THE PROBLEM OF JEWISH
An HIR series
Peter Bergson and Ben Hecht,
Hillel Kook, alias Peter Bergson, the political leader of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (ETZEL), an underground patriotic Jewish army in British Mandate ‘Palestine,’ went to the United States during the Holocaust and fought from there a losing propaganda battle to save the European Jews from Hitler’s fire.
Peter Bergson was opposed by the mainstream leaders of the American Jewish community, led by Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, creator of the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress. Stephen Wise did everything he could to sabotage Peter Bergson’s effort. And thanks to Stephen Wise and his ilk, the Bergson movement, though it managed against all odds to save 200,000 Jews, could not save more (see Part 1 for this story).
Ben Hecht, an Oscar-winning screenwriter in Hollywood, was Bergson’s right-hand man in this noble and tragic mission to save the Jews from their own ‘leaders.’ He authored the advertisements for the Bergson movement, and also a quite successful theatrical pageant titled We Will Never Die to raise awareness about the Holocaust in the United States.
In 1961 Ben Hecht wrote Perfidy, where he narrated and documented for posterity not this story, but a related one. It is the story of an amazing trial that took place in Israel in the early 1950s when Malchiel Greenwald, a penniless 72-year-old man who self-published a tiny three-page newsletter in Jerusalem, accused Rudolf Kastner, a high official in the Israeli government, of having assisted Adolf Eichmann in the extermination of Hungary's 400,000 Jews (there were about 800,000 Jews in Hungary but the nazis could not finish the job, as the war ended). Nobody would have noticed except that the Israeli government defended Kastner by suing Greenwald for slander. Greenwald won.
What this trial revealed about the Labor Zionist leadership of the Jewish Agency, which went on to form the Israeli Government and Establishment, is very difficult to process. I am speaking of people such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, and Chaim Weizmann. I think everybody, and certainly every Jew, should read Perfidy. But many people don’t like to read, so, better yet, Perfidy should be made into a movie.
I shall pitch this movie to you: a combination of the ‘legal thriller,’ the ‘conspiracy theory,’ and, remarkably, the ‘true story’ genres. Everything in my pitch below is documented in Perfidy.
Perfidy, the movie.
Start with a quixotic character, Malchiel Greenwald. A penniless old Jew from Hungary in the blazing sun of Jerusalem: tilted black fedora, walking stick, overcoat, and goatee. Left for dead, once, in a Vienna pogrom, he immigrated to British Mandate ‘Palestine’ and organized from there illegal runs to save desperate Jews from Hitler. But Catastrophe swallowed his family.
The world is now in its early 1950s; Greenwald, in his early seventies. No matter: there is injustice in Israel so Greenwald, in the twilight of his life, becomes a journalist. Some would say this is straining the term. Greenwald’s newsletter is a three-page stencil (an old ‘photocopying’ technology that mostly disappeared by the late 1970s); the ink is purple and runs to the touch; the slimy-dry paper makes one cringe. In each issue there is but one article, by Malchiel Greenwald, who has emptied his pockets to make one thousand copies to give out free, in cafés, to amused but polite condescension.
Careful. Moses, too, had a speech impediment.
Greenwald publishes many issues. Nothing happens. One day he accuses that Rudolf Kastner -- once the head of the Jewish Agency’s Hungarian Rescue Committee (created, ostensibly, to rescue Jews from the Holocaust), and now a high official in the Israeli government -- helped Adolf Eichmann to exterminate four hundred thousand Hungarian Jews. What? Outrageous nonsense, no doubt. Does anybody notice? And why should anybody care? This is old Malchiel Greenwald. He has holes in his shoes. He hands out free copies of his blurry, three-page stencil in cafés.
The Israeli government notices. The Israeli government cares. The Israeli government -- not Rudolf Kastner, mind you, but the Israeli government -- sues Malchiel Greenwald for slander.
Enter Shmuel Tamir. Talented lawyer. Full of life: rock climber, dancer, art-lover, husband, father. His reputation is caring about justice and taking up lost causes. Like Greenwald’s own departed son, he is a former soldier of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, an underground Jewish army that fought to establish an independent Jewish state, commanded by Menachem Begin. The Irgunists were attacked by the Arabs, by the British army, and by the forces of the official, British-approved Jewish Agency of David Ben-Gurion (see here for an example). But the Irgunists would not kill fellow Jews, this was doctrinal. And they fought well: against all odds, they got their Jewish state. So these are not what you call ordinary people: these are makers of history.
But the Irgun was not invincible: Irgunists have not been given credit for an independent Israel because they don’t run it. Israel is run by the Jewish Agency leaders. Chaim Weizmann is president until his death in 1952. David Ben-Gurion is prime minister from 1948 to 1953. Then Moshe Sharett is prime minister from 1953 to 1955. Then again David Ben-Gurion from 1955 to 1963. This captures all of the years of the prosecution of Malchiel Greenwald.
