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  • 31 January 2008

Belsen survivor's book tells story of Jewish Schindler


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The controversial story of Rezsö Kasztner, who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews by striking deals with their Nazi captors, is the subject of a new book by one of the people he rescued - University of Sussex Professor Ladislaus Löb.

Professor Löb, an emeritus Professor of German, was 11 when the Nazis invaded his native Hungary in 1944 and began rounding up Jews and deporting them to the concentration camps. Seven months after his birthday he was rescued from the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and taken to Switzerland.

He eventually arrived in Britain and became an academic at the University of Sussex in 1963, where he earned a reputation as a literary scholar, translating the acclaimed Holocaust memoir Nine Suitcases by Béla Zsolt. His latest book - Dealing With Satan: Rezsö Kasztner's Daring Rescue Mission - offers the first full account of Kasztner's enterprise and the experiences of those he rescued from Bergen-Belsen.

Hungarian Jew and political activist Rezsö Kasztner formed the idea to strike life-saving bargains when he realised the enormity of the threat to European Jews under the Nazis. He played a dangerous game, relying on the greed and rivalry of leading members of the SS and persuading them to trade Jewish lives for cash or the prospect of lenient treatment after the war. The notoriety of this scheme - seen by some as collaboration of the worst kind - led to a spectacular trial and Kasztner's murder by Jewish extremists in Israel in 1957. His reputation as a Jewish hero of the Holocaust continues to court controversy.

Professor Löb says: "Kasztner was neither a knight in shining armour nor a traitor. Arrogant and devious, but uniquely resourceful and brave, he was precisely the kind of person needed to deal with some of the most evil men in the world. For a Jew to stand up to the SS and to save as many other Jews as Kasztner did (in fact many more than Schindler, whose task was made easier by his not being a Jew) was an astonishing achievement."

Professor Löb adds: "I never met Kasztner personally, but I heard a lot about him and believed that if anybody could save us it was him."

The book is also Professor Löb's personal account of anti-Semitism in Hungary and his father's bold gambles to keep them both one step ahead of the persecution following the Nazi invasion of Hungary in 1944. It was a journey that took them from a ghetto in Transylvania to a hideout in Budapest, Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and finally to freedom in Switzerland.

Professor Löb and his father - penniless and on the run - managed to join a group including prominent and wealthy Jews who could afford to pay the required ransom organised by Kasztner. By bluffing, defying and bribing SS bosses, not least the architect of the Final Solution Adolf Eichmann, Kasztner rescued almost 1,700 men, women and children from Bergen-Belsen and helped thousands of others escape the fate of six million fellow Jews in the Nazi extermination camps.

As well as Kasztner's negotiations with the SS and his tragic end in Israel, the book recounts the journey of the 1,700 to Bergen-Belsen and the five months Professor Löb spent there before the group was released to Switzerland. Originally intended to serve as a transit camp, Bergen-Belsen is remembered for the horrors its inmates had to endure. Thousands died from starvation and disease in the closing stages of World War II. Its most famous captive, Anne Frank, was Professor Löb's neighbour there.

Professor Löb lives in Brighton and is also a Summer School Director at the University of Sussex.

Notes for editors

  • Dealing With Satan: Rezsö Kasztner's Daring Rescue Mission is published by Jonathan Cape on 14 February 2008 ISBN 9780224077927. For review copies, images and interview requests, please contact Zoe Hood at Jonathan Cape. Tel: 020 7840 8563 or email zhood@randomhouse.co.uk
  • Professor Laci Löb will be talking about his book at a special launch at the London Jewish Cultural Centre on Wednesday 5 March at 8pm. For details see: book_launch He is also due to appear at the London Jewish Book Week on 27 February, along with Rezso Kasztner's daughter Zsuzi, and at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Other events are being planned.

 

University of Sussex Press Office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email press@sussex.ac.uk

 

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