EXCHANGE TRANSPORTS AND RELEASE ACTIONS
Only for a few prisoners was the hope fulfilled to be released in the course of an exchange-program from Bergen-Belsen. At the end of June 1944, 222 Jewish detainees travelled as exchange persons to Palestine. In July 1944, 70 Jews were able to leave Bergen-Belsen with British passports. During the so-called German-American civilian exchange at the end of January 1945, a total of 301 prisoners that left originally Bergen-Belsen. However, only 136 of them reached Switzerland. For some unknown reason the rest were placed in internment camps in southern Germany, where they found better living conditions than in Bergen-Belsen. Moreover, almost all the 1,683 Hungarian prisoners in the camp reached in August and December 1944 the Swiss border their freedom and 105 Jews from various European countries, which laid claim to the Turkish nationality, went via Göteborg [Sweden] in March 1945, to Istanbul.
|Discharge certificate for the Communists Grünewald, dated October 1940|
A particular status within the stay in the camp had the so-called 'Kasztner group' that arrived in mid-July 1944 in Bergen-Belsen and was placed here in handling transfers of internees. this group was a Zionist rescue project in the framework of negotiations between SS on one hand and a Zionist rescue committee in Budapest on the other, in which the Hungarian-Jewish journalist Rudolf Kasztner played the leading role. This Kasztner group presented on the whole a cross section of different religious and political-social groupings of Hungarian Judaism , but included a larger number of refugees, especially from Poland, Slovakia and Yugoslavia, at the time of the German invasion of Hungary they had mostly lived there with forged documents.
|The arrival in Switzerland of some of the passengers, August or December 1944|
[Minutes after midnight on March 4, 1957, Kastner was shot as he arrived at his Tel Aviv home. The attack was carried out by a three-man squad from a group of veterans from the pre-state right-wing militia Lehi led by Yosef Menkes and Yaakov Heruti. Menkes had also been a member of the post-independence terrorist group Kingdom of Israel. The assassination squad consisted of Menkes (the leader), Ze'ev Eckstein (the shooter), and Dan Shemer (the driver). The three men had waited in a jeep parked outside Katsner's house. Eckstein disembarked and approached Kastner as he locked his car, and asked him if he was Rudolf Kastner. When Kastner confirmed, Eckstein pulled out a handgun and fired three times. The first shot was a spent bullet, the second hit the car door, and the third hit Kastner in the upper body, critically wounding him. Katsner attempted to escape, but died of his injuries on March 15. In Gaylen Ross' film "Killing Kasztner" Ze'ev Eckstein presents a very different sequence of events and implies that someone else fired a fatal fourth bullet. See section "Documentary" below.
About an hour after the shooting, Shin Bet (Israel's internal security service) opened an investigation, focusing its efforts on the Lehi veterans group led by Menkes and Heruti. The group had been linked to various murder incidents and various actions against Kastner, and it was suspected that Menkes bore personal responsibility. In addition, Kastner delivered a description of the assassins at the hospital. After a lengthy investigation, Shin Bet identified Eckstein, Shemer and Menkes as the assassins. Shemer was the first to confess his role, and implicated Eckstein, who subsequently confessed and implicated Menkes. In addition, police tracked down the jeep used by the assassins, which was found to contain the murder weapon and fingerprints belonging to Shemer. Subsequently, twenty members of their organization were arrested, including Heruti, and two weapons magazines belonging to the group were discovered.
Eckstein, 24, stated that he killed Kastner to avenge his activities in conjunction with Nazi figures such as Adolf Eichmann. During the trial it turned out that Eckstein had been a paid informer of Shin Bet a few months before the shooting. The idea that the killing was a government conspiracy has been described by Elliott Jager as "absolute nonsense", because the head of the intelligence service was a close personal friend of Kastner. But recent documentation and some hints by people in Kastner's circles point to the possibility that the former head of the Jewish agency and at that time Prime Minister Moshe Sharet had been working together with Kastner on receiving the "Becher Treasure" – a huge amount of stolen Jewish money and property, for the country of Israel, and not into the hands of the Allied countries, let alone kept in the hand of the "former" Nazis. The price of freeing a small group of SS officers seemed at the time negligible, and fit in with continued ties that Kastner had with the Nazis at the end of the war. But the "Becher Treasure" turned out to be a fraction of the value expected, or at least by the 1950s the Israelis were convinced so, and it was all but impossible to start explaining the Jewish postwar compliance with captured Nazis to the public.
