- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

JERUSALEM Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and museum has released the private archives of one of the most contentious Jewish figures from the Holocaust era in an attempt to exonerate the man’s tarnished legacy.

Yad Vashem officials said the material released Sunday should finally put an end to what they said was a smear campaign against Rudolf Kasztner.

Kasztner was hailed by admirers as a Holocaust hero for saving thousands of Jews, but critics reviled him as a collaborator who “sold his soul.” In 1957, after a campaign of vilification, he was assassinated by Jewish extremists.

Kasztner, a Zionist leader in Hungary during World War II, headed the Relief and Rescue Committee, a small Jewish group that negotiated with Nazi officials to rescue Hungarian Jews in exchange for money, goods and military equipment.

In June 1944, the “Kasztner Train,” with 1,684 Jews on board, departed Budapest for the safety of neutral Switzerland. Kasztner’s negotiations also saved 20,000 Hungarian Jews by diverting them to an Austrian labor camp instead of a planned transfer to extermination camps, according to Yad Vashem.

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

“There was no man in the history of the Holocaust who saved more Jews and was subjected to more injustice than Israel Kasztner,” said Joseph Lapid, chairman of Yad Vashem’s board of directors and himself a Holocaust survivor from Hungary.

Kasztner’s backers say his actions were similar to those of Oskar Schindler, a non-Jew whose efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews were dramatized in the Oscar-winning film “Schindler’s List.”

But Kasztner’s detractors accused him of colluding with the Nazis to spare a collection of his well-connected and wealthy Jewish friends, while hundreds of thousands of others were being shipped to death camps.

Kasztner moved to Israel after the war and became a top official in the ruling Labor Party. In 1954, local writer Malkiel Grunwald issued a self-published pamphlet that accused Kasztner of being a Nazi collaborator.

The Israeli government sued the writer for libel on Kasztner’s behalf, resulting in a trial that lasted two years and riveted the nation. The court acquitted the writer of libel and concluded that Kasztner “sold his soul to the German Satan.”

Kasztner insisted all along that his dealings with top Nazi officials, including Kurt Becher, an envoy of SS commander Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann, the Gestapo officer who organized the extermination of the Jews, were necessary to save lives.

Kasztner was demonized in the Israeli public. A year after he was killed, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling in the libel case, clearing his name.

Sunday’s ceremony was attended by Suzanne Kasztner, his only child, and by several people who survived because of the “Kasztner Train.”