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Righteous Among Our Nation

Citizenship papers from the author's family.

Even before visitors walk through the door of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum, they see a powerful tribute to Holocaust heroism. Along the Avenue of the Righteous leading to the museum, thousands of trees bloom in honor of the approximately 21,000 "Righteous Among the Nations," courageous Gentiles who defied the Nazis and risked their lives to save Jews from deportation.  There's a memorial tree for Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank in the secret annex, and another for Oskar Schindler, the Nazi who rescued 1,200 Jews.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also devotes a section of its permanent exhibition to these individuals.

Relevant Links
Visas for Life: Rabbi Jehuda, Deborah, and Moses Glasner  Shir Ziv, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Unauthorized Salvadoran citizenship paper issued by Mandel-Mantello to the author’s grandparents and uncle.
Visas for Life: Rabbi Akiba, Hermine, and Sulamith Glasner  Shir Ziv, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Unauthorized Salvadoran citizenship paper issued by Mandel-Mantello to the author’s great-grandparents and great-aunt.
Mandel-Mantello's Mission  Shir Ziv, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. How a Hungarian Jew launched an effort to rescue thousands of Jews across the continent. (Video)
A Search for Answers  Shir Ziv, Gaylen Ross, Shmarya Rosenberg, Failed Messiah. Who was Rudolf Kasztner really? A traitor, or a hero? A scapegoat, or the man who chose to “play God” and seal fates for life and death? (Film review and audio interview with the director of Killing Kasztner)
The Riddle of the Satmar  Allan Nadler, Jewish Ideas Daily. Among the passengers on Kasztner’s rescue train was the “Satmar” rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, who otherwise forbid his followers to benefit from any form of Zionist assistance. 

Such tributes are manifestly appropriate, but Holocaust museums generally omit another important group of rescuers: the 200 Jewish organizations within and outside Nazi Europe that worked to rescue fellow Jews from the Nazis.  Holocaust historian Nechama Tec—who, as a girl, was saved from the Nazis by Polish Catholics—has sought to remedy this lack of awareness with books such as her 2008 Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, now a movie, about two brothers, Polish Jews, who led thousands in armed resistance against the Nazis. Asking why historians, herself included, have generally ignored Jewish rescuers, Tec says, "Historically, Jews have been viewed as victims and not as rescuers, not as heroes. . . .  Had I assumed that victim and rescuer were incompatible roles?"

But this assumption may not be the only reason for the marginalization of Jewish rescuers.  Consider the stories of two such rescuers: Rudolf Kasztner and George Mandel-Mantello, Hungarian Jews from Kolozsvár, where my great-grandfather served as the chief rabbi of the city's 10,000 Orthodox Jews.  Kasztner was head of Hungary's Zionist Aid and Rescue Committee, an organization that had been assisting Jewish refugees in escaping to Hungary before it was occupied.  Through his efforts he heard that another Jewish rescue organization had successfully negotiated with Adolf Eichmann to stop Slovakian deportations to Auschwitz.  With brilliant acting and sheer chutzpah, Kasztner presented himself to Adolff Eichmann as a representative of an all-powerful "World Jewry," hoping to negotiate a ransom deal.   

In May 1944, Eichmann offered Kasztner safety for a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks.  But Kasztner ran into problems raising the money, and Eichmann wavered.  Kasztner finally managed to make a deal that delivered 1,684 Jews—known as the "Kasztner transport" or "Kasztner train"—first to relative safety in Bergen-Belsen, then to Switzerland.  My father's family was among them. 

Although best known for his transport to Switzerland, Kasztner is also credited with negotiating for 18,000 Jews to be saved in a Strasshof labor camp instead of being sent to  Auschwitz. His negotiations may also have saved the remnant of the Budapest Jewish community at the end of the war.  An ardent Zionist, he subsequently made aliyah to Israel and joined Ben-Gurion's Mapai government.  But he was not destined to become a hero in the new Jewish state. In 1952, he became the subject of scandal when a fellow Hungarian Jew, Malkiel Gruenwald, accused him of collaborating with the Nazis by keeping Auschwitz a secret in order to save a select few for his own profit.