Kastner's killers were given life sentences, but were pardoned after seven years. In January 1958 the Supreme Court of Israel overturned most of the judgement against Kastner, stating that the lower court had "erred seriously" in putting the emphasis on Kastner's moral conduct, leaving that "For history to judge".
In an open letter by Tamir to the Tel-Aviv municipality, who were planning to call a street after Dr. Kastner's name, he showed that "Kastner was never given exoneration", but rather that it was only not proven if his actions which during the court case were unanimously agreed upon as being despicable, caused the murder or rather caused the failure of escape for over a million Jews from Hungary, deported and killed in the last months of the war. The court, he said, left that and only that to history.
His granddaughter Merav Michaeli, voted in 2013 to the Israeli Parliament spoke of her grandfather, who saved "tens of thousands of Jews" when standing up to and dealing with Eichmann, who had said: You look worn out. Maybe we should send you for some short vacation at Auschwitz. He calmly pulled out a cigarette and smoked. A proud Jew with no fear." It is natural to make such heroism statements about a grandfather, but proof is required.sic] (For further reading, Google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Kastner)
THE PRISONER COMPOUND
The first and only part of the camp, in which non-Jewish prisoners were housed, is referred to in the historiography as the 'prison camp'(Häftlingslager). This part, where only men lived, was operated from the beginning as a typical concentration camp and differed significantly from the situation in the Transit Camp. (Aufenthaltslager) It was first used to accommodate the construction commando. At the end of February 1944, it was disbanded and the surviving prisoners moved to other concentration camps Neuengamme and Sachsenhausen.
The barracks of the prison camp were only for a short time empty. From the end of March 1944, sick prisoners unable to work were brought from other concentration camps into this part of the camp. From that point onward, it was the starting point for the following months, while more and more increasing the expansion in an entirely different direction of Bergen-Belsen, which would eventually change the character of this camp and the living conditions of the prisoners in a dramatic way.
The first Patient Transport , arrived in late March 1944 in Bergen-Belsen , and consisted of exactly 1,000 prisoners from the concentration camp of Mittelbau-Dora , and was cynically designated by the SS as a "Recreation Centre" . But no serious efforts for medical care of the sick prisoners, who were eventually transferred back to their original camp, after their recovery, when inmate doctors and medication slowly arrived. The sick prisoners had initially to live for days in barracks without any type of utensils or equipment after their reception. They were totally undernourished and lived in catastrophic hygienic conditions and were, despite their poor physical condition, exposed to a sadistic regime of the SS and Kapos . The mortality rate in the prison camp was therefore alarmingly high . Just four weeks after their arrival in Bergen-Belsen more than a third of the prisoners had died of this Transport that came from Mittelbau-Dora .
|'Living among the Dead'|
Prison clothes , hunger , hard work to exhaustion and ill-treatment by the SS and Kapos characterized the situation in the prison camp (Häftlingslager) . But not only these conditions were to blame for the huge death toll . The prison camp was by the summer of 1944 also the scene of a mass murder, when the SS-Administration used as the " male head-nurse " the criminal prisoner Karl Rhote . He killed by phenol injections, partly under the direction of camp management , partly from his perverse own drive about 200 people in the prison camp . In the memoirs of survivors, the terror is still very noticeable that triggered these murders in this part of the prison camp : "When Karl comes into the room , downright panic was breaking out . All ran out of fear as fast as they could out to the doors and windows or would hide under the beds. Then we hear the sick, who's Karl's accomplices held down, with heartbreaking lamentations : ' Doctor, I'm not sick , I'm not sick ...' Yet all this is played out in a sort of full silence of others in which one feels the presence of death who chooses his victims and spread the atmosphere of a fearsome closeness . We do not dare to look to the other end of the corridor where this occurred . We stare in silence, we listen to the sounds , especially on the high-pitched hiss of Karl's belt with which he binds his victims when he swings the belt around him casually and chooses his victims ' . Pierre Petit describes Rothes murders also : ' Rothes innate sadism and his perversion increased with time to pathological greed and an unnatural blood-lust always accepted the abominable forms. At first he gave his deadly injections directly into the heart , the victim reared up , twitched a few times back and forth and then lay still . [ ... ] To the agony of the victims, to extend their agony, in order to increase his own excitement, he began to vary the method of injections . He went on to primarily to apply the phenol intravenously. In these cases, it took three to five endless minutes before the victim was finally redeemed , the body froze in a last spasm ' . [ Pierre Petit, protective custody Ling 2201 '. That was Bergen-Belsen , in Rappel . Institutions de la Ligue Luxembourgeoise of Prisonniers Deportes et Politiques , H. 11/12 (1965 ) , page 579th sic]
These particular murders came only to an end when Karl Rothe had lost the protection by the SS doctors . A detainee tribunal sentenced him to death , and Rothe was later killed at night by fellow inmates in a shanty of the prisoner's compound.