Greenwald’s daughter Rina takes her old man to see Tamir. I cannot pay, explains the septuagenarian. Is there evidence? People in a bar were talking about Kastner. That’s it? And I got an anonymous letter. The straightforward geriatric insists he has a nose for journalism: the story is true. And the lawyer, like the old man, knows that certain things went down because they both lived them. Tamir takes the case. But, says Tamir, I will run this trial my way. Agreed. Greenwald has a nose, too, for men: Shmuel Tamir is a giant of Jewish history (and the Jews are at the center of history).
Enter the Honorable Benjamin Halevi, presiding judge. He is partial to the dignified and smartly dressed Israeli official, Dr. Rudolf Kastner, whom the government now sits in the box to depose as first witness, and upon whom he smiles benignly. Like everybody else, Halevi is full of respect for government. He is, after all, a government official himself. Like everybody else, Halevi wants Kastner to win because the Israeli government will not then have leapt like a panther to savage this anonymous old man in order to defend a butcher of Jews. Preposterous. Halevi will not then have to shatter his pride in the hallowed leaders of the new Jewish state. If Kastner wins. The judge is confident things will turn out this way. But Benjamin Halevi is not corrupt, and this will matter.
Rudolf Kastner testifies eloquently about himself. About his efforts during the war to save Jews from Hitler. About the Jews he saved. About him cajoling and bargaining with the Nazis: Dieter Wisliczeny, Kurt Becher, Adolf Eichmann... About many meetings, about travels far and wide, to Vienna, Bratislava, Berlin, always in the company of the exterminators, but most often with Kurt Becher. He boasts of the lives he saved thanks to his influence with these top Nazi killers. He boasts but...he does not seem entirely comfortable.
Tamir listens hard because Tamir has no evidence. He is waiting for the lie. He is waiting for a loose thread that he can pull, in the hopes that he will end up with the entire rug in his hand. And as he waits, he begins to formulate the kind of question that a lawyer and a scientist likes: the kind that contains within it, already, the germ of the answer.
Why was Kastner so free to travel around with the top Nazis when all other Jews were being deported to their deaths? Why did the Nazis, at the same time that they were murdering Europe’s Jews, favor Kastner, head of the Jewish Agency’s Rescue Committee, of all things, and receive him at the highest level?
To the court Rudolf Kastner states -- categorically -- that as an advisor to the Chief Prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, which Kastner was, he gave neither testimony nor affidavit in favor of Kurt Becher. Who was Kurt Becher? He served first as an SS officer in Poland when the Nazis began to torture and murder the Polish Jews, then became a platoon commander on the Russian front during the exterminations there, and, having distinguished himself as a Jew-killer also in the death camps, he was made the chief Nazi vulture, responsible for removing gold from a dead Jew’s tooth (for German banks), hair from a dead Jew’s scalp (for German pillows), and the ashes from the dead Jew’s burnt body (for German fertilizer). Perhaps also the meager fat remains from a dead Jew’s body (for German soap), though there is controversy concerning this point. It was called the ‘Economic Department.’ But Kurt Becher was freed by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and is now one of the richest men in the new Germany. He has received many honors and his firm sells wheat to the Israeli government -- still getting rich from the Jews.
Having stated, categorically, what a vicious lie it is that he played any role in helping Kurt Becher escape justice, Israeli high official Rudolf Kastner exits the witness box. The newspapermen are rushing out already to write of the vindication of Dr. Rudolf Kastner, savior of Jews, and Judge Halevi, equally convinced by the testimony, asks Tamir whether his client would not prefer to enter a ‘guilty’ plea (remember: Malchiel Greenwald is the man on trial). Tamir turns to his client. Never, replies Greenwald.
On the next court date the cross examination of Rudolf Kastner begins. The first lie: Rudolf Kastner was not really the head of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee in Hungary. Kastner agrees with the Jewish Agency records, which Tamir submits, and which show one Mr. Komoy as the official head. Kastner had elbowed Komoy to the side, allowing him however to keep his title. It is a small lie, when all is said and done. But Tamir is only warming up, and his canine shows when he smiles.
The second day of cross examination is more interesting. Shmuel Tamir had started out with no evidence but now he has some, because the government’s lawyer has submitted lots of material to support Kastner’s testimony. First, Tamir gets Kastner to say, once again, that he gave no testimony or affidavit in favor of Becher’s release from Nuremberg and then proposes to Kastner that he really did do this. Kastner: “That is a dirty lie!” But if you had done this, would it be a national crime? It would, concedes the witness. Then Tamir pulls Exhibit 22 from the awesome pile of documents the government has brought. It is a letter from Kastner to Jewish Agency official Eleazer Kaplan. When the government submitted this letter Tamir’s sharp eye had noticed right away the key paragraph, which he now reads aloud to the witness:
“Kurt Becher was an ex-SS Colonel and he served as a liaison officer between me and [Heinrich] Himmler [head of the SS] during our rescue work. He was released from prison in Nuremberg by the occupation forces of the Allies owing to my personal intervention.”
