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Israel Kastner’s trial – the turning point


Kurt Becher strikes a deal with Israel Kastner
Uri Avnery Social activist
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In the early years before the Holocaust, Eichmann came to Vienna and allowed Jews to emigrate, even pushed them to emigrate. At some point they even developed a plan calling for Jews to settle in Madagascar, on one condition: that they would leave all of their possessions behind. And there was a story, not a story, it was a fact. Namely, Eichmann, who was in all probability very gifted as a clerk and a technocrat, arranged that Jews who wanted to leave, rather than go through ten or twenty different offices, arranged everything in one office. The Jews went from room to room to room. A Hungarian Jew entered on one side very wealthy, and emerged on the other side with nothing, but he had a permit to emigrate. Many Jews were saved in this way. At this point Becher, who was not an ardent Nazi and cared about nothing, realized that the Nazis had lost the war, that it was going to end soon. And he thought about how to survive the whole thing. He got hold of Kastner, who was at that stage already the senior Jewish representative in Hungary, and made a deal with him: 'I'll help you to liberate as many Jews as possible, and you will save me after the war'. And so it was. Becher and Kastner went from the concentration camps, the death camps and concentration camps, from place to place, liberating the Jews. And after the war, of course, Becher was arrested, a high-ranking officer in the SS. They arrested him automatically and conducted a trial where Kastner appeared as a defence witness for Becher. 

בהתחלה אייכמן בשנים הראשונות לפני השואה, אייכמן בא לווינה ונתן ליהודים להגר, אפילו דחף אותם להגר. אפילו פיתחו באיזשהו שלב תוכנית ליישב יהודים במדגסקר, בתנאי אחד: שהיהודים ישאירו את כל הרכוש שלהם מאחור. והיה סיפור, לא סיפור, זאת הייתה מציאות: אייכמן, שהיה איש מאוד מוכשר כנראה בתור פקיד וטכנוקרט, אירגן שיהודי שרצה להגר, במקום לעבור עשרה או עשרים משרדים שונים, סידרו את הכל במשרד אחד. היהודי הלך מחדר לחדר לחדר לחדר. נכנס יהודי עשיר הונגרי מצד אחד, יצא יהודי בלי שום דבר בצד השני, אבל היה לו רישיון הגירה. הרבה יהודים ניצלו בצורה כזאת. בשלב הזה בֶּכֶר, שלא היה נאצי שרוף ולא היה איכפת לו כלום, הבין שהנאצים הפסידו את המלחמה, שזה הולך להיגמר בקרוב. והוא חשב על עצמו, איך להינצל מכל העניין. והוא נתפס לקסטנר, שהיה באותו שלב כבר הנציג היהודי הבכיר בהונגריה, ועשה אתו "דיל": "אני אעזור לך לשחרר כמה שאפשר יותר יהודים, ואתה תציל אותי אחרי המלחמה”. וכך היה. בֶּכֶר עם קסטנר הלכו ממחנות ריכוז, במחנות המוות ומחנות הריכוז בכלל ממקום למקום, שיחררו יהודים ואחרי המלחמה כמובן עצרו את בֶּכֶר, קצין בכיר באס.אס. אוטומטית עצרו אותו. עשו לו משפט, וקסטנר הופיע במשפט הזה כעד הגנה של בֶּכֶר.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Madagascar, Otto Adolf Eichmann, Rezső Kasztner, Rudolf Israel Kastner, Kurt Andreas Ernst Becher

Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 10 March 2017