Friday, August 26, 2011
A Satmar Chossid wants to set the record straight vis-a-vis Kastner and the Satmar Rebbe - Guest Post (לכבוד דער יארצייט)
For over sixty years now, since that fateful day in 1944, when a train carrying over sixteen hundred Jews crossed the border to Switzerland, there has been a raging debate as to how this rare occurrence of Jews being allowed to get to the free world – let alone on a German-sanctioned train – was possible, and what was the behind the scenes story of the rescue. One of the main reasons for the intensity of the debate is the fact that the train – now famously known as the Kastner train – had one passenger by the name of Joel Teitelbaum, the famous Satmar Rebbe. Rabbi Joel (henceforward referred to as “the Rebbe”) was famous as a staunch opponent of the state of Israel, because of its Zionist ideology - religious Zionism or otherwise. For all his life he led a major battle against it, and everything related to it in any way. He saw Zionism as the biggest obstacle to the Jewish people, and even said that it stood in the way of the Jewish nation’s ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah).
So this is the seed of the debate:
How ironic is that, the leader of Anti-Zionist Judaism after WWII – the Rebbe – was rescued by a train “The Kastner Train”, named after Rudolf Kastner, the man who made the train possible. This man was the leader of the “the Aid and Rescue Committee," the "Va'ada”, the then defacto “Zionist” Aid and Rescue organization in occupied Budapest. Some even went as far as demanding that the Rebbe drop his opposition to Zionism - or at least tone it down significantly - out of appreciation for his rescue through Zionist hands. And it goes even deeper: according to some sources the Rebbe was supposedly asked after the war to testify in the “Kastner trial,” on behalf of Kastner, (the trial was a libel sued by the State of Israel against one Malchiel Gruenwald, for his claim that Rudolf Kastner – at the time of the trial a Government official – collaborated with the Nazis during the war under the disguise of rescue, in the “the Aid and Rescue Committee”). The Rebbe refused to testify. This deepens the controversy: how ungrateful and unappreciative is it, to not help someone who helped you, when you needed it so desperately! So even before we examine the history, the facts on the ground, to what transpired at the time of the train being let go, a few points have to be made: As to the claim of unappreciative behavior by the Rebbe, by refusing to testify at the trial, even if all stated above – about the rescue being made possible by Kastner – was one hundred percent true, there is a lot to say as to the obligation of the Rebbe (or any Jew for that matter) to testify positively and defend Kastner’s claim. I don’t want to go into much detail, but the story around Kastner and his deeds during and after the war, are far from black and white. There is even a possibility that the Rebbe, by not testifying “against” Kastner, for the Gruenwald side, showed much more appreciation then Kastner himself could’ve asked for. I wish to leave this issue here, in order not to open a big can of worms on Kastner, his deeds, and personality. The second point is more a Torah point of view: it’s the belief of every religious Jew (at least as far as the “Rebbe kind of people” are concerned) that the Torah is the divine word of G-d, and cannot be changed in any way, shape or form, for any reason whatsoever, no matter of the feelings or circumstance one finds himself in.
So again - even if it’s true that the rescue was made possible by Kastner - to say that the Rebbe should change his Beliefs on Zionism - a movement which was in his eyes fundamentally against the very pillars of Jewish Belief - the Diaspora and eventual gathering, exile and eventual redemption - because it so happened that he was rescued by Zionists, is absurd at best. just as any of the twelve hundred or so, who were rescued by Oskar Schindler, shouldn’t have to convert to Catholicism, just because Schindler was a Catholic, (even if his rescue would’ve been orchestrated with the help of the Church – and the church actually rescued kids, and are still fiercely condemned for those they never returned to Judaism). Zionism was in the Rebbe’s belief-system, a conversion away from Judaism, to a different religion, a political movement born near the turn of the 20th century. A turn in its direction shouldn’t be tolerated in any fashion, for any reason whatsoever.