In his letter Rudolf Kastner boasts of his intervention in favor of Kurt Becher, though he just told opposing counsel that any suggestion he did such a thing is a “dirty lie.” He is cornered. And yet he continues to deny that he gave a sworn affidavit in favor of Becher. Kastner seems quite uncomfortable now.
The government perceives the danger in its position. The previous lawyer is dismissed, and from now on the government’s case will be presented by Chaim Cohen, the Attorney General of the Jewish state, no less, and the man who drafted the death-penalty law for Jewish collaborators with the Nazis, no less. This man will defend Rudolf Kastner. It is okay to say it like this, for despite the technicality that the Israeli government is prosecuting Malchiel Greenwald, it is now clearly Rudolf Kastner who is on trial (and the government).
Chaim Cohen is a legal power. But can he stop this?
On the next court date Shmuel Tamir resumes his cross examination. Once again, if you had interceded in behalf of Kurt Becher, would this be a national crime? It would, concedes the witness. Tamir then produces the following document, signed by Rudolf Kastner, and he reads out loud to the witness:
“I the undersigned, Dr. Rudolf Kastner, wish to make the following statement in addition to my affidavit submitted to the International Military Tribunal under document 2605 P.S. concerning former Lt. General Kurt Becher... There can be no doubt about it that Becher belongs to the very few SS leaders having the courage to oppose the program of annihilation of the Jews, and trying to rescue human lives... Having been in personal contact with Becher from June, 1944, to April, 1945, I should like to emphasize, on the basis of personal observations, that Kurt Becher did everything within the realm of possibilities to save innocent human beings from the blind fury of the Nazi leaders...
“Therefore, even if the form and basis of our negotiations may be highly objectionable, I never doubted for one moment the good intentions of Kurt Becher...
“In my opinion, when his case is judged by Allied or German authorities, Kurt Becher deserves the fullest possible consideration...
“I make this statement not only in my name but also in behalf of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish World Congress. Signed, Dr. Rudolf Kastner, Official Jewish Agency in Geneva. Former Chairman of Zionist Organization in Hungary, 1943-1945. Representative of Joint Distribution Committee in Budapest.”
The mood now changes visibly in the courtroom. The judge, shocked, wants to know who gave Kastner permission to do this in the name of the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress -- officially, in point of fact, in the name of the Jews. A nervous Kastner names names. One is Dobkin, now one of the high chiefs of the Jewish Agency. Another is Barlas, a member of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee in Constantinople during the war (we shall meet him again). There is also Perlzweig, chief of the political department of the World Jewish Congress. And Riegener, European representative of the World Jewish Congress. Judge Halevi wants to clarify whether these people gave Kastner permission to save Becher. They did, explains Kastner.
When Tamir resumes his cross-examination Kastner has lost his composure, and he yells at opposing counsel, like a wild man, that Shmuel Tamir is the one committing a national crime (by exposing Kastner). The Israeli government seems to agree: it is defending Kastner.
There is also an affidavit by Walter H. Rapp, lieutenant colonel of the American army, legal officer of the US State Department, and head of the Evidence Counsel of the War Crimes Council in Nuremberg. His affidavit states that only because of the extraordinary intervention of Dr. Rudolf Kastner, only because of his “pleadings and endeavors on behalf of Becher,” as Rapp put it, and only because Kastner said that “Becher was instrumental in saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews...at great personal risk to himself with self-sacrificing, if not heroic, acts,” was Kurt Becher released. No other SS officer in custody at Nuremberg has been treated this way, adds Rapp.
Now the Israeli press, so confident at first that Kastner had been vindicated, points out the obvious: it seems that Kastner is a Nazi collaborator. And it asks the uncomfortable question: Why is the Israeli government of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, and the recently departed Chaim Weizmann spending a fortune to defend Rudolf Kastner?
The trial will last three years and it will answer these questions. Survivors from the Hungarian slaughter are called as witnesses. Tamir corners Kastner again and again. Chaim Cohen is unable to stop the avalanche of revelations and perjuries. A man who should have been assassinated but wasn’t (a big mistake) is produced at trial, and he testifies: Joel Brand. So, a story emerges, all recorded in the proceedings of the Government of Israel versus Malchiel Greenwald.
Here, in brief, is that story.
