This may be a good place to introduce yourself and your site or include some credits. His name appears in larger than life letters in the opening credits to the movie, Farewell to Arms. Note from website publishers: Thus, with tens of thousands of Jews rounded up and trapped in the concentration camps, they would die of starvation and disease as Nazi supply lines were cut by the Allies in the waning days of WW II. Prominent American Jews, such as Rabbi Stephen Wise, worked effectively to block several moves in Congress to negotiate the release of Jews from these Nazi camps before the end of the war. In fact, those who survived were kept in captivity until powerful Jews from the United States and elsewhere could fly to Europe and pressure the surviving Jews to go to Palestine for the coming takeover, which happened in Its suppression from until almost 40 years later should interest students of the World War II period.
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The monthly magazine of opinion. The gigantic proportions of the catastrophe dwarf the puniness of the rescue. How was it possible, we repeat and repeat, for the Germans to have killed in cold blood millions of old men and young, grandmothers, mothers, and children? Why did no one in the world stop the slaughter? Ben Hecht, who has often played the enfant terrible of our time, has a clear and ringing reply: perfidy. The complexities and ambiguities, the hesitancies and qualifications, fall away.
There is nothing equivocal about perfidy. According to Senator McCarthy, we lost China to the Communists because for twenty years the White House was occupied by traitors: it was this kind of simplified version of history that gave great satisfaction to the uninformed and the bewildered. In in Jerusalem, Malkiel Greenwald went on trial for libel. He had, in an issue of the mimeographed political gossip-sheet he published, accused Rudolf Kastner, while a member of the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Budapest, of collaborating with the Nazis and thus being implicated in the murder of Hungarian Jews.
Kastner, a respected member of Mapai, was employed by the government and the Jewish Agency in various posts. With Greenwald as defendant, Kastner was the one really on trial; but the case became mainly a vehicle for the terrorist Irgun and rightist Herut to vilify the Jewish Agency and Mapai.
Thus the Greenwald-Kastner case, which should have examined some facts of the great Jewish catastrophe in the light of the profoundest problems of morality, became the ground for a political duel between the ins and the outs.
Greenwald, a member of the Mizrachi, was deeply sympathetic to the Irgun. His son had died fighting with the Irgun; his daughter had been in the Irgun underground. Kastner stood for the Establishment—the Jewish Agency and Mapai.
Greenwald had accused Kastner of failing to warn the Hungarian Jews of the planned deportations to Auschwitz, of rescuing only his relatives and friends, and of sharing in the ransom the Nazis had collected from the Jews.
The charges were not new. Brand, a quiet unassuming man, was catapulted into world view in May , when Eichmann sent him abroad on a mission to offer the Allies Jews in exchange for trucks. This immediately provoked wonder as to why the Israeli government was supporting Kastner so loyally. From then on nothing went well for Kastner. Only one charge was not proved, that Kastner had shared in the loot paid to Becher to rescue the Hungarian Jews.
Sidestepping the Herut-Mapai argument, Halevi addressed himself to the question of individual morality in the negotiating for Jewish lives with the Nazis. But he could scarcely have been unaware of the political effects of his decision. The next day the Attorney General announced that the government would appeal the case to the Israeli Supreme Court. The General Zionists abstained from voting; the government failed to obtain enough votes for confidence, and Prime Minister Sharett submitted his resignation.
On March 4, , while the Supreme Court was deliberating his case, Kastner was shot in the street by assassins and died some days later. Had Kastner not been murdered, the case would have come to court again and the moral issues been confronted head on.
No one can know how Kastner would have emerged, whether legally cleared or blackened. If Moshe Sharett should choose some day to write his memoirs, he might reveal to the world why the Israeli government so stoutly defended Kastner. The law is the embodiment of a code of morality in normal society. To what extent can that code apply to human behavior in extreme situations? We have ample evidence of how variously morality expressed itself in the will to survive in such institutions as the ghetto, the concentration camp, the places of hiding.
Between the extremes of self-sacrifice so that another could survive and the sacrifice of another so that the self might survive, there was a range of action that the law was not prophetic to foresee or subtle enough to particularize as right or wrong. Yet this ought not to preclude judgment; nor should it be precluded by the popular notion that no one can judge who has not been similarly tested. Hecht is right in wanting to render judgment on Kastner, morally and politically.
But he should have been a better historian and a fairer judge. It is important to consider what limits on action and freedom of choice the Nazis set for the Jews, and how this affected the moral decisions of men like Kastner.
The Nazis had demanded the creation in each ghetto of a Judenrat Jewish council , through which they were to manipulate the fate of the Jewish community. At the outset, there were among decent and honorable Jews two points of view. There were those Jews who opposed participating in the Judenrat because it could only be an instrument of Nazi policy, and there were those who believed responsible Jewish participation might alleviate the situation. We know now who were right. The lesson was bitterly learned by Adam Czerniakow, the first chairman of the Judenrat in Warsaw, who committed suicide when he realized he could not halt the mass deportations to Treblinka.
But there were others with abnormal self-confidence and a near messianic belief in their own capabilities to save the Jews. Jacob Gens, whom the Nazis appointed governor of the Vilna Ghetto, was such a one. On the lowest level were the Jews who joined the ghetto or concentration-camp police, perhaps only to gain immunity did they know how brief? Until German troops occupied Hungary in March , the situation of Hungarian Jews had been wretched but not desperate.