These two points out of the way, we may now address the main point of the article:
Who rescued the Rebbe? Who made the rescue possible? And who really earns the appreciation for the rescue, so many want to show toward Kastner and the Zionists? In order to answer these questions, we have to go back a little earlier in history, to the beginning of WWII. Of course, the suffering of the Jews didn’t start in 1944, when the rescue of the train occurred! It started as early as 1939 in some places. In Slovakia, the deportations started in March of 1942, and continued until the summer of that year. During this time, a group of Jews working under the name “The Working Group” (henceforward referred to as the “WG”), tried to stop the Slovak deportations, and to do whatever else was possible to save the remaining Jews. This group consisted of a couple of Jews (of which the last one, Andre Steiner, died recently at the age of over 100) and was headed by Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel (henceforward referred to as “RMD”) and his cousin, Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann. In order to stop the deportation - after a considerable effort - they made contact with Dieter Wisliceny, the person responsible for the deportations of Slovak Jewry, and through a bribe of a huge sum of money, and several other things, like bribing other officials, and pressuring the non-Jewish religious hierarchy in Slovakia, they succeeded in stopping the Slovak deportations almost until the end of the war. The success of the Slovak rescue, gave the group fresh appetite to try and extend the rescue to all of Europe. This was a much bigger undertaking than the Slovak rescue. Whereas the Slovak rescue was done for the relative small amount of $50,000, and it involved some 30,000 Jews to be rescued, the broader “Europa Plan” involved millions of dollars, and a million Jews.
The negotiations started in late 1942, and went back and forth. Although the down payment of $200,000 couldn’t be realized, the negotiations still continued in Slovakia until 1944, (what transpired during this time is a long story. The required attention to discuss it in length is beyond the realm of this article). In 1943 Wisliceny was transferred from Slovakia to Greece, and in 1944 he arrived in Hungary. Like in Slovakia he came to Hungary to work with Adolf Eichmann. Before his transfer out of Slovakia, he asked RMD how the negotiations will continue after he leaves to Hungary. RMD gave him a letter in his personal handwriting to be given to Rabbi Pinchas Freudiger, (henceforward referred to as “Freudiger”) head of the orthodox Jewish community in Budapest. The letter asked that Freudiger continue the negotiations with Wisliceny. Freudiger knew of Wisliceny and the negotiations between him and the “WG”, because the money for the Slovak rescue was sent by the orthodox community in Budapest. Although Wisliceny always worked under Eichmann - since Slovakia - now it was different. Now he was working under Eichmann, in Eichmann‘s presence, whereas in Slovakia Eichmann wasn’t there. Freudiger at first met with Wisliceny on a personal matter on March 22nd, to help his brother who was arrested by the S.S. He went to speak to Wisliceny to see if he will be able to help him in this matter, he knew Wisliceny was in command, because of a meeting Wisliceny held with the leaders of the various Jewish communities on March 20th, upon Wisliceny’s arrival in Hungary. At that meeting Wisliceny informed the leaders that he will from that day on be in charge of the Jewish affairs. When Freudiger met with Wisliceny to try to help his brother, Wisliceny told him that he wanted to meet him on a personal matter, and that he has something to discuss with him. The meeting took place a few days later. At this meeting Wisliceny gave Freudiger the letter from RMD, - asking Freudiger to continue the negotiations on the Europe plan - and asked him if it was "OK" from his side. Freudiger replied in the affirmative, and Wisliceny told him that he will be in touch.
About four weeks later, in April, Wisliceny started to negotiate with a new group of people about the “Europa Plan.” This group was “The Aid and Rescue Committee, the Vaada” (henceforward referred to as “ARC”), and was headed by Kastner. The negotiations with this second group, started with continuing with the “Europe plan”. It evolved into “blood for money” “blood for goods”, blood for trucks”, (not necessarily in this order) and ended up with the train into Switzerland. Why Wisliceny changed who to negotiate with, is complicated. One thing seems to be clear; Eichmann lost some trust in Wisliceny and his negotiations with the “WG”, and instructed him to work with the “ARC”, instead of the “WG”. The reasons for this vary from: “Eichmann thought that the “ARC” was more able”, to “Freudiger and the “WG” was sabotaged and forced out” and everything in-between. Whatever the reason, the fact remains. The initiative to negotiate with the Nazis, the connections to them, the act of gaining their trust, and Vice versa that Nazis should trust the Jews, were all done, by the “WG”, and not by the “ARC”. All Kastner and his group did, was “ride on the coattails” of the “WG”, (and by some accounts they even ruined the ability for a bigger rescue, but that’s a separate issue which I much rather not discuss, for Kastner’s sake, as stated above). Moreover, even after Kastner officially took over the negations, Freudiger was still in contact with Wisliceny, and was still deeply involved in the negations. Not only was Freudiger still active behind the scenes, so was RMD.