The Hungarian town of Kluj had some 20,000 Jews -- these were ‘Eastern’ Jews, more Jewish than Hungarian, unlike the Jews in Budapest who tended to be assimilated. Many of them are involved with Zionism. Kastner, from Kluj, comes to Budapest and sets up an outfit to help Jews escape from Hungary. He quickly shows a knack for making friends with the top Nazis. This is perceived as an advantage, and so he quickly becomes the de facto head of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee. Kastner’s two chief colleagues are Joel Brand and his wife Hanzi Brand.
At first Rudolf Kastner, with the help of Joel Brand, behaves like a Jewish patriot. They bombard Jewish Agency officials in Switzerland, Constantinople, and Tel Aviv with detailed accounts of the European slaughter, and warn of what is yet to come. And yet the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee Representatives in Switzerland, Moshe Schwalbe and Saly Mayer, do not give information to the press about the mass killings. Neither does David-Ben Gurion's Jewish Agency in Palestine. It is all kept secret. “My cables were never published anywhere,” Kastner explains in court. This is true. And it conforms to a general pattern in the mainstream Jewish leadership. Many witnesses corroborate this in court. One telling anecdote is that of a group of survivors from the Polish massacre who came to the annual meeting of Stephen Wise and Nahum Goldmann’s World Jewish Congress in 1945 to complain that very little had been done to rescue and help Europe’s Jews. The leaders explained that this was a deliberate decision: “the opinion of the executive board was that it was inadvisable because of our diplomatic ties with these governments.” The reference is to the governments of the ‘Free World.’ In other words, the leaders of the democratic governments of the Free World didn’t want to rescue and help the European Jews who were being slaughtered, so the mainstream leaders of organized Jewry preserved their “diplomatic ties with these governments” by letting the Jews of Europe burn.
But back to Rudolf Kastner.
The German Third Reich was collapsing in 1944. It would not win the war, this was clear. But there were still many Jews left to kill. Almost a million of them in Hungary. A race to the finish: the Germans would devote all their energies to kill these last Jews before the war effort collapsed and Europe was liberated. Killing Jews was that important.
When the Jews fight they are a tremendous foe: the Jews produce the best soldiers in the world. Ask the mighty Greco-Macedonian army, which could not defeat the angry peasants, badly trained, and badly armed, who fought the Maccabean Revolt and kicked them out. Ask the Roman military, which had to throw almost every legion they had to defeat the Jews, most of them civilians, in the first and second centuries. Ask the British, who in British Mandate Palestine cannot defeat the tiny Irgun Tzvai Leumi, pledged to kick another mighty empire out, like their Maccabean ancestors, and fighting also, like their Maccabean ancestors, a Jewish elite allied with the foreign imperial forces. Ask Adolf Eichmann. He knows, because a few starving, untrained, and badly armed Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were remarkably hard to defeat by Hitler’s mighty Wermacht, and they fought to the death, taking a great many Germans with them. Rudolf Kastner admits in court that Adolf Eichmann told him he did not want a repetition of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. But this requires fooling the Hungarian Jews: they must not understand their fate: extermination. In the Eichmann Confessions, published in Life magazine in 1960, the chief exterminator himself explains this: “We wanted Hungary combed with a tremendous thoroughness before the Jews could really wake up to our plan and organize partisan resistance.”
For all the ridiculous Nazi propaganda against the Jews, it must be said that the chief exterminators understand certain things about their quarry. They understand that the Jews love peace. And they understand that the Jews love life and believe in hope. And that mostly, and fiercely, they hope. “People will hang on to illusion as eagerly as to life itself,” writes Ben Hecht. Or more eagerly, perhaps, in the case of the Jews. So Krumey and Wisliczeny, two chief exterminators, meet with the leaders of Hungarian Jewry and explain that severe restrictions will be imposed on the Jews, but the “bad things” (exterminations) will not take place if the Jews cooperate with their own humiliation. “I want the rabbis to reassure the members of their congregations,” Krumey explains. (The deportation and extermination of the Hungarian Jews is but two months away.) A few hundred Jews do not believe this story and they kill themselves. A few others begin to have suspicions, and some even meet in secret to discuss armed resistance, or flight. The Nazis are worried. Someone important, someone the Jews will trust, is badly needed to assuage their fears.
Rudolf Kastner is attractive to the Nazis. He is the representative in Hungary of the Jewish Agency of Palestine, and the de facto head of its Rescue Committee. He is a member of David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party, which controls the Jewish Agency in Palestine, with British blessing. The Jews of Hungary are isolated and without connections. But Kastner has connections. Lots. And the Nazis are very nice to Dr. Rudolf Kastner. So the Jewish leaders in Hungary defer to Kastner. Maybe he can do something, they think. The Nazis are thinking the same: Kastner can do something. But for them it means the opposite.
