A Slice of Life Killing Kasztner, Channel 8, 21:05
There are few stories that contain an historic mystery, a courtroom drama, a political murder, and a family saga. In the complex story of Dr. Israel Kasztner, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that channel 8 chose to dedicate a two hour film to him, on the eve of Holocaust memorial day, is a statement in itself. Traditionally, this evening is dedicated to the personal stories of the survivors. Each of them has a story, and all incite strong feelings: pity, pain, sadness, amazement. One thing they do not raise: discussion. The film about Kasztner does just that, and thus takes the viewer through a different experience, of the sort that raises questions of values and moral dilemmas.
Gaylen Ross, a Jewish documentary film director with a respected record, including an Emmy win, provides this alternative view of a painful wound of the Jewish people. She came to Israel and chose to follow two key subjects: Zsuzsi, Kasztner's daughter, and Zev Eckstein, his murderer. One of the climaxes of the film is at a charged meeting between them. Ross weaves a plot around a search for answers. The questions are known to everyone, but were suppressed in the Israeli convention for a long time: Who was Dr. Kasztner really? A traitor who "sold his soul to the devil", or a hero worthy of global fame? "A scapegoat", as is proclaimed by one interviewee in the film, or the man who chose to "play God" and seal fates for life and death?
As in the courtroom, the director brought forth witnesses from both sides, and created a case for Kasztner, but instead of cementing his sentence, she allows the viewers to judge for themselves. With the perspective of a foreigner, Ross begins her journey in awe of the work of this rescuer of Jews - the man who negotiated with Eichmann and saved over 1,600 Hungarian Jews who were supposed to be shipped off to Auschwitz. Zsuzsi's family members, especially her daughter Merav Michaeli, showed Ross the neglects, the sacrifice, and the repression they suffered. "It never happened", complains Michaeli about the building of the Israeli narrative, claiming that history rid itself of Kasztner to make room for other heroes. Ross did not skimp, and brought forth the opposition: in addition to Eckstein, the assassin who killed the man that many saw as a traitor deserving of death for collaborating with the Nazis, Ross collected supporting testimony from Uri Avneri and the son of the attorney Shmuel Tamir. She also did not leave out the survivors themselves, thankful and appreciative, and also some completely apathetic. A picture began to emerge, but question marks remained hanging.
It takes a skilled hand to deal with this colossal drama, and Ross succeeds in connecting all the different parts with sensitivity, while not forgetting the decisive influence of the libel trial (which became the Kasztner trial) on the young country. "We couldn't even have imagined it. Who could imagine such a thing?" Avneri confessed about the feelings that emerged among those who first learned of the horrors of the Holocaust through the trial. But there is no end to this film, nor for the affair. The hurt still lives in the hearts of the Kasztner family. They are still waiting for their "happy ending", for total vindication. Kasztner was labeled a collaborator after his death. At the same time, more black stains are exposed from his past. The man was and remains an unsolved riddle. A sharp intellectual, a heart-breaker, brave or a show-off. It is difficult to think of another character such as Kasztner - in or out of the theater.