The Kastner Case
To the Editor:
W. Z. Laqueur’s “The Kastner Case,” in Commentary of December 1955, leaves more questions open than it answers, but I do not think it is his own fault entirely.
One wishes, of course, that Mr. Laqueur had taken into consideration facts that can be found in Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution and Leon Poliakov’s Harvest of Hate, both of which books he himself mentions. He would, I am sure, have ascertained that the Kastner story did not start with the introductory letter Rabbi Weissmandl gave Wisliczeni, but with the first attempts to rescue Jews in Slovakia. (Rabbi Weissmandl now lives in this country and can be called on for corroboration.)
It was early in 1943 that news began to leak from Bratislava (Pressburg) that Jewish lives could be bought with money. From then on the question of ransoming Jewish lives was discussed again and again, but save for a few exceptions nothing was done about it on a large scale. A second basic omission in Mr. Laqueur’s article is his failure to stress the specific Hungarian Jewish situation and the different attitudes prevailing among the Jews of Hungary themselves. The fall of Bela Kun’s Red republic in 1919 sent thousands of Jews into baptism, and produced a strong movement for assimilation whose followers were not too happy about their more faithful brethren outside Budapest.
To answer some of the other questions raised by Mr. Laqueur, we have to recall that there was factional strife in the SS leadership, especially in 1944: both Schellenberg and Becher, with the alleged consent of Himmler, tried to use the Jews to provide the SS with an alibi after the defeat of the Third Reich. Kaltenbrunner, Eichmann, Krumey were opposed to this, and Himmler had to conceal his attempts to exploit the plight of the Jews from this group, whose attitude, like Hitler’s, was: “After us the deluge.”
We have also to realize that Hungary’s own leadership was corrupt, and after March 1944 under frequent change. When Horthy dismissed his prime minister, Stojay, the massacre of Jews stopped for a few months.
This brings me to my main point. We have scores of books on the extermination of the Jews, but not one authoritative volume, or even monograph, on the attempts to rescue them. Mr. Kastner certainly did not operate in thin air, but kept in steady contact with Jewish organizations that were, in their turn, in touch with the Allied governments. There is an untapped wealth of material on the rescue work—the trials, the disappointments, and the modest successes it knew—in the files of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, of the World Jewish Congress, of the American Jewish Committee, and, last but not least, of the Jewish Agency for Palestine.
Thus Mr. Laqueur’s questions need not go unanswered forever. The “Kastner case” would have remained a “Greenwald case,” and not been exploited for purely political ends, had this material been thoroughly studied and the results published. The picture that we get from the Kastner case will remain onesided until the story of the rescue attempts is told in full. Here is a task that has awaited the interest of the many Jewish research institutions far too long.
Kurt R. Grossman
New York City
In our issue of November 1955 the name of the author of the story “The Others” was incorrectly given as Alfred Memmi. Mr. Memmi’s first name is Albert.