Kastner can do something, yes. He can select 388 Jews from his home town of Kluj to be saved, including his family. The Jews in Kluj are being deported in trains -- not to Auschwitz to be exterminated, insist the Nazis, but to Kenyermeze...to work. But people work better with their entire families around, explain the Nazis, so everybody is being moved to Kenyermeze. Kastner is needed to assuage the fears of these Jews in Kluj, and upon this performance depend the lives of his 388. So Kastner buys the lives of his 388 with the slaughter of the remaining 20,000 Jews of Kluj. He goes to Kluj and assures everybody that the Nazis speak the truth. Thus reassured, the Jews, full of pride for the importance of their own Rudolf Kastner, who is ably looking after their welfare, get on the trains to Kenyermeze. Some of them hustle and hurry on because they’ve been told the first arrivals get the best places.
Without Kastner this operation is impossible. You see, there are only twenty Hungarian gendarmes and one German SS officer guarding 20,000 Jews in the Kluj ghetto. The Nazis are low on personnel: this is the end of a war which they have lost. The Rumanian border, inside which Jews are no longer being killed, is three miles away from Kluj. Kastner could easily save these Jews, if he were to tell them what is going on (in fact, he can save most Hungarian Jews, for as Eichmann confessed, the Nazis are not prepared to handle a massive uprising). But the Nazis are no longer worried. This point deserves a pause: Kastner is allowed to go to Kluj completely alone with nary a Nazi escort.
And Kastner demonstrates that he deserves this Nazi trust.
He is not the only one. Other so-called Zionists, such as Kluj big-shot Hillel Danzig, also participate in the deception (Danzig however apparently didn’t know exactly how bad the fate of the deported Jews would be, though he knew it would be “much worse” than his own, he concedes in court). Hillel Danzig is one of the big-time journalists of David Ben-Gurion’s Davar, the journal that has been keeping silent about the Holocaust, despite all the reports coming to the Jewish Agency from its own people in Europe.
And the 20,000 in Kluj are not the only Hungarian Jews to whom Kastner gives no warning. He gives no warning to the 800,000 Jews of Hungary. But the Jews in Kluj have additional poignancy because this is Kastner’s home town. He grew up with these folks. Some of them know him since he was a child. He smiles at these people, reassuringly, and he tells them they are to go to Kenyermeze...to work.
Are 20,000 murdered Jews from Kluj a fair price to pay for Kastner’s 388? Kastner thinks so. His 388 are not little people, not humble workers fit only for the gas ovens. But important people. People of substance. This distinction Kastner will make himself at trial. After some of the survivors from Kluj accuse him in court, and Judge Halevi elicits from him the clarification that he didn’t warn anybody of the impending slaughter, Kastner tries desperately to counter his guilt with this:
Indeed, it is not a coincidence: the important Jews are the 388 whom Kastner saved.
Eichmann was in a deal-making mood. 388 important Jews spared for his butcher’s wages of 20,000 nobodies to be incinerated was not the only bargain on offer. The court learns of another deal because Joel Brand has not been assassinated, when, obviously, he should have been. One does not leave a loose thread like this hanging if one means to cover up the murder of 400,000 innocent human beings. Joel Brand testifies at court, and the story emerges.
During the war Joel Brand is right under Rudolf Kastner in the Hungarian Jewish Agency Rescue Committee. But Brand is not Kastner. He doesn’t know of the deals Kastner is making. He believes, innocently, and like so many other Jews, then and now, in his Jewish leaders. He trusts. Brand wants to save Jews.
For this reason, precisely, because Brand wants to save Jews, Eichmann summons him. Brand is the first member of the Rescue Committee to meet him in person. “Do you know who I am?” Eichmann asks, the way Satan might. “I am the man who carried out all the actions [of the Jewish extermination] in Germany, Austria, Poland, and Slovakia.” Imagine Brand meeting such a man, announcing himself like this. “My next task is Hungary,” says Eichmann. But he wants to make a deal: “Blood for Cargo and Cargo for Blood.” The cannibal wants to know which Jews Brand would like to save in exchange for deliveries of supplies to the Nazis. Women capable of bearing children? Men in their prime? What? He wants an answer quickly. Eichmann is impatient because he is very busy. So many Jews, so little time. “I am not empowered to decide whom you are to murder!” replies Brand. God bless him. “I would like to save everybody. I don’t understand this deal.”
Eichmann says he wants trucks. “Ten thousand trucks are worth a million Jews to me,” he explains. “Tea and coffee, too, and soap. One thousand tons of tea and coffee.” Poor Germans. They are at wit’s end. So desperate has become their plight in this year of 1944 that they’ll even let some Jews live if they can get basic necessities.
