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Killing Kasztner

When American filmmaker and videographer Gaylen Ross asked people she encountered two years ago on Tel Aviv streets who Israel Kasztner was, most either didn’t know or had an inaccurate memory of his identity. Yet, in the 1950s and into the 1960s, Kasztner was the focus of intense controversy in Israel, the complainant in a notorious, tabloid-touted libel trial, and the eventual subject of a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court. By the time of that decision, Kasztner was dead, however. He was assassinated on March 3, 1957, and his convicted killer, Ze’ev Eckstein, is a major participant in Ross’ documentary, Killing Kasztner.

Kasztner was a Hungarian Jew and a lawyer who, after desperate negotiations with the reviled SS officer Adolf Eichmann, arranged for the rescue of more than 1,600 Hungarian Jews from the jaws of the Nazis’ extermination program. It was the largest rescue of Jews by a Jew during the Second World War. For his pains, Kasztner became almost as reviled as Eichmann by many Israelis, particularly by right-wing elements.

Ross patiently tries to explain the roots of this hateful reaction and the long exclusion from popular history of this unusual man. Her fascinating movie offers more than a portrait of Kasztner. It provides important insights into today’s Israel and its political and cultural strife over national identity.

george sax

Watch the trailer for Killing Kasztner

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