Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis

2008 | Documentary | 123 minutes | English and Hebrew with English subtitles


Hungary was the last stop in Hitler’s campaign to eradicate the Jews of Europe. Even before Hitler’s arrival in Hungary, Rudolph Kasztner, a Jewish lawyer and journalist, a leader in the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee, smuggled Jewish refugees into Hungary from the nearby Nazi-occupied countries. This program was short-lived as the Nazis marched into Hungary in 1944. Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS officer, was ordered to immediately transport Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz where they were to be exterminated. Kasztner seized an opportunity to save Jews. He managed to negotiate a deal with Eichmann to transport 1,700 Jews on a train to Switzerland. In return Kasztner would pay Eichmann $1,000 for each person saved. Kasztner was also able to save an additional 15,000 Jews by convincing Eichmann to place them in work camps. After the war, Kasztner emigrated to Israel where he served in a high position in Ben Gurion’s administration. Kasztner’s life came crashing down when an obscure journalist, Gruenwald, published a pamphlet citing Kasztner as a disgraceful traitor who bargained with the hateful Eichmann. The Israeli government sued Gruenwald for libel. What was expected to be a short two-day trial ended up lasting18 months. Gruenwald was cleared but there was a verdict against Kasztner. Judge Benjamin Halevy referred to Kasztner as “a Jew who sold his soul to the devil.” Most of the charges against Kasztner were later overturned by the Supreme Court but it was too late. On March 4, 1957, a member of a Jewish right-wing underground group, Ze’ev Eckstein, assassinated Kasztner as he was leaving his apartment building.

Major Participants: Gaylen Ross (Director) / Ze’ev Eckstein  & Dan Shemer (Assassins) / Zsuzsi Kasztner (Daughter) / Merav Michaeli, Michal Michaeli, Keren Michaeli (Granddaughters)
Why Stream This Film?
Even today, 68 years later, there are historians who debate the same question: Was Kasztner a Holocaust hero or a villainous Nazi collaborator? Although Kasztner saved far more Jews than Oskar Schindler, Kasztner was  labeled the worst kind of traitor–and ultimately was assassinated. Filmmaker Gaylen Ross did a brilliant job spending years  researching and filming this incredibly complex man.  Strong Recommendation: see this film with others and there will surely be  a lively discussion afterwards.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 79%
  • Metacritic Score: 53
  • The film was an Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival
  • Los Angeles Times: One of the 10 Best Documentaries of the Year
  • Boston Jewish Film Festival: Winner, Best Documentary Feature
  • Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival: Winner, Best Documentary Feature
  • The Jerusalem Post: One of the Best 10 Films of the Year

Now streaming on:

KILLING KASZTNER will cause you to weep, even without displaying heartrending concentration camp scenes. I urge everyone, Jew and Gentile, to see this film and meet the surviving family members of Rudolf Kasztner, particularly his wife and daughter.
Former New York mayor Ed Koch

The Atlantic

Did he truly sell his soul, or was he just, as a family member says in the film, the wrong kind of hero? The film fascinates even as the man himself remains elusive.
Moira Macdonald

Seattle Times

If you know the name Rezso Kasztner, you won’t need any encouragement to see KILLING KASZTNER: THE JEW WHO DEALT WITH NAZIS. If you don’t, that is even more reason to see this documentary about the strange and compelling life and death of one of the most morally complex figures to come out of the Holocaust.
Kenneth Turan

Los Angeles Times

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