Ben-Gurion's government, on Kasztner's behalf, sued Gruenwald for libel.  Gruenwald's defense attorney, Shmuel Tamir, was a Herut party supporter who aimed to use the trial to topple the government. The two-year trial riveted the young Israeli nation, which had not yet seen the Holocaust discussed in such a public forum.

Kasztner lost his case.  The court publicly branded him a Nazi collaborator.  The government appealed and in 1958, Israel's Supreme Court overturned most of the lower court's judgment.  Kasztner, one judge wrote, "was motivated solely by the desire to save . . . the largest possible number" of Hungary's Jews "under the circumstances."  By then, however, Kasztner was dead, shot and killed by an assassin in 1957.

The other Jewish rescuer from Kolozsvár, György (George) Mandel, was in Geneva during the war.  While in Geneva he was lucky enough to befriend José Castellanos,  Consul General of El Salvador.  Castellanos invented the post of First Secretary of the Salvadoran Consulate and gave the job to Mandel, renamed for this purpose as "Mantello."  From his diplomatic post, Mantello issued certificates of protection for some 40,000 European Jews.  In 2008 the Washington Post ran a story on a documentary film about Mantello, whose story I had been previously unfamiliar with. I opened the paper, turned to the story—and to my surprise I saw the faces of my grandparents and uncle staring back at me, their names affixed to one of those certificates of protection. 

Mantello, like Kasztner, became a subject of controversy and scandal after the war.  According to historian David Kranzler, who described Mantello's rescue operation in his book The Man Who Stopped the Trains to Auschwitz, there were rumors after the war that Mandel had "dealt on the black market and profited from the 'sale' of Salvadoran papers." On account of these accusations he was denied entry to France and England and detained by Swiss authorities. Seeking to clear his name once and for all, Mantello asked the Swiss Jewish Committee to conduct a public inquiry into his behavior.  The inquiry, says Kranzler, "not only cleared Mantello of even the slightest wrongdoing, but also provided a highly complimentary portrait of this much-maligned rescue activist, even going so far as to imply that the accusations of various groups against Mantello were based primarily on envy."

Kasztner and Mantello actually crossed paths in the course of their rescue efforts—especially when it came to securing the arrival of the Kasztner transport into Switzerland.  And neither of their stories is simple.  They operated in the shadows and consorted with monsters.  Although they managed to orchestrate large-scale Jewish rescue missions, they couldn't save everyone.  But if we can honor Schindler, a Nazi, shouldn't we at least extend equal tribute to Jewish rescuers who operated in infinitely more precarious situations to cheat Hitler out of thousands of Jewish corpses?

Recent scholarship has begun to paint a more sympathetic picture of Kasztner.  In 2007, Yad Vashem accepted his archival papers on donation from his family, and the museum now has a room devoted to Jewish rescuers.  New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage has a display about Kasztner and educates about Jewish rescue.  But Gaylen Ross, producer and director of the award-winning documentary Killing Kasztner, says it remains a challenge to present the story of a Jewish rescuer.  Ross notes that there is a monument in Budapest to the famous non-Jewish rescuer Carl Lutz.  It depicts Lutz as a golden angel, a hand extended in salvation towards a pitiful Jew crying for help.  "Where does Kasztner fit into this picture?" Ross asks.  Simply put, he doesn't—which ought to move us to amend the main storyline of Holocaust rescue to include a group that the Jewish people should be proud to call our own.

Chaya Glasner is a fellow at the Tikvah Fund.

