Rifka Glatz quotes a Talmudic teaching when she reflects on Dr. Rezsö Kasztner: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”
Glatz thinks it’s a fitting description of the man who arranged to transport his fellow Hungarian Jews to safety by negotiating with the Nazis.
But she also quotes an English idiom, one that reflects the way that the history books have portrayed Kasztner: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
To Glatz, a Longboat Key resident, the truth about Kasztner boils down to this: “I can thank my life to him,” she says.
A 2009 documentary, “Killing Kasztner,” produced by Gaylen Ross, addresses Kasztner’s actions during World War II, subsequent libel trial in Israel and assassination in 1957. When the documentary is screened Sunday, Nov. 21, at Temple Beth Israel, Glatz plans to be there to answer questions afterward.
As one of the 1,684 Jews rescued on “Kasztner’s train,” the 73-year-old Hungary native thinks it’s important that he is remembered, not as a traitor, but for his role in saving Jews.
“To me, it’s important that people know what an individual he was,” Glatz says. “In my mind, he was one of the heroes of the Holocaust.”
Glatz was approximately 6 years old when she was forced to wear a Jewish star displayed prominently on her clothing. Although the Nazis had not yet invaded Hungary, anti-Semitism was growing. Glatz’s
brother, Haim, who was seven-and-a-half years older than Glatz, became extra cautious when he went to and from the Jewish gymnasium he used.
In 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, and SS officer Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of exterminating the country’s more than 800,000 Jews. Many able-bodied men, including Glatz’s father, Wilmos Moskovitz, were taken to forced-labor camps. The family later learned that he was murdered there.
During that time, Glatz remembers the sense of panic, the look of worry in her mother’s face.
“I remember the fear that a child senses,” Glatz says.
Hearing that Jews were being taken to concentration camps, Glatz’s mother, Irena Moskovitz, prepared knapsacks for both children containing a change of clothes, soap and basic utensils.
But in 1944, Kasztner attempted to arrange a deal with Eichmann in which 1.5 million Jews would be transported to safety in neutral Switzerland in exchange for money and trucks, under the guise that the deal would give the Germans needed support while showing the world that the rumors that Jews were being slaughtered were untrue. In the end, 1,684 Jews boarded Kasztner’s train. Glatz, her mother and brother, along with several extended family members, boarded that train.
Kasztner didn’t create the list of 1,684, although 19 of his family members and 380 people from his hometown of Kolozsvár were allowed aboard the train. The rest consisted mostly of women, children and the elderly, because most men, like Glatz’s father, had already been put in concentration camps. Kasztner, himself, was not aboard the train. Instead, he stayed behind to negotiate further.
The Jews on the train expected to go directly to Switzerland; instead, Eichmann diverted the train to the rat-infested Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in Germany.
“They showered us and everyone screamed,” Glatz said. “We had heard stories about people who went in the showers and never came out.”
That shower turned out to be a regular shower. But for five months, the group lived, hundreds to a barrack, in that concentration camp. Eventually, through negotiations, the passengers were taken to Switzerland, which Glatz compares to being “lifted up into paradise.” After the war ended in 1945, Glatz’s family immigrated to Israel.
Glatz never met Kasztner, who moved in 1947 to Israel, but she grew up with a sense of him. He was a hero for having saved her family. But the Israeli public vilified him. A pamphlet circulated by Malchiel Gruenwald labeled Kasztner as a traitor for collaborating with Nazis. He was later accused of not warning his fellow Jews about the gas chamber in order to save other Jews. After a two-year libel trial that began in 1953, a judge in Israel said that Kasztner had sold his soul to the devil.
“The sad part is that during the trial, they wouldn’t allow witnesses he had saved to testify,” Glatz said.
Because she was just 7 when Kasztner saved her family, Glatz would have probably been too young to testify. But many survivors wanted the opportunity to speak on Kasztner’s behalf.
The verdict divided the young state of Israel, and in 1957, Kasztner was assassinated. In 1958, the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court of Israel, which ruled that Kasztner had saved as many Jews as he could.
Glatz says she has never dwelled on being a Holocaust survivor; instead, she has chosen to focus on the beauty of life. Glatz and her husband, Simon, immigrated in 1958 to the U.S.
Last summer, when Glatz and her husband were in Maryland, she learned that “Killing Kasztner” would be screened in Virginia. She contacted the organizers of the event, who arranged for her to attend with fellow survivor Emanuel Mandel, whom Glatz later learned was in the same barrack that she was. Glatz and Mandel were two members of a panel who spoke about the movie. Glatz saw it as an opportunity to preserve the name of the man who saved her family.
An audience member asked Glatz and Mandel if they felt guilty for surviving — both answered a definitive “no.”
About every three years, Glatz reunites with fellow Holocaust survivors in Israel. Although they occasionally talk about the concentration camps, the discussions are usually happy, focused on family. In March, the Glatzes traveled to Israel to celebrate her brother’s 80th birthday.
“I’m not ashamed that I survived,” Glatz says. “I am happy that I am here to tell the tale.
“This,” she says, “is our answer to Hitler.”
If You Go
‘Killing Kasztner’ screening
When: 5 p.m. Nov. 21 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Temple Beth Israel, 567 Bay Isles Road
Cost: Free for temple members; $10 for non-members
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].