David P. Boder Interviews Arthur Breslauer; August 28, 1946; Genève, Switzerland



Arthur Breslauer, the Hungarian-born 54-year-old subject of this interview, was, along with his family, on the famous but controversial transport of Hungarian Jews organized by Rezso Rudolf Katszner. Kasztner was a Hungarian journalist, lawyer and Zionist leader who in early 1943 became a key figure in the Zionist movement's Relief and Rescue and Committee of Budapest headed by Otto Komoly. The committee engaged in relief efforts and in smuggling Jewish refugees from Poland and Slovakia into Hungary. Hungary was originally an ally of Nazi Germany but until March 19, 1944 (when it was occupied by the Germans) its Jewish community was untouched by the Nazi's "Final Solution." Until the occupation, though burdened by several anti-Jewish measures, the Breslauers and other Hungarian Jews could live a fairly normal existence.

Following the German occupation, Kasztner and leading fellow Zionists such as Joel Brand felt that most fruitful avenue for Jewish rescue lay in direct negotiations with the enemy. Brand was sent by the Germans to Istanbul in neutral Turkey to establish contact with Jewish leaders abroad and secure their support for a plan to release large numbers of Jews from German-occupied territories in return for trucks and other materials that would be given to war-ravaged Germany—the so-called "Blood for Goods" proposal. The goods would be shipped to Germany from neutral countries, and international Jewish bodies would play a role in financing the agreement. However, the "Blood for Goods" deal never came to fruition due to opposition by the Allied governments.

Kasztner's rescue negotiations were aided by the willingness of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, to make a concessionary gesture in view of Germany's deteriorating war situation. The result was the selection of 1,686 Jews for the transport described by Breslauer. Among the Jews on the Kasztner transport were Kasztner's family and friends, wealthy people (such as the Breslauers) who helped to finance the operation and others such as Joel Teitelbaum, the ultra-Orthodox Satmer Rebbe. They were first interned in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but Kasztner's unceasing efforts to arrange financing by international Jewish organizations led to the Germans' transfer of the internees to neutral Switzerland. The first group of 318, of which Breslauer and his family were a part, left Bergen-Belsen for Switzerland on August 18, 1944. The second group of 1,368 left for Switzerland on December 6, 1944.

After the war, Kasztner was accused by some of traitorous dealings with the enemy, saving his own family and friends at the expense of others, favoring wealthy Jews at the expense of ordinary Jews, and not doing enough to warn Hungarian Jewry about Nazi genocide. His defenders countered that given conditions at the time in Hungary, negotiations with the Nazis were the only way to save Jews, Kasztner's efforts to save his family and friends were only natural, the financing by wealthy Jews was crucial for the success of the rescue effort which also saved less wealthy Jews, and that Kasztner's committee had tried to warn Hungarian Jews about the Holocaust, but most Hungarian Jews did not take the information seriously because it was "beyond belief." Kasztner settled in Israel after the war, but accusations against him led to a trial resulting in a judgment that he had "sold his soul to Satan." The Israel Supreme Court overturned the judgment against Kasztner, but on March 3, 1957, he was shot on the street in Tel Aviv by nationalist extremists and died nine days later. He continues to be the subject of controversy.

Breslauer's story illustrates that those saved by the Kasztner transport still had to endure suffering and loss and the challenge of rebuilding their shattered lives after the war. The beloved elder daughter of the Breslauers died of pneumonia in Bergen-Belsen. After the war, though in later middle age, Breslauer, who had worked for 35 years as a stock broker leading a comfortable upper middle class existence, was being trained in embroidery. His wife, who had been a high school mathematics instructor, was also learning a new trade. They and their remaining daughter were preparing to begin life anew in any country which would allow them entry.

—Elliot Lefkovitz