It seems that Wisliceny - who was the de facto negotiator - still preferred the “WG” over the “ARC” and since both Wisliceny and Eichmann worked for Heinrich Himmler, he tried to keep the “WG” in the picture the entire time, and it seems that Himmler was OK with this, even though Eichmann preferred the “ARC”. One of the best documented examples is the following, in July 1945 after the rescue attempt by the “ARC” (involving sending Joel Brand to turkey) blow up, because it was made public in the media, (this BTW was the reason RMD didn’t want to go the “ARC” route) Freudiger was called by Wisliceny for the last time, he informed him that he was in Slovakia by RMD, and that RMD said that he (Freudiger) already has acquired 250 trucks for immediate delivery to the Germans. Freudiger of course didn’t have it but he confirmed it with the hope for a miracle, and this ultimately was what brought the Germans back to the table after the brand fiasco, which made possible the train to Switzerland. (although RMD was against the “ARC” route, after the fact, he still tried to convince Wisliceny, that the media reports albeit it posed a problem for the Germans, it still proofs that the Jews are really ready to deliver the trucks in exchange for the rescue, and although the official mission by Brand collapsed because the Allies couldn’t let it go through, and it got Germany ashamed, Freudiger could still deliver unofficially through Switzerland). Other negations were also going on between Freudiger and Wisliceny, but they are numerous and too long to discuss in the current article.
So this is what I’m coming to: even though the front man was Kastner and the “ARC,” at least in the eyes of Eichmann, behind the scenes, and as far as Wisliceny and Himmler were concerned, the “WG” was fully involved, and Wisliceny kept going back to RMD to make sure that things were in order. So how can someone in their right mind claim that the Zionist rescued the Rebbe, moreover how can someone even say the Rebbe was rescued by Kastner? All Kastner did was he pushed himself to the front, elbowed out Freudiger, took over a finished deal, (and this is at the best case scenario) why give him the credit? So no!! The Rebbe wasn’t rescued by the Zionist!! The Rebbe wasn’t rescued by Kastner, The Rebbe was rescued by “The Working Group”!! By Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel, and by Rabbi Pinchas Freudiger!! and of course they were only the emissaries from the almighty!! So this should be obvious, why give credit to a “Pawn”, when we have a “king” and “queen”!!! And BTW, all those who thought that because the Rebbe was rescued by the Zionist, the Rebbe owed a debt of gratitude to them, and should’ve changed his position on Zionism, why not take it both ways? Why not demand Kastner and his buddies, become Anti-Zionist, since they were rescued by RMD who was the ultimate Anti-Zionist!!!
Another small tidbit, one of the things that may have had an impact on Kastner’s decision to include the Rebbe in the transport, is the dream (the one of Kastner's father-in-law, Dr. Fischer, who the Rebbe’s supports believe had a dream, in which he was told that if the Rebbe was not in the list, the entire rescue would not be successful) whether you believe the dream or not, it’s an obvious mystery as to why Kastner included the Rebbe in the transport.The train consisted of more-less the Zionist leadership, Kastner’s family, and people from Cluj - Kastner’s hometown -. The rest were people who paid a lot of money to get “tickets” on the transport. This money was the ransom for Eichmann to let the train go. There were people fighting for a chance to get on the train, people fighting to pay, why take the biggest enemy to Zionism to freedom? Why did he take the Rebbe?
One explanation could be the dream. It makes sense Dr. Fisher was a powerful man, a head of the community in Cluj, and we know Kastner had a soft spot for the people of Cluj, so maybe his father-in-law convinced him! If you prefer not to believe the dream, then maybe it was the orthodox community, who provided most of the money for the transport buy buying the majority of tickets. Maybe they pressured him to take the Rebbe or else they won’t pay! You can build whatever case suits your thinking, the fact still has to be that an outside power convinced Kastner to take the Rebbe. So again even if the transport was “his” rescue – which as stated above, it wasn’t- “the particular rescue of the Rebbe was defiantly not his idea at all. He probably just “held his nose, and went with the program,” because he had no choice!! Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that the train which was paid to go straight to Switzerland didn’t do so. In fact it was stopped in several locations, once even for a couple of months, because the Nazis asked for more money. The money couldn’t be collected from the Zionist organizations – like the joint – Because “they couldn’t do a thing like that, give money to the enemy? This was illegal!!” (This would’ve been funny, if it wasn’t so tragic. So again the “orthodox Jews” had to cough up the money, in order for the transport to continue. How can anyone with a straight mind, even think about giving credit to the Zionist or to Kastner?!!