The True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust
By Anna Porter
The true, heart-wrenching tale of Hungary’s own Oskar Schindler, a lawyer and journalist named Rezso Kasztner who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during the last chaotic days of World War II — and the ultimate price he paid.
In summer 1944, Rezso Kasztner met with Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, in Budapest. With the Final Solution at its terrible apex and tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews being sent to Auschwitz every month, the two men agreed to allow 1,684 Jews to leave for Switzerland by train. In other manoeuvrings Kastzner may have saved another 40,000 Jews already in the camps. Kasztner was later judged for having “sold his soul to the devil.” Prior to being exonerated, he was murdered in Israel in 1957.
Part political thriller, part love story and part legal drama, Porter’s account explores the nature of Kasztner — the hero, the cool politician, the proud Zionist, the romantic lover, the man who believed that promises, even to diehard Nazis, had to be kept. The deals he made raise questions about moral choices that continue to haunt the world today.
Praise for Kasztner’s Train
Winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award for History and the Nereus Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction.
“Kasztner’s Train takes us to the magnificently researched and re-constructed world of Hungary during the twin Fascist terrors of the Arrow Cross and the SS… It will become a classic of the times it deals with.”
— Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark
“Anna Porter’s book on the genocide in Hungary’s Jewish communities is the best book on the Holocaust by a Gentile ever written and rivals Prof. Michael Maruss’ holocaust work on the subject. Anna Porter is an absolute marvel as a historian of the Nazis and the Jews in Hungary. Her book gives you the smell of death of Adolf Eichmann.”
— National Post, December 2, 2008
“It’s a fascinating story about a Hungarian Jew who had the chutzpah to bargain with the Nazis. As Porter sees it, ‘If you’re in hell, who do you negotiate with but the Devil?’”
— Globe and Mail, May 30, 2008
“There is no doubt a great injustice had been done to Kasztner, and in this fascinating but very readable Holocaust history, Porter manages to rectify it.”
— Canadian Jewish News
“Kasztner’s Train is an extremely hard book to read? but the trouble lies in the harrowing contents. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to read it and remind ourselves of the limitlessness of human brutality. Perhaps in our outrage we can begin to act upon our shared humanity, not on arbitrary differences.”
— Vancouver Sun
“[Porter] tracked down scores of people in Hungary, Israel, Canada and the US who remember Kasztner. One of them is Toronto gold miner Peter Munk, who was a teen on Kasztner’s train — his story inspired Porter to cut through thickets of conflicting and contentious testimony to produce a gripping work of popular history.”
— Toronto Star
“Glowing chronicle of an unheralded, Schindler-esque figure who saved Hungarian-Jewish lives during World War II. A compelling narrative that does great justice to Kasztner’s memory.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“This is the remarkable, largely unknown story of a man who probably saved more Jews during the Holocaust than Oskar Schindler. An extraordinary Hungarian Jew, Rezso Kasztner, gave up everything — including his reputation, and ultimately his life — trying to rescue Jews from the blood-crazed Nazis and Hungarian fascists. This is a gutsy book, passionately written and brilliantly researched. It is a historical knock-out, a real tour-de-force. Anna Porter has resurrected Reszo Kasztner from the dustbin of history and restored him to the hero he was.”
— Irving Abella, Shiff Professor of Canadian Jewish History at York and co-author of None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948
“Driven by a determination to save human lives, the daring deal-making of Rezsö Kasztner shattered all the rules in Nazi-occupied Europe and drove through excruciating dilemmas faced by Jewish leaders during the Holocaust. In the end, as Anna Porter contends, Kasztner accomplished ‘more than any other individual in Nazi-occupied Europe.’ The remarkable achievement of Kasztner’s Train is to bring this story to life — a tale of breathtaking chutzpa, the gravest personal risk, dark intrigue, human frailty and devastating clashes of personality. Animated by her understanding of the Hungarian context, Anna Porter not only brings this story to life, but relays it, as was said of the Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, with impeccable moral taste.”
— Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose, and Ray Wolfe, Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto
“Kasztner’s Train is Schindler’s List-plus. Brilliant read. Brilliant history. Brilliant Porter.”
— George Jonas
“The unknown hero of the title is Rezso Kasztner, a member of the Jewish Rescue Committee in Hungary during World War II. He was able to negotiate a deal with the Nazis, which resulted in Kasztner’s Train — a train that transported 1,684 Hungarian Jews out of Nazi-controlled Hungary to safety in Switzerland in July 1944. The wealthy Jews of Budapest paid an average of $1,500 for each family member; the poor paid nothing. Kasztner also was able to save 20,000 Hungarian Jews by having them sent to an Austrian labor camp instead of extermination camps. Kasztner moved to Israel after the war, and in 1954 he was accused of being a Nazi collaborator. Kasztner claimed that his dealing with the Nazi officials, including Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann, were necessary to save lives. In 1957, he was assassinated by right-wing activists in Tel Aviv. Porter interviewed 75 people and had access to diaries, notes, taped interviews, memoirs, and courtroom testimonies; her book, with three maps and a 16-page black-and-white insert, offers the most complete, fully documented account of this Holocaust story.”
— George Cohen, Booklist
Anna Porter on a Hungarian pariah, CBC News, September 21, 2006
Douglas & McIntyre, 2007
Walkerbooks, Constable, Scribe, 2008
Also published in Hungary by M-Ertek, and in Poland by Cyklady, 2009