|Women survivors suffering from Typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp'.|
Only once did the SS conduct a selection in the prisoner camp with the aim of transporting 200 supposedly healthy prisoners back, as forced labourers, to where they had come from . This transport consisted about half of the prisoners from the Mittelbau-Dora. The transport leaving Bergen-Belsen by the end of March , the remaining left at the end of July 1944 for Buchenwald.
Conversely, the number of sick prisoners who were sent to Bergen-Belsen , did not decrease, and with the increase of frail and sick inmates the prison camp was gradually overcrowded . Parallel with this, Evacuation Transports from the East, which commenced by the end of 1944 with a high proportion of sick prisoners into the camp , so that the SS was eventually forced to use part of the previous Star Camp, in order to set up the Detainee Camp II , in the spring of 1945, and within a short time thousands of male prisoners were herded together, with the result that eventually from here, typhus spread right through the entire camp with devastating effect and with that, the Detainee Camp II had one of the highest death rates.
THE WOMEN'S CAMP
With the establishment of a women's camp - Historians call it 'Small Women's Camp' - (Kleines Frauenlager). In the summer of 1944 began a second phase in the process of expanding the camp's function , which in fact was a further step towards the conversion from a "Holding Camp", to a "typical" concentration camp. In early August several large tents on the southern edge of the camp were erected, then in the middle of August , two transports with a total of 4,000 women and children arrived and had been admitted . These were mainly Polish subjects, who had been arrested and deported in connection with the National Polish-Warsaw-Uprising . Most left after a few days stay at Bergen-Belsen and sent further to satellite camps or other concentration camps to be used as forced labour. In the following months the women's camp had primarily the function of a distribution centre for women that should be used in the defence industry in other camps . On 23 August 1944, the first transport of women arrived from Auschwitz , who came within the prcess of the initial evacuation program of the women's camp from Birkenau. By early November 1944 a total of about 8,000 women from Auschwitz were transferred into the women's camp of Bergen-Belsen , among them was Anne Frank and her three years older sister Margot . Both died here in March 1945. They, too were initially housed in the improvised tent camp until a heavy storm on 7 November 1944 destroyed most of the tents, so that new accommodation was required for the inmates of the women's camp, that eventually led to the use of a barracks complex at the "Small women's camp" , which had previously served as an SS clothing magazine and was located on the edge of the main camp . By the end of 1944 a total of about 13,500 women predominantly Jewish women, particularly from Poland and Hungary were deported to this part of the camp.
|KZ Bergen-Belsen Map, September 1944'|
|Women inside the Small Camp'|
"JEWS FOR SALE": THE RUDOLF KRASZTNER TRANSPORT.
·During the years that the Nazis controlled Germany and then large parts of Europe there were numerous attempts to bribe officials in order to save individuals, including large numbers of Jews. These efforts, mostly futile, are described in Yehuda Bauer's Jews for Sale? : Nazi-Jewish negotiations, 1933-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).
