Kastner Is Found Not Guilty

January 15, 1958

Dr. Israel (Rudolf) Kastner, who had been accused of collaborating with the Nazis in the murder of Hungarian Jewry is cleared of any wrongdoing by Israel’s Supreme Court.  Kastner was born in Romania in 1906, and after studying law became a correspondent for a Hungarian language Zionist newspaper.  In 1942 after his native Transylvania was annexed by Hungary, he moved to Budapest and eventually became the leader of the Zionist movement in Hungary.

After the Nazi occupation of Hungary in 1944, Kastner became the head of the Judenrat (Jewish Council).  Together with Yoel Brand, Kastner negotiated with the Germans to ransom the lives of  Hungarian Jews.  Through these negotiations, Kastner arranged for nearly 1,700 Jews to be sent to Switzerland.  Despite the fact that these Jews eventually made it to Switzerland, they spent nearly six months in Bergen-Belsen.  Almost all of them survived the war.  Although Nazi deportations of Hungarian Jews to death camps continued at a rate of nearly 12,000 a day in 1944, Kastner was successful in saving an estimated  33,000 Hungarian Jews.

Following the war, Kastner immigrated to Israel and was given a position by Mapai leaders in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In 1952, Malchiel Gruenwald, a 70 year old Hungarian Jew who was living in Jerusalem, published a pamphlet accusing Kastner of collaborating with the Nazis after spotting him in the street.  Since Kastner was a government official, Gruenwald was put on trial for libel.  The trial (The photo shows Kastner testifying at the trial) quickly turned into an attack on Kastner for collaborating with the Nazis and concealing information about the Final Solution for the Jews of Hungary.  The Jerusalem District Court found that Gruenwald’s accusations had merit, especially the accusation that Kastner had helped to exonerate a Nazi official in the Nuremberg trials by providing testimony on his behalf.   In June 1955 the Judge Benjamin Halevi found Gruenwald innocent of three charges of libel and guilty of one charge for which he was fined one shekel.  In the verdict, he accused Kastner of selling “his soul to the devil.”  The decision eventually led to a no confidence motion in the Knesset and resignation of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, who was then replaced by David Ben-Gurion as party leader for the July 1955 elections.

On March 4, 1957 during Kastner’s appeal he was shot by two veterans of LEHI, Dan Shemer and Zeev Eckstein.  The 1955 judgement was overturned by a  majority of 3 to 2. Chief Justice Shimon Agranat declared that, “Dr. Kastner never wanted to annihilate the Jews, the opposite is true.” Kastner’s granddaughter Merav Michaeli was elected to the Knesset in January 2013 from the Labor Party.