Film examines life of Jew who dealt with Nazis

January 9, 2010 5:52:56 PM PST
"Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt with Nazis" opened January 8th at Chicago's Music Box Theatre.(News Release) True stories rarely contain a historic mystery, a courtroom drama, a political murder, and a family saga, but all can be found in the contentious story of Rezso Kasztner. In Nazi occupied Hungary, Kasztner, a Jew, dared to negotiate face to face with the architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann. While the Nazi killing machine was at its peak- 12,000 a day were dying in Auschwitz -- Kasztner secured a rescue train for 1,684 Jews from Budapest, and bargained for tens of thousands of more lives. Yet, he was accused of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of other Jews for withholding crucial information about the Auschwitz death camp.

After receiving critical acclaim at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at the 2009 Boston Jewish Film Festival, an unprecedented theatrical release in Israel to sold out houses, and a seven week run in New York, American director Gaylen Ross's Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis now poses the question to Chicago audiences: Was Rezso Kasztner a heroic rescuer of Jews or a villain colluding with the Nazis? Through accounts of the inflammatory political trial, startling revelations after 50 years by Kasztner's assassin, Ze'ev Eckstein, and a chilling meeting between the killer and Kasztner's daughter, Zsuzsi, audiences finally can decide the legacy of this forgotten man.

"The Kasztner story is like the greatest of Greek or Shakespearian tragedies and like all tragedies, its appeal is universal and timeless. This was a drama of passion on both sides," says Ross, who spent eight years filming. "Whether one believes Kasztner acted in the right or the wrong, the accounts in the film show that history should not erase him. Thousands of Jews survived because of his rescue efforts -- even more than Schindler -- and time is running out for the few remaining to share their incredible stories. Their voices need to be heard."

During the last days of the war, Kasztner rode in a limousine with an SS Colonel to halt liquidations in the Theriesenstadt and Mauthausen death camps, credited by some as saving tens of thousands of more lives. Actions like these led Kasztner to first be considered a hero. Then the accusations came that he was instead a traitor. He was called a collaborator in his adopted homeland of Israel, in a libel case that ripped apart the nation and branded him the "Man who Sold his Soul to the Devil"-- leaving Kasztner to only claim a place in infamy. In 1957 he was gunned down at the doorstep of his Tel Aviv home by a right-wing extremist Jew.

One year later the Kasztner verdict was overturned by an appeals court, but it didn't matter. With Kasztner's legacy seemingly sealed, his daughter Zsuzsi grew up isolated and despised for her father's alleged crimes. In the world's disavowal of the man, she cries, "They murder him over and over again."

Intensely emotional for those still living it -- part real time investigation, part historical journey -- the filmmaker unearths the Kasztner story and its ramifications for his family and his country, exploring the very nature of history itself: who writes it, how it is remembered, and what is at stake for the present, and future?

After receiving the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at the 2009 Boston Jewish Film Festival and critical acclaim at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and the Haifa International Film Festival, Killing Kasztner opens at the Music Box Theatre January 8, 2010, located at 3733 N. Southport Ave. Contact (773) 871-6604 for show times.

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