Small as they were, compared to the total Jewish population held by the Nazis, two efforts in 1944 were successful. More than 1,900 Jews, mostly Hungarian Jews, were delivered by train across the Swiss border. The principal negotiator for these two transports, Rudolph (Rezsö) Kasztner, remains a controversial individual, who was later murdered in Israel. On the night of March 3, 1957, Rudolph (Rezsö) Kasztner became the first Jewish victim of a Jewish political assassination in the State of Israel, murdered for determining which Hungarian Jews to save from extermination during the Holocaust. Persons interested in greater details on Kasztner may wish to read Anna Porter's Kasztner's train: the true story of Rezsö Kasztner, unknown hero of the Holocaust (2007), and examine a website devoted to Kasztner's efforts at http://www.kasztnermemorial.com. At this site, the following is written:
"He [Kastzner] was murdered for what some would consider 'playing God,' determining which Hungarian Jews to save from extermination during the Holocaust. Like Oskar Schindler, Kasztner negotiated with the Nazis to save lives. Unlike Schindler, however, Kasztner's actions and motives were questioned by Hungarian Holocaust survivors whose families were not included in the select group of Jews to be saved."
The memorial site, the purpose of which is to resuscitate Kasztner's reputation, and is thus sympathetic to him states: "The prospect of saving Hungarian Jewry through ransom, odious as it appears, proved an alluring chance at beating the final solution to Kasztner and his associates.... A number of historians have also credited Kasztner and the Vaadah with saving the remnants of the Budapest ghetto and Kasztner in particular with saving the Jews who remained alive in places like Bergen-Belsen immediately at war's end. Despite the many lives saved and the heroic efforts expended it was clear at war's end that the grand plan of saving Hungarian Jewry failed. The record of Kasztner's heroism was buried under the rubble of that failure."
Particularly interesting is the transcript of the interview by Claude Lanzmann with Hansi Brand, wife of Joel Brand, one of the members of the Relief and Rescue Committeee of Budapest (the Vaadah, or Vaadat Ezra ve'Hatzalah, generally referred to as the Vaadah, or the Committee). Hansi describes how the Hungarians thought they would escape the "Holocaust"; however, when the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, their illusions were shattered.
The Committee was established in 1943 to help Jewish refugees, particularly those from Slovakia and Poland, who had fled to Hungary to escape the Nazis. The leaders of the Committee were Rudolph (Rezsö) Kasztner, a Zionist from Cluj; Joel Brand, also from Transylvania and, in the words of Saul Friedlander, "something of an adventurer in politics" (Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, p. 621), and Otto Komoly, an engineer from Budapest. Around March/April 1944 the focus changed to negotiations with Eichmann for the exchange of Hungarian persons for military trucks. Eichmann told Brand that 10,000 Jews could be saved for every truck delivered to the Germans. The final proposal was the exchange of 800,000 Hungarian lives for 10,000 trucks. Brand was to be allowed to go to Istanbul to raise the funds along with Bandi Grosz, another Hungarian Jew. On May 19, 1944 Brand met with the Yishuv (Jewish community in Mandate Palestine) representatives in Istanbul. The intricate details of the meetings of all parties-in Turkey, Palestine, and Syria -- are described by both Brand and Friedlander. Hansi and her children remained in Hungary, as hostages one presumes; but Hansi describes her meeting with Eichmann, which surprises Lanzmann. Brand's mission ultimately was not successful.
Hansi brought Kasztner to meet Eichmann, which began the negotiations to bring the Jews from the provinces -- including Cluj -- to Budapest. "She says that Eichmann told her husband that he should hurry on his mission to Istanbul, because 12,000 Jews per day were taken to Auschwitz. Lanzmann questions Hansi Brand about the highly controversial rescue mission, the Kasztner Train (Lanzmann does not use this term), especially about the "privileged" nature of the transport and the 388 passengers from Cluj, Kasztner's home town."
"Lanzmann says that Kasztner is sometimes criticized for not warning the Jews in Cluj, for example, about what would happen to them in Auschwitz. Hansi Brand says that is the most evil lie and gives examples of Jewish leaders from Cluj (she uses the German name of the town, Klausenburg) who knew quite well what Auschwitz meant. Lanzmann says that some people from Cluj who survived Auschwitz later complained that they were not told what it meant to be sent to the camp. Hansi Brand says that many people did not want to know that the Jews were being exterminated. She finds it impossible that anyone could not know by 1944 what was happening in German-occupied areas. She talks about the postwar Kasztner trial, in which Judge Benjamin Halevi believed the witnesses against Kasztner. They continue to talk about how much information was or should have been given to the Jews of Cluj."
