Glowing chronicle of an unheralded, Schindler-esque figure who saved Hungarian-Jewish lives during World War II.
As the German army marched on Budapest in 1944, the fate of the city’s Jewish population lay in the hands of bold, immeasurably brave Rezso Kasztner. Hungarian-born Canadian citizen Porter (The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies, 2000, etc.) gives an unashamedly laudatory account of Kasztner’s actions, though she also extensively covers the controversy that dogged him until his final days. The book’s central subject is the monumental task Kasztner assumed during the war as he battled with the German authorities to free as many Hungarian-born Jewish citizens as possible. His dealings with SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann are retold in meticulous detail. Porter effectively conjures dark, smoky offices hosting intense negotiations and the palpable, yet always carefully hidden terror felt by Kasztner as he battled with one of Hitler’s most overbearing, deeply unpleasant henchmen. The author frequently departs from Kasztner’s tale to recite events happening elsewhere in Europe, offering disquieting details of the conditions in Auschwitz that would be the probable fate of the Jewish citizens he failed to save. Kasztner’s achievements were twofold. He got 1,684 Jews onto a train out of Hungary, at a considerable price to the wealthy passengers on board, although Porter points out that the exact amount of money given to the Germans is unknown. Kasztner also kept 20,000 exiled Hungarian Jews alive in Austria, again by forking over a considerable sum. With a hint of exasperation, Porter concludes by examining Kasztner’s tribulations in Israel after the war, when he was charged with colluding with the Nazis and failing to warn the majority of Budapest’s Jewish population of what awaited them in the camps. Kasztner’s assassination shortly after the trial was, for the author, a deeply inglorious end for a man she regards as a hero.
A compelling narrative that does great justice to Kasztner’s memory.