Limited rescue activities were possible. An underground Jewish committee in Budapest worked with church agencies, the International Red Cross, and the neutral foreign embassies. The Swedish government gave Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman, diplomatic status in Budapest, where he conducted a rescue program conceived and supported by the War Refugee Board and the Joint Distribution Committee.
Bribery and graft had been used with some success on the Hungarians and Slovakians. When Eichmann arrived with the German troops, Kastner was among those who favored negotiating with him to try to rescue the Jews.
His outstanding talents for negotiation, granted by even his detractors, were, to be sure, inflated by an enormous vanity and self-assurance. Kastner was indeed a more complex human being than the caricature of a traitor that Hecht has made of him. Hecht is neither a historian nor a chronicler, he has little respect for the accuracy of a date, a name, or a quotation: it is too much to expect that he should have placed Kastner in historical context.
But as a novelist and playwright, Hecht might have been expected to show more compassion for the plight of men put in intolerable situations. Can we therefore condemn him as a traitor, perfidiously leading Jews to their death, in exchange for the comforts and luxuries of his position as chief negotiator with the Nazis? Or can we see him as a self-deluded egotist, obsessed with the sense of his historic mission to save some Jews?
Kastner, it seems to me also, does in the end stand condemned. But since Hecht does not prove his particular case against Kastner, I cannot accept his particular judgment. No one, I am afraid, will ever learn what Kastner did for good or evil, to what extent he was acting for the Jewish Agency, and how deeply the power of his position corrupted him.
Hecht condemns Kastner for trying to bargain with the Nazis for Jewish lives. Eichmann had promised that the 10, trucks would be used only on the Eastern front. Besides, Eichmann never kept his promise to Brand to hold off the deportations, but kept sending Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers at Auschwitz without respite.
The Brand mission was meant also to feel out the Western Allies about a separate peace. In his innocence, Brand had no idea of what the whole drama was about and how small a part he was playing in a great spectacle. It is also well known that with the approval and knowledge of the State Department and War Refugee Board, the JDC arranged to have their Swiss representative, Saly Meyer, negotiate with Becher; that the British and Russian governments were kept informed, and that promises of Allied postwar aid to the Germans were made in an effort to halt the mass murder.
Hecht tells none of this. We are back to the Haganah-Irgun quarrel; and even further back to the time when Weizmann opted for partition, with a small state having a Jewish majority, whereas the Revisionists, among others, wanted all of Palestine. This is the real reason that Hecht hates Weizmann, and accuses him of unimaginable, but quite imaginary, callousness toward the European Jews. Even Menachem Begin, head of the Irgun when its chief contribution to the war effort was killing British soldiers in Palestine, is more charitable toward Weizmann.
Begin quotes Randolph Churchill as saying that his father used to avoid Weizmann during the war. Nothing was done or, to be precise, nothing substantial enough to stand up against the stark statistics of six million murdered. So, a fortiori, the Jews in London or New York. Its first important business was to submit a memorandum to the Anglo-American Refugee Conference, which opened in Bermuda on April That was the day the 50, surviving Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, one-tenth of the original population, rose up against the Germans.
It was too late then for most of the European Jews. Its one accomplishment, so far as I know, was that its proposal to establish a United States Commission to rescue European Jews brought about the creation of the War Refugee Board.
Nevertheless, it was too late. The war was an effective barrier against negotiations, bargaining, large-scale rescue, and substantial relief. The only way, it seemed then, to halt the murder of the Jews was to defeat the Germans as rapidly as possible.
Something might have been done sooner, before Pearl Harbor and even before September 1, , to rescue Jews wishing to escape Europe, had the United States been more receptive. But economic depression, anti-Semitism, and isolationism were prevalent. Whispering campaigns spread the rumor that refugees in the U. Patriotic organizations and Congressmen rallied round to prevent passage of a bill to admit 20, refugee children from Germany. Ships, unable to land their human cargo, wandered over the seas until they found a watery grave.
Why were we Jews not more energetic? Some were fearful, for themselves and for the good name of American Jews. The great Jewish outcry was stifled because it was not thought politic for American Jews.
A hunger strike of thousands of Jews around the White House and the Capitol might have had a response. As I now read the newspapers of those days, I find myself preferring the yellow journalist to the political Zionist. Hecht distorts this, charging Wise with outright objection. Certainly the Zionist leadership of the American Jewish Conference tried to bully all the Jewish organizations into support of their program by using the European Jews as a counter.
At that late date when the major organizations were beginning to shake off the lethargy and fear, they might have been persuaded to undertake some great compelling action to save the still surviving Jews in Hungary and Rumania. But the Zionists forced the endeavor into a loyalty test on Palestine. Hecht accuses the Jewish Agency and the Zionist parties of having sold out the European Jews to Britain for some trivial advantages in power and prestige in a small partitioned state.
It might perhaps be more accurate to say that, gambling for a Jewish state, the Zionists gambled away one chance to save the Jews. It was not the first nor the last, but certainly the most important time that Zionist interest did not coincide wih Jewish interest. The Kastner case was conducted in this spirit, and even Joel Brand finally realized it.
Perfidy, by Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht / Perfidy (book)