Joel Brand thinks that maybe the Jewish Agency can organize for the delivery of this cargo. But how can anybody trust Adolf Eichmann? The butcher has foreseen this problem: Eichmann will free one hundred thousand Jews in advance, and upon receiving the proportionate payment, he will release another ten percent. And so things will go while cargo is supplied. In this way Eichmann guarantees his ‘good faith.’ He probably thinks himself generous, expansive even: “Pick them anywhere you want,” he says. “Hungary, Auschwitz, Slovakia -- anywhere you want and anyone you want.” And he promises to cease the deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz while the negotiations are being conducted.
Brand will go to Constantinople and meet with Jewish Agency representatives there, and he is to come back in two week’s time at the most. If he returns, his verbal report of the acceptance of the offer will be enough, and 100,000 Jews will be freed at once, in expectation of the cargo. The representatives of the Jewish Agency in Turkey are notified, they tell Joel Brand to come, and he sets out, full of hope, for it seems that Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the World Zionist Organization, will be meeting him in Constantinople. The people in Turkey had said: “Chaim shall await him.”
Chaim Weizmann was always much allied with British policy and with the British-approved Jewish Agency. After the war he would become the first President of Israel when David Ben-Gurion became its first prime minister. If this man had come personally to meet Joel Brand to help save 800,000 Hungarian Jews, this would have been remarkable.
In August 1937, Dr. Weizmann, as the official leader of World Zionism, addressed a Zionist convention in London, and said:
“I told the British Royal Commission that the hopes of Europe’s six million Jews were centered on emigration. I was asked, ‘Can you bring six million Jews to Palestine?’ I replied, ‘No.’...The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They were dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world. . . . Only a branch shall survive. . . . They had to accept it. . . .”
Some guessed, correctly, that Chaim Weizmann’s reference to the Jews of Europe as “dust in a cruel world” meant that he would abandon them to the German Nazis. As if to confirm these worries, in 1939, at the outbreak of war -- that is, at the outbreak of the Jewish disaster -- Chaim Weizmann announced that he would take a recess from all Jewish activities. So Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, in opposition to Weizmann’s dominant movement, went to the Jews and “barnstormed the ghettoes of Europe,” in Ben Hecht’s phrase, “urging them to flee before they were wiped out. [But] he [Jabotinsky] and his Irgun comrades were attacked by official Zionism as dangerous trouble makers,” and the official (Labor) Zionists in this way discredited the warnings of the Revisionists, helping to keep many Jews where Hitler could find them.
In court, Chaim Cohen, Attorney General of Israel, will declaim Weizmann’s ideology to Judge Halevi in defense of Rudolf Kastner:
“For those and millions of Jews like them there came true the old curse, ‘And lo, they were meant but to be taken like sheep for slaughter, for killing, for destruction, for crushing and shame.’ These should escape? They had no feet on which to run. They should revolt? They had no hands with which to fight. No spirit was left in them.”
This is Chaim Cohen’s defense of Rudolf Kastner: What? Kastner should have saved these Jews? These Jews were meant for slaughter, he explains. And in his summation Chaim Cohen will explain further:
“It has always been our [Labor!] Zionist tradition to select the few out of the many in arranging the immigration to Palestine. Are we therefore to be called traitors?”
Are we to be called traitors, he demands, for selecting the important Jews and letting the nobodies die in the gas chambers? Are we to be reproached, he challenges, for saving the quality Jews? But I challenge: Is he different from Joseph Goebbels? Goebbels said: “The Jews deserve the catastrophe that has now overtaken them.” And he also said: “In our Nazi attitude toward the Jews, there must be no squeamish sentimentalism.” No squeamish sentimentalism for Chaim Cohen. No squeamish sentimentalism for Chaim Weizmann, whose policy to abandon the “dust” of Europe Chaim Cohen was defending.
So it would have been remarkable if Chaim Weizmann had really rushed to meet Joel Brand in Constantinople to save a million nobodies, “economic and moral dust in a cruel world,” and meant only for slaughter.
When Joel Brand arrives in Constantinople nobody is there to meet him. His Turkish visa has not been arranged; he is not allowed to disembark. But the man who came with Brand from Budapest is resourceful, fixes the matter, and so they go on to the hotel. The Jewish Agency representative meets them there and asks whether the Jews are really being slaughtered (this is mid-1944; the whole world knows). In Judge Halevi’s courtroom Brand says:
Brand then meets with the Rescue Committee, and he explains he must be back in Budapest within two weeks, for those first 100,000 Jews who will be liberated upon his return. The British should not be notified of Brand’s arrival, for the British have been cooperating with the slaughter of Jews (they have closed British Mandate ‘Palestine’ to Jewish refugees, among other things) and there is worry that they might arrest Brand to sabotage his mission. At the meeting it is decided that a top official of the Jewish Agency Executive should be summoned. Venia Pomeranietz is sent to bring Moshe Sharett to Constantinople.
