Caroline Glick: Compare and contrast two separate actions taken last month by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

Roundup: Talking About History

... Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, University of Toronto historian Michael Marrus complained that there is "an unspoken political dimension" to the debate about Bergson. He alleged that in lobbying the museum to recognize Bergson, the Wyman Institute was trying to advance the right-wing agenda of Jewish activism that Bergson and the Revisionists embraced.

So even 70 years after the Holocaust, when it is clear that the Bergson's group's efforts led to the only US action to save Europe's Jews, supporting and upholding those efforts is considered a provocative political act. Yet memorializing men like Wise, who actively sought to undermine those efforts in order to maintain his warm relationship with Roosevelt, is considered uncontroversial.

As irksome as the lingering attempts to push Bergson into a political cubbyhole are, at least the public campaign launched by the Wyman Institute succeeded in convincing the Holocaust Museum to give his efforts the institutional recognition they deserve.

MORE IRKSOME than the abiding hostility toward Bergson is Yad Vashem's decision last month to hold a ceremony where it accepted the personal archive of Rudolf Kastner and extolled as a "hero" the man who served during the war as the deputy head of the Labor Zionist-affiliated Relief and Rescue Committee of Hungarian Jews.

Kastner may have been many things, but he certainly was not a hero.

The annihilation of Hungary's 800,000 Jews began only in 1944. In early 1944, Kastner was warned by two Jews, Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, who had escaped from Auschwitz, that the Nazis planned to deport Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz. The men's "Auschwitz Protocol" provided a detailed account of the Nazis' plans.

Rather than alert his fellow Jews to the coming dangers, Kastner made a deal with Nazi chief Adolf Eichmann to buy the freedom of some 1,685 Hungarian Jewish notables, including his relatives.

Kastner maintained close relations with Nazi war criminal Kurt Becher, who played a major role in the genocide of Hungarian Jews. He went so far as to testify on Becher's behalf during the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals.

After the war Kastner moved to Israel and ran for Knesset on the Mapai slate. In 1952 he was working as a spokesman and party official at Israel's Industry Ministry when Malkiel Grunwald self-published a pamphlet in which he accused Kastner of having collaborated with the Nazis. The state sued Grunwald for libel.

In the course of a 10-month trial, the facts of Kastner's collaboration became clear. Presiding Judge Binyamin Halevy dismissed the suit in 1955. He ruled that "Kastner sold his soul to the devil." Kastner was murdered in 1957. In 1958, the government appealed Halevy's verdict to the Supreme Court. While accepting much of the evidence of Kastner's betrayal, including his post-war testimony on behalf of Becher, the court ruled, in a split 3-2 decision, that Kastner had not collaborated with the Nazis.

The debate over Kastner's role in the genocide of Hungarian Jewry continues to this day. While historical and court evidence as well as survivors' testimony clearly point to the conclusion that he collaborated with the Nazis, the Labor Zionist establishment in Israel has never accepted the allegations against him. And now, the establishment, in the form of Yad Vashem, has decided to uphold this man, who refused to warn his fellow Jews of the danger, as a hero.

SPEAKING TO The Jerusalem Post's Elliot Jager last week, Yad Vashem president Yosef Lapid argued that Kastner was acting honorably by testifying on Becher's behalf because during the war he had pledged to the Nazi that he would defend him.

Lapid excused Kastner's failure to warn his fellow Jews that the trains they were being placed on would take them to Auschwitz and not to a labor camp in Rumania, as the Nazis said. In Lapid's view, warning them, and so giving them a chance to fight for their lives would have been deadly....

The stories of the Bergson Group and Kastner could not be more relevant today as the Jewish people again faces the prospect of annihilation at the hands of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The stories of the men and women who confronted the establishment during the Holocaust, and that of the establishment man who enabled it, should serve as a warning as the Israeli government today insists on taking a back seat to others in contending with Iran's threat to commit a second Holocaust.

comments powered by Disqus