Kastner, Rezsö, also Rudolf, or Israel (1906-1957)

Rudolf Kastner was born in Kolozsvár-Cluj or Klausenburg as it was known then. Trained as a lawyer and active in Zionist youth movements, he became a member of the Mapai party. Early on he befriended and lobbied the local Romanian politicians on behalf of Jewish interests. He became the editor of the Zionist paper Uj Kelet-The New East.

As a member of the Rescue Committee in Budapest after the German entry into Hungary, he became the chief strategist and negotiator with Eichmann in trying to avert the mass deportations and save as many lives as possible. He welcomed the absurd offer related by Himmler of ‘Blood for Goods,’ goods and equipment needed by the Germans in exchange for one million Jews. He immediately realized that he was handed a negotiating leverage by the German as it was the first time that they needed something from the Jews that they could not confiscate.

Together with Kurt Becher, an SS Colonel close to Himmler he constantly circumvented Eichmann’s pursuit of fanatically implementing the Nazi extermination programs and saved over four hundred thousand people, mostly Jews. After the war he settled in Israel and became a high ranking government official in Ben-Gurion’s government. A controversy about his activities developed and he was forced to defend libelous accusations against him. The trial and the aftermath turned into a political tug of war between the ruling party and the opposition, leaving Kastner merely a pawn in this struggle.

Following inflammatory statements by the presiding judge and the whipping up of rumors, innuendos and distortions of events,  eventually led to Kastner’s assassination on a Tel Aviv street in 1957. He succumbed to his wounds and died aged fifty-one.

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