Brand thinks it might be a good idea to talk to Steinhardt, the American ambassador in Turkey, who is in Ankara. Why? Because Steinhardt is a Jew, and he will be sympathetic, he reasons. Barlas (who will later give Kastner permission to save Kurt Becher in the name of the Jews) is to go with Brand. This Barlas knows that special papers are needed to go to Ankara, because he gets the necessary papers for himself. But nobody arranges for Brand’s papers and he is not allowed to board the train. Brand is taken to a building and made prisoner for about three days. The clock is ticking. Then he is freed, and he can move about Constantinople for a week. He waits for Sharett. The clock is ticking. One week remains. Less.
Brand is told that the British are preventing Moshe Sharett from coming into Turkey. Brand is urged to go to British Syria to meet with Sharett. He will be back in a few days, they assure him. Brand doesn’t like the idea. He fears the British will arrest him, and then 800,000 lives will be lost. He prefers to return to Budapest with a letter from the Rescue Committee saying that the deal is agreed to, immediately saving 100,000 souls. The Rescue Committe can continue working to get the cargo in his absense: he should return to Hungary at once. This of course makes perfect sense, and it is the responsible and ethical thing to do. But Barlas tells him not to worry: everything will be all right. He should go to Syria. Under what he thinks is friendly pressure, Brand agrees to go.
One Ehud Avriel, from the Halutzim (Pioneer) movement, goes with him. The trip takes a few days. The clock is ticking. Only a few days left. On its way to Syria the train stops in Ankara. Two men board it briefly. They are agents in Turkey of the Revisionist Party and the Agudath-Israel Orthodox Religious Party. Revisionist Zionism is the movement founded by Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, in rebellion against the mainstream (and anti-religious) Labor Zionist movement led by Chaim Weizmann, Stephen Wise, and David Ben-Gurion. The Irgun Tzvai Leumi is a product of Revisionist Zionism, and allied with it. The two Revisionist Zionists who briefly board the train warn Brand not to proceed with the trip. They warn him that British agents are waiting in Aleppo (at the Syrian border) to arrest him. “I was terrified on hearing this,” says Joel Brand in Judge Halevi’s courtroom. “It meant the failure of my mission and the extermination of my family and a million other Jews in Hungary.” But, on the other hand, these are not important men, Brand reassures himself. They are not with the main Zionist movement. He tells Avriel what they’ve said and is told not to worry: there are “iron-clad guarantees,” Avriel promises, from the British government. No problem. And Avriel is with David Ben-Gurion’s powerful outfit: he is important. But later Avriel makes Brand promise that, if he gets arrested, he will say nothing at all unless someone from the Jewish Agency is present. If he gets arrested? And the iron-clad guarantees? Not to worry?
They arrive in Aleppo. Avriel says he will arrange something and leaves the compartment. Immediately, the British come in and arrest Brand. The next morning, he is taken to an elegant Arab villa where the high-ranking British officers are stationed. There he finally meets Moshe Sharett, with British officers present. Sharett already knows everything: Venia Pomeranietz had briefed him. Sharett explains to Brand that he cannot return to Hungary. He will go south. I regret this, says Moshe Sharett, but there is no alternative. Moshe Sharett “regrets” the impending murder of 800,000 Hungarian Jews. Brand is taken to Cairo, via Palestine. Eichmann’s two week offer has now expired. Brand hopes the hope of a wild, desperate man: that Eichmann will wait a little longer, that the slaughter of Hungary’s Jews has not begun.
In Cairo Brand is questioned by the British, over and over again. On the tenth day, this wretched man, feeling responsible for close to a million innocent people, goes on a hunger strike, insisting that he be allowed to return to Hungary. He is on strike for seventeen days, and all this time he is being questioned. Then he gets a note from Ehud Avriel. “It urged me not to make difficulties and to testify freely,” says Brand in court, “and stated that everything was being done to ensure the success of my mission.”
After four and a half months, Brand is released and compelled to go to Palestine. He may not return to Hungary. But here the mistakes begin. The British should have murdered Joel Brand. They had just made the decision to murder a million Hungarian Jews. What was another? What explains the contradictions of the human mind? The same can be said for the leaders of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, who also did not murder Joel Brand, which then made it possible for him to testify in court nine years later. And this, because of another mistake, when, believing in the justice of power, the Israeli government sued Malchiel Greenwald for slander.