A timeline of events is available at http://www.kasztnermemorial.com/apr44.html. A small part is excerpted below.
April 5, 1944: Rezsö Kasztner and Joel Brand meet for the first time with Wisliceny and members of the SS. Wisliceny demanded $2 million dollars to implement in Hungary what was known as the "Europa Plan" - a suspension of deportations to concentration camps.
April, 1944: The first installment of 3 million Pengos (Hungarian currency equalling about $92,000) is delivered by Kasztner to close associates of Adolph Eichmann.
April 21, 1944: Kasztner delivers the balance of the $200,000 demanded as downpayment on the "Europa Plan."
An offer is presented to allow the 600 holders of Palestine immigration certificates to leave Hungary and to permit an additional 100 to leave with them if Kasztner can provide a per capita payment of 100,000 Pengos (about $3,000 a head).
April 25, 1944: Eichmann enters the negotiation process, inviting Joel Brand to be with him. Eichmann offers to "sell" one million Jews in exchange for certain goods to be obtained outside of Hungary.
200 tons of tea
800 tons of coffee
2 million cases of soap
unspecified amount of tungsten
May 15, 1944: Mass deportations of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps begin.
May 27, 1944: Kasztner, his wife, Hansi Brand, Sholem Offenbach, treasurer of the Vaada, and his wife were arrested by the Hungarian police. Hansi Brand was beaten so savagely that she could not stand for a week. Six days after their arrest, the group was freed through the intervention of the SS.
June 10, 1944: 388 Jews (out of 18,000 in the Kolozsvar ghetto) were brought to Budapest on a special train and placed in a "privileged camp" built in the courtyard of the Wechselmann Institute for the Deaf on Columbus Street.
June 30, 1944: The Kasztner transport (1,685 persons) leaves Budapest.
July 8, 1944: The Kasztner transport arrives in Bergen Belsen.
July 18, 1944: Hungarian gendarmerie units arrest Kasztner and keep him incommunicado for nine days.
August 21, 1944: First meeting between Saly Mayer, Swiss representative of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Switzerland, Kasztner, and Kurt Becher on a bridge linking Switzerland and Austria.The first 318 Jews are released from Bergen Belsen and transported to Switzerland.
December 7, 1944: The second group of the Kasztner transport, consisting of 1,368 Jews, arrives in Switzerland.
In the Kasztner Report, Lanzmann feels that Kasztner seems to express some guilt. There has been the accusation that Kasztner "saved certain people from Cluj (his own family and Zionists)." Lanzmann asks Brand to explain how people were chosen for the transport to Bergen-Belsen (the so-called Kasztner Train rescue mission). "She says that the types of people chosen varied greatly but included the most endangered refugees, Zionists, Jewish intellectuals, orphans, and rich people, whose wealth helped pay the $1,000 per-person ransom demanded by the Germans." Lanzmann asks Hansi why she thinks her husband's mission to Istanbul did not succeed and she replies "that the English did not want to help the Jews because they did not want to deal with the problem of Palestine. She says further that the Jews in Palestine were not informed as to what was happening. She ends the interview by defending her husband against historians who say that he did not return to Budapest out of fear for himself (Joel Brand was arrested by the British in Aleppo and eventually ended up in Palestine)."
Leora Bilsky, in "Judging Evil: New Departures in Israeli Legal History," quotes the judge in the trial of Kasznter:
"The judge [. . .] derived from this contract the main explanation for Kastner's subsequent betrayal of his people: The benefit that K. gained from the contract with the Nazis was the rescue of the "camp of prominent Jews" and the price that he had to pay for this was a complete surrender of any attempts at real rescue steps benefiting the "camp of the people." The price the Nazis paid for this was to waive the extermination of the "camp of prominents." With this contract to save the prominent Jews, the head of the Aid and Rescue Committee made a "concession" with the exterminator: in return for the rescue of the prominent Jews K. agreed to the extermination of the people and abandoned them to their fate."
CONTINUED UNDER PART 3