Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


The Union of Jewish Students and Perdition

Rudolf Kasztner

THE KASTNER TRIAL - shown at the Jewish Film Festival in 1997

Czech film about Rabbi Weissmandel: Among Blind Fools

The Nizkor Project: Dedicated to the millions of Holocaust victims who suffered and died

Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium: Holocaust Home Page

The Confession of Adolph Eichmann

Revolt of Warsaw's Jews

 Jews of Hungary website

Hannah Szenes: famous Jewish partisan betrayed by Kastner

Jews not Zionists website

Purchase Pefidy by Ben Hecht


A scene from the play

Although Michael Billington of The Guardian encountered no demonstrators outside the Gate, we found two members of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), handing out a leaflet entitled Perdition: Dancing on the Graves of the Victims. Reading this, we noted their claim that "outright anti-Zionists", had used the Kasztner story as "ammunition" to attack the foundations of the Zionist state of Israel and thus "the very ideology of Zionism" itself. The UJS also claim, without providing any reference, that Kasztner has been "exonerated in the history books" and that the basis on which the Hungarian Zionists have been accused are "almost entirely false" (our emphasis). Paradoxically, they mention later that Kasztner "was too generous in vouching for some Nazi's after the war", and the UJS invites people to believe the absurd proposition that Kasztner's motivation for putting members of his own family, and "a selection of wealthy Jews" on the controversial train to Switzerland, was to signify to the rest of the 476,000 Hungarian Jews that the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, was a "bona fide" man who could be trusted and this was the beginning of a "larger rescue operation". I bet that was what Zionist's like Kasztner told Hungary's Jews - Don't run ! Don't fight ! Don't worry ! They will be another train to Switzerland ! Eichmann is a good man - he can be trusted . . .

Billington asked in his review, at what point "does pragmatic co-operation become collaboration ?". The play raises awkard questions about how far people should collaborate with evil to stay alive - a question which is as relevant today as it was during the struggle against fascism during the 1940's. Since there is documented, shocking evidence of Zionist collaboration with the SS in Hungary - from holocaust survivors themselves such as Dr Verba and Rabbi Weissmandel - this was always going to a controversial issue for any playwright such as Jim Allen to address, notwithstanding the attempts by Zionists to suppress the truth about something which actually happened in wartime Hungary, and to find out why only 1700 Jews were saved whilst almost 500,000 went to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. None of this appears to be dealt with in any detail by the UJS leaflet, which in our view, attacks the play unfairly, tainting it with the brush of "holocaust denial" and "extreme rightism" (as they call it). The strongest impression we had after coming out of the play was that it gave a balanced view of both sides of the story.

The following below is published and distributed by Union of Jewish Students (UJS) in conjunction with the Holocaust Educational Trust




1.1 Background

The chief character of the play, Yaron, portrays Rudolf (Reszö) Kasztner, who from 1943-5 was a vice-chairman of the Zionist organised Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest.

The play is based on a libel trial in Israel. Kasztner was accused in 1954 of connivance in the deportation of around 400,000 Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Nazi occupation from 1944-5. He sued his accuser Malkiel Grunwald.

Grunwald had accused Kasztner of making a deal with the Nazis, to save his friends and relatives in return for remaining silent about the 400,000 deportations.

The libel trial turned into a highly charged public examination of Kasztner's role in the leadership of the Relief and Rescue Committee.

The judge ruled against Kasztner, declaring that he had 'sold his soul to the devil' In 1957 Kasztner was assassinated by nationalist extremists. In 1958 the Israeli Supreme Court reversed the 1955 judgement.

1.2 Analysis

The initial slur on Kasztner was politically motivated. It was an attack on the Mapai (left-wing Zionist) Government of which Kasztner was a lesser minister and which was seen in some ways as the heir of the Hungarian Zionists. In fact, Kasztner probably would not have sued had he not interpreted the accusation as a slight on his party.

Grunwald's lawyer was a member of the right-wing Herut party, and partially in consequence of his success at the trial he subsequently entered the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and was appointed Minister of Justice in Menahim Begin's first Government.

Although the issues of Hungarian Zionist complicity with Nazism, and Kasztner's role in particular, were used within Israel as a party-political weapon, they have provided ammunition for outright anti-Zionists to attack the foundations of the Israeli state and in fact the very ideology of Zionism. Understanding the political context in which the play has its roots is the key to understanding the controversy around the play. Whatever lip-service is paid in the play's text to Kasztner's exoneration by the Israeli Supreme Court is obscured by the over-riding message of the play, which is simply anti-Zionist. It will be seen below that Kasztner has also been exonerated in the history books, because the bases (sic) on which he and the Hungarian Zionists were accused are almost entirely false.


2.1 Introduction

The narrative of events in Hungary is heavily distorted by the politicised nature of the play. It should be emphasised that this distortion is not the result of the playwright adopting an informed historical stance - i.e. the play's theme is not simply one side in an equal debate about the way things were. Rather, the play is a classic example of a political agenda overtly influencing a portrayal of history. To illustrate this point by analogy, while not comparing Perdition with the more disturbing phenomenon of Holocaust denial, it is clear that the latter is the creation of a political ideology (extreme rightism) rather than any reasoned interpretation of the past grounded in extensive historical research.

To set the record straight in accordance with research conducted by some of the most prestigious historians of the Holocaust period, there follow a few substantiated historical points which refute the broad implications of Perdition.

  • The Zionists were not the official representative body of Hungarian Jewry. The courage which many of them displayed, and the extent of their activities in the absence of resources and sanction are therefore even more impressive than they at first appear.
  • Kasztner and others did have contacts with the Nazis, but this was because it was impossible to save large numbers of Jews without those links. Kasztner was too generous in vouching for some Nazis after the war, but this suggests only the importance of the individual contacts, and in no way identification with Nazi aims. Hungarian Zionists had, after all, been at the forefront of campaigning for the Allies to bomb Auschwitz or the railroads to the camp, and had long been active in attempting to warn European Jewry of the ongoing Holocaust.
  • Kasztner was not interested in saving a few Jews at the expense of the many. He was instrumental in persuading Adolf Eichmann to send 18,000 to the relative safety of Austria, as well as securing Eichmann's 'good-will' gesture of dispatching a train-load of 1,684 Jews, ostensibly to Spain or Switzerland, in summer 1944. (In fact, the train was diverted to the Belsen concentration camp. Belsen was not then in the horrific state in which it was uncovered by the British at the end of the war, and the Hungarian Jews were given a privileged status within the camp. In August 1944, 318 Jews were released to Switzerland.) Kasztner's motivation for putting members of his family and a selection of wealthy Jews on the train was to signify to the rest of the Hungarian Jewish community that Eichmann's gesture was bono fide, and the beginning of a larger rescue operation.

The Union of Jewish Students of the United Kingdom and Ireland can be contacted at:

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