Reszo Kasztner was a leading member of a Zionist rescue group in Budapest when the Germans occupied Hungary in March, 1944. This was late in the War, the Germans were clearly losing, and in a sudden about face, Adolph Eichmann offered to negotiate. His goal? Sell Hungarian Jews in exchange for cash and supplies. As a gesture of “good faith,” Eichmann allowed one group to enter Switzerland on what is now known to history as “the Kasztner Train.”
After the war, Kasztner made aliyah, but once in Israel, he was condemned as a collaborator. Yes, it’s about the Holocaust, but KILLING KASZTNER also addresses urgent issues equally relevant in our own era.
Jan called Gaylen to discuss her film prior to its Chicago premiere at the Music Box Theatre on January 8, 2010.
Jan: When did you first become interested in this subject, Gaylen?
Gaylen: Around 1997; I was producing and writing a documentary on Swiss banks and Holocaust accounts (BLOOD MONEY: SWITZERLAND’S NAZI GOLD), and there was a woman, Alice Fisher, who got to Switzerland, she said, “on the Kasztner Train.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. I said: “What is this train, and who was Kasztner?”
And I thought: “This is incredible!” I’d heard about non-Jews who rescued Jews (like Schindler and Wallenberg) and all the smaller but equally courageous stories (hiding Jews in barns and in attics,) but the idea that there was a Jew who rescued thousands of Jews during the War, and it’s not even a conversation, was amazing to me.
I didn’t know enough to say: “Is this man a hero or not a hero?” I didn’t even understand the level of complexity and controversy, which I soon found out, about this story. But I just thought: “How is this not even discussed? How is this not in our books? Why are we not shouting it from the rooftops?”
There was this Jew, Rezso Kasztner, who negotiated for thousands. And the fact that he was erased from our Holocaust teachings was incredible to me. That’s when I started researching, and those who did know some of the story said: “Don’t do this. Don’t go there. It’s too controversial. It’s too difficult.”
And then they said: “Well, if you’re going to do it, talk to Professor Egon Mayer.” He has since passed away, but he worked with me on the film. His mother was pregnant with him on the Kasztner train. He was a professor. His specialty was sociology, not history, but as his avocation, he was the one in the U.S. who became the keeper of the flame.
And Mayer was approached to moderate a symposium at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. That was June ’01, right before the World Trade Center …
We filmed, and that was the first and only symposium on Kasztner in America.
Click HERE to read complete chat with Gaylen Ross on FILMS FOR TWO.