In the early 1950s, there lived in Jerusalem an elderly, God-fearing stamp collector of Hungarian birth by the name of Malkiel Gruenwald, who tried to eke out a living as a self styled journalist. Periodically, he issued a newsletter called Letters to Friends in the Mizrahi to fellow journalists. In August, 1952, issue number 51 appeared with some of the most vitriolic language aimed at Dr. Rezsö Kasztner.

     "For three years I have waited for this moment. The smell of rotting carrion fills my nostrils. It will be a funeral of the very best kind! Dr. Rudolph (Rezsö) Kasztner must be liquidated. I have waited for this moment to bring to justice this careerist, who benefits from Hitler's theft and murder."

     Grunwald continued in this vein to charge Kasztner with responsibility for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, because of Kasztner's attempt to negotiate the rescue of Hungarian Jewry through ransom. The accusations included theft, collaboration with the enemy and betrayal of allies.

     Because Kasztner was a member of the ruling Mapai (Labor Party) and a functionary of the government, he was informed by Attorney General Haim Cohen that he must take legal action to clear his name or resign.

     Following those instructions, Kasztner instituted libel action against Malkiel Gruenwald on January 1, 1954. Gruenwald was represented by defense attorney Shmuel M. Tamir, a member of the Herut (Revisionist) Party, a violent opponent of Mapai in general and Ben Gurion in particular. The trial was presided over by Benjamin Halevy, who had his own private battle with Mapai and Ben Gurion.

     Records of the trial strongly suggest that Tamir was far more interested in persecuting Kasztner than in defending Gruenwald, and Judge Halevy stood at the ready to accommodate him at nearly every step. The attorneys finished their closing arguments in September, 1954.

     Judge Halevy mulled over the 3,000 pages of trial transcript for nine months, rendering a verdict on June 22, 1955. His verdict ranged over 274 pages and found most of Gruenwald's accusations against Kasztner justified. He concluded his laborious verdict with the statement that Kasztner 'sold his soul to the devil." Although the decision was appealed, two and a half years would pass before the Israeli Supreme Court would render its verdict on the appeal. In January, 1958, the Supreme Court rejected all of the major decisions offered by Judge Halevy by a four-to-one and was strongly critical of the entire proceeding in the Kasztner matter.

     Sadly, the legal vindication came too late for Rezsö Kasztner. On the night of March 3, 1957, he was gunned down by three members of the old Lehi (radical Revisionist) underground. He died three days later of his wounds.

     For more information on the Kasztner trial please consult these articles from the Law and History Review:

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