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Joni Browne-Walders on April 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm (Reply)
Don't forget about Peter Bergson (an Israeli) and his group in New York City, which tried to save Jewish lives from the Nazis. Read: A RACE AGAINST DEATH: PETER BERGSON, AMERICA AND THE HOLOCAUST, written by David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff (published 2002). This story must be included among those of Jews who fought to save Jews from the Holocaust.
Reb Yid on April 20, 2012 at 8:01 am (Reply)
I agree with the above comment about Peter Bergson (AKA Hillel Kook), and surely there are many other Jews that should be similarly honored. But the article, while claiming to generally move for the inclusion of Jews in the honoree lists, seems to be just an attempt at rehabilitating Kasztner's reputation. There are much more complete and unbiased treatments of Kasztner than this article, and they generally do not paint such a rosy picture of him.
I. Shapiro on April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am (Reply)
The effort to rehabilitate Bergson is a right-wing political attempt to discredit Franklin D. Roosevelt and, thus, American Jews' ties to liberalism and the Democratic Party. Jonathan Tobin has admitted as such, along with the Republican Jewish Coalition's encouragement of Medoff's propaganda-driven publications.
Jeanette Friedman on April 30, 2012 at 9:34 am (Reply)
My mother was on that train, and I served on the Goldberg Commission to examine the role of American Jews during the Holocaust. Kasztner ran into trouble raising money (along with Joel Brand and Bandi Groz, who are never mentioned because they were betrayed by the Zionists over and over again). When Brand came out to negotiate for money for the train, Ben Gurion had him arrested by the British. The remnant Hungarian Jewry and the Sochnut told him to go from Istanbul to Aleppo. The Agudah warned him that he would be busted in Aleppo, but he stupidly trusted the Zionists and was arrested by the Brits when he got there. Only Weismandl and Sternbuchs were able to raise money, from the Agudah in New York and through Solomon Schonfeld in London. Then, in the middle of all of this, Sternbuch was removed from the negotiations by the man who asked the Germans to put the "J" on Jewish passports, Saly Mayer, head of the Swiss Jewish community. Mayer, who was the Joint Distribution Committee representative in Switzerland, didn't want a Swiss Jewish problem and did everything he could, before the war and in the early stages of the war, to stop refugees from coming into Switzerland. Once he had replaced Sternbuch on the negotiating committee, he tried to stop the trade and to get the Kasztner transport sent to Auschwitz along with the other 18,000 Jews. He even said that the trainload of rabbis (he assumed everyone on the train was frum) should go down like the captains of a ship. He was worse than Stephen Wise, and that's saying a lot. At least this writer gets it. As for the 10,000 trucks, she forgot to mention the tons of butter, sugar and cocoa that Eichmann also wanted. In the end, Eichmann settled for a letter of credit for 250,000 Swiss francs and the promise of 40 tractors. When he got a telegram forged by Wiessmandl, posing as Ferdinand Roth, a rich American Jew, saying the funds were forthcoming, he finally let the train leave Budapest. As for the snraky commentor who said that "rehabilitating" Kasztner is a bad thing, tens of thousands of Jews are now living around the world, descendants of the people on the train, including the author of the article above and me. Ben Gurion hated people who negotiated with the Nazis. He only understood the business end of a gun, because he didn't want "his" Zionists to be sheep to the slaughter or, as he called the survivors once they got to Israel, cakes of soap.
Kim Opperman on May 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm (Reply)
A7734. For those unfamiliar to this search. Two twins were separated at Auschwitz in 1945. They were 4 years old. Elias {Elijah? spelling?} Gottesman is looking for his long lost twin that may or may not remember his family of orgin. However the twin brother, Jeno {Jolli} Gottesman would not ever be able to get away from the tattoo on his arm- A7734. If you have any information on a Jewish holocaust survivor born in 1940 ish...from Hungary, please contact me, or the researcher in charge of this search. They have been apart for 67 years. Any leads, however small will be greatly appreciated.If you do not have any helpful information, please post this announcement in your community of friends and family.

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