The postwar situation of Kasztner put him at the center of a storm. After the war Kasztner settled in Israel and was given a government post, becoming active in the *Mapai Party. He edited Mapai's Hungarian-language weekly A Jövó and subsequently rejoined the editorial staff of Uj Kelet, reestablished in Tel Aviv in 1948. In 1953, an old Jew Malkiel Gruenwald of Jerusalem published a mimeographed leaflet in which he accused Kasztner of having collaborated with the German Nazis thereby hastening the destruction of Hungarian Jewry. He also alleged that at the Nuremberg trial of Kurt Becher, an SS officer, Kasztner had testified on his behalf and thereby helped in acquitting a war criminal. In view of the fact that the person being slandered was a government official, the Israel attorney general issued a writ of indictment against Gruenwald. The trial was a media sensation. A brilliant young right-wing attorney, Shmuel *Tamir, turned the defense of Gruenwald into an indictment of Kasztner and in turn of the Israeli government and the Zionist movement.
On June 22, 1955, the judge, Benjamin Halevy, who later was one of the judges at the Eichmann trial, gave his decision in the case, in which he accepted most of Gruenwald's accusations and in a sharply worded judgment accused Kasztner of "selling his soul to Satan." Halevy said that only the accusation that Kasztner has personally profited remained unproven and thus found for the plaintiff but awarded him a pittance. The Israel Cabinet instructed the attorney general to lodge an appeal, a decision which caused a cabinet crisis when the *General Zionists refused to support the government on a non-confidence motion. The Kasztner case thus became a major issue in the election campaign of 1955. The appeal, however, was submitted and on Jan. 17, 1958, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision, finding Gruenwald guilty on most points of the slander charge and thereby clearing Kasztner's name. Kasztner himself was no longer alive; on March 3, 1957, a young man from Tel Aviv, Ze'ev Eckstein, influenced by the political atmosphere created by the lower court's verdict, shot Kasztner in the street. He succumbed nine days later. The story of Kasztner served as the model for a novel by Robert St. John, The Man who Played God (1962). It is a featured part of both right-wing and post-Zionist critiques of Zionist activities during the Holocaust.
The accusations against Kasztner include the argument that he should have informed Hungarian Jews of the "Final Solution." He had been privy to the Vr'ba-Wetzler report and "knew" that Jews were being killed in massive numbers. Hungarian Jews should have been warned of their fate, that he had favored privileged rather than ordinary Jews in his rescue efforts, and that he saved his own family at the expense of others. His negotiations with the Germans were by their very nature unequal; they had power, he did not. They could open the gates; he could not, at least not without their approval. So his situation was compromised from the start. Kasztner defenders argue on his behalf that information about the "Final Solution" was available to Hungarian Jews from many sources, but such information was not accepted as credible and therefore could not serve as a basis for action. Furthermore, the support of wealthy Jews was essential to financing the rescue operation. Without their participation for humanitarian or self-interested reasons no possible rescue could have been achieved, and the rescue of his family was quite natural. Even in death, the controversy endures. It remains the subject of books, journalistic pieces, and even television shows and films. Kasztner remains a useful target for those who wish to attack the Zionist establishment of the Yishuv and the early years of statehood, and his circumstances reveal the utter powerlessness of Jews under German occupation once the "Final Solution" was German policy. Hero or villain or both, the debate over Kasztner will endure though quite often the discussion has less to do with him than with contemporary issues.
A. Weissberg, Desperate Mission (1958); A. Biss, Der Stopp der Endloesung (1966); E. Landau (ed.), Der Kastner Bericht (1961); Israel Supreme Court, Piskei Din, 12 (1958), 2017–317; Jerusalem District Court, Case 124/53, Ha-Yo'eẓ ha-Mishpati Neged Malki'el Gruenwald (1957). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Bauer, Jews for Sale: Nazi-German Negotiations, 1933–45 (1994). T. Segev, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (1993).