Kastner was assassinated on March 4, 1957

On January 15th, 1958, Dr. Rudolf Israel Kastner, a Zionist activist and grandfather to current MK Merav Michaeli, was posthumously exonerated from all charges connecting him to the Nazi regime in Hungary. Dr. Kastner was born in the border town of Cluj-Napoca in modern-day Romania to a Jewish-Hungarian family. Being extremely educated and fluent in 8 separate languages, Kastner would grow up to become a leading figure in the Hungarian Zionist movement well into WWII. 

In 1944, Nazi Germany invaded Hungary and began what many scholars call the most brutal part of their genocide in terms of the volume of killings in such a relatively short period of time. Dr. Kastner, who by then had moved to Budapest, had made many significant connections both in the Jewish community and Hungro-German officials level as well. The Zionist activist had become a key part of a group known as The “Aid and Rescue Committee”; a Jewish organization dedicated to saving German and Polish Jews by sneaking them into Hungary, which was Nazi-free until 1944. 

However, when the dangers of Nazism made it to Budapest, Kastner and his organization became involved in negotiating with Nazis in the name of Hungarian Jewry to try and save as many of them as possible. Kastner maintained close relations with Nazi officials, including the mastermind behind the entire Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann. In the process of offering money for the heads of some 1,500 Jews who would be sent to Switzerland instead of Auschwitz, over 400 thousand Jews would be killed within less than 90 days of the Nazi occupation in Hungary. Due to his connections, Krestner was aware of what the “resettlement” of Hungarian Jews actually meant, yet never warned the general Jewish public of their destiny.

After the war, Kastner made it to Israel and secured himself a job within the ruling Mapai party. In 1952, a Hungarian-Israeli journalist and pogrom survivor, Malchiel Gruenwald, accused Kastner of collaborating with the Nazis and their destruction of Hungarian Jewry. 

Kastner’s defense remained that he was working for the Jewish people and saw the blood-for-money method as the only viable way to help his people. Although his claims helped fence most legal charges and possible penalties, the judge presiding over the case was recorded stating that by negotiating such a deal with Germans, “Kastner had sold his soul to the devil…” The trial and the attention it received from Israeli and Hungarian media, led to the resignation of the incumbent Mapai government, where Kastner worked.  

Kastner was assassinated in 1957 by former members of the pre-state “Stern Gang”; a year later he was officially posthumously exonerated from any legal wrongdoings and offenses against the Jewish people. His actions, the controversial trial, and his killing remain an example of complexities within the many Zionist sub-categories that exist to some extent in modern Israeli society.

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