Monday, October 15, 2007

The Kastner Trial

I'm in the middle of watching the TV dramatization of the trial and story of Rudolf Kastner. This is an attempted recreation of a trial that shook Israel in 1954 and exposed the weaknesses of Ben-Gurion's ability to deal with the subject of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors in Israel. Much has been written yet the fog of that "grey zone" has hardly been cleared away. The more I read the drearier becomes that benighted time for the Jewish people. The TV drama manages to touch upon the many aspects of this sliver of history, provoking not emotion but thought.

It's kind of ironic how the evil of the Nazis, because it is so ungraspable by the standards of our own ethical rules, is simply shunted aside. Whatever evil is discussed and scrutinized, if evil it be, is that of harm, arrogance, lust, greed, power, pity, family, the stuff of human fallibility that the human mind can actually understand, relate to.

One of the most chilling testimonies in the trial was that of Joel Brand, which demonstrated the ineffectual fumbling attempts by the Jewish Hungarian Leadership to help save some Jews in 1944, the impotence of the Jewish Agency when it came to mobilizing the British and American powers to intervene in any way on behalf of the doomed Jews, and the shrunken moral universe which the Nazis erected around the Jews where moral choices were shaven to their bare bones:

Brand later testified that Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in the Middle East and a close friend of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was present during one of the interrogations and is alleged to have said: "What can I do with this million Jews? Where can I put them?" Lord Moyne was assassinated in Cairo a few months later on November 6, 1944 by Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim of the Lehi (Stern Gang). Ben Hecht writes that Ehud Avriel, the Jewish Agency official who had accompanied Brand to Aleppo and had assured him the British would not arrest him, insisted that it was not Lord Moyne who had said this, and asked Brand not to repeat Moyne's name in Brand's autobiography, Advocate for the Dead. However, Brand repeated under oath during Eichmann's trial that it was Lord Moyne who had said it.

Lord Moyne's feeble dismissal of one million Jews echoes Canada's pre-war policy of refusing to accept any Jewish refugees from Europe: "none is too many". Except that in Canada's case, the more charitable might attribute this indifference to disbelief that actual harm may befall the European Jews. Moyne's retort comes in 1944, when reports of the mass extermination of the Jews have already filtered through and spread into public awareness. It's frightening how the obvious answer to that question was not readily available to Moyne's mind.

The fact is, it was the kind of war which left decent people bereft of any of the usual tools we use to maintain our decency. No options were there that could be taken without harming other human beings, in some other way. Impossible, actually, for any mind to contain the magnitude of the evil that ruled this planet during those years. We speak and can comprehend a chain of compassion. We cannot understand the depths of that malevolence which created a chain of damages, of snowballing human debasement.

I only watched half the series. I'll watch the rest of it next Friday.


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