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Hansi Brand

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5002 | Film ID: 3109, 3110, 3111

Hansi Brand and her husband Joel were members of the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest, Hungary, as was Rudolf Kasztner. Brand details her husband's experiences with Eichmann and the "Blood for Goods" rescue scheme. She also addresses the controversy over whether Kasztner neglected to warn the