – eight years in the making – now poses the question to U.S. audiences: Was Rezso Kasztner a heroic rescuer of Jews or a villain colluding with the Nazis? Through accounts of the inflammatory political trial, startling revelations after 50 years by Kasztner’s assassin, Ze’ev Eckstein, and a chilling meeting between the killer and Kasztner’s daughter, Zsuzsi, audiences finally can decide the legacy of this forgotten man.

If you know the name Rezso Kasztner, you won’t need any encouragement to see Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis. If you don’t, that is even more reason to see this documentary on the strange and compelling life and death of one of the most morally complex figures to come out of the Holocaust. Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan

Was he a hero, a kind of Jewish Oskar Schindler? At least one person didn’t think so. A Jerusalem hotelier published a pamphlet in 1953 accusing Kasztner of collaborating with the Nazis. Kasztner’s ends may have been laudable, this line of reasoning went, but his means compromised them utterly. Not to fight was to collude. A libel suit against the pamphleteer led to a 17-month trial. The judge ruled in the writer’s favor. “Kasztner, in dealing with the Nazis, sold his soul to the devil,’’ the judge declared. Boston Globe, Mark Feeney

Director Gaylen Ross has done a comprehensive job of researching why Rezso Kasztner is so little discussed in the history books despite what would seem to be his heroic act of saving a trainload of nearly 1,700 Jews from Budapest during World War II. The fact that Kasztner, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust and settled in Israel, was accused of being a Nazi collaborator is the reason he remains persona non grata in many Jewish circles today. The Hollywood Reporter, Eric Monder

Official movie site

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