Still hoping to rescue at least some of Hungary’s Jews, Joel Brand writes desperately to Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization. I am shattered by Joel Brand’s naiveté: He explains the full Eichmann offer, and he explains how the Jews are being betrayed by the Jewish leaders in Palestine, who collaborate with the British. He tells the whole story of what has happened to him. Eichmann’s offer can still be accepted, he pleads, for those Jews who remain. The letter that Chaim Weizmann sends in reply -- which he sends after, mind you, some delay -- is submitted at trial by Shmuel Tamir:
“Rehovoth, 29 Dec. 1944
Mr. Joel Brand
Dear Mr. Brand,
I beg you to forgive me for having delayed in answering your letter. As you may have seen from the Press, I have been traveling a good deal and generally did not have a free moment since my arrival here. I have read both your letter and your memorandum and shall be happy to see you sometime the week after next -- about the tenth of January.
Miss Itin -- my secretary -- will get in touch with you to fix up the appointment.
With kind regards,
Dr. Chaim Weizmann naturally cannot distract himself with a million nobodies who are “economic and moral dust in a cruel world.” These nobodies “will bear their fate or they will not.” Chaim Weizmann is much too busy because he is an important Jew. The meeting, of course, did not materialize, but this was already promised in the formula: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” It is interesting that Weizmann bothered to send this letter.
Joel Brand’s testimony in Judge Halevi’s courtroom ends with these lines:
“Rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, I have cursed Jewry’s official leaders ever since. All these things shall haunt me until my dying day. It is much more than a man can bear.”
Should this be the last scene in the movie? It would have great power. But if we aim to educate, and not merely to make art out of history, the ending should include Benjamin Halevi’s gavel slamming down in favor of Malchiel Greenwald. And then a spinning newspaper coming to a stop, with its date clearly showing (for it matters that this is but the morrow of the decision), and a large headline reading: ISRAELI GOVERNMENT APPEALS VERDICT. Then a dignified dark screen, and a fade-in to the following statement:
“The government’s appeal of Judge Halevi’s verdict to Israel’s Supreme Court returned a split decision, which mechanically required the government to prosecute Rudolf Kastner as a Nazi collaborator. The government’s dilemma, however, disappeared shortly thereafter: Rudolf Kastner was mysteriously assassinated (as Shmuel Tamir warned in court that he would be).
Somebody, it seems, was learning from past mistakes.”
Fade to another dark screen that reads:
“Attorney General Chaim Cohen was promoted to Supreme Court Justice.”
Fade to another dark screen that reads:
“The book Perfidy, upon which this movie is based, was banned for many years in Israel.”
Now the movie can end.
What is the most
important lesson, here?
The most important lesson, here, is that the Israeli government which defended Rudolf Kastner to protect itself is the same Israeli government that is getting ready to cleanse all remaining Jews from the disputed territories, give these territories to the PLO/Hamas, hand the Golan to Syria, and sit tight while another anti-Jewish Holocaust develops.
The Israeli government is run by the same Labor Zionist tradition. The alternative, the Irgunist/Revisionist/Herut -- and later Likud -- tradition pretty much died as a true continuation of the Jabotinsky movement with the passing of Menachem Begin. The movement continues to exist, among ordinary Jews, but not as a political force contesting elections. As discussed in Part 3 of this series, the recent Likudist leaders have actually been the strongest backers of the Oslo ‘peace’ process that David Ben-Gurion protégé Shimon Peres launched, and this Oslo process will soon complete the destruction of Israel.
This is the most important lesson: just as the Nazis needed Rudolf Kastner to distract and reassure the Hungarian Jews, so do the forces that would now destroy the Israeli Jews need Ehud Olmert or any of the main current pretenders to the Israeli prime ministership to distract and dupe the Israelis -- and to repress any protest, too -- while the next slaughter, due very soon, is being prepared.
This is a very difficult lesson for Jews to learn because they don’t know the above history. The book Perfidy was banned in Israel for many years so that the next generation of Israelis would not learn who was running their country. And the leaders of Labor Zionism to this day control most of the major Jewish organizations in the Diaspora, as well as the Israeli government, the Israeli education system, and the Israeli media. Moreover, it is difficult for Jews to learn all this because they would rather cling to their illusions than to their very lives. As George Santayana correctly said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Jews are about to repeat their own tragic past.
Is this inevitable? Well no. But without a revolution, it is a certain outcome. If the Israeli Jews simply trust that their so-called leaders will defend them, or that their Diaspora brethren will come in a white horse to rescue them, their fate will be identical to that of the Hungarian Jews in WWII.
The Hungarian Jews trusted. And they died.
The next piece in
this series is:
 Douglas, L. (1998). The Shrunken Head of Buchenwald: Icons of Atrocity at Nuremberg. Representations, 63, 39-94. (p.55)
The above is an ad that appeared in the New York Times (14 Nov. 1961, p.37) when Ben Hecht's book first came out.
( click the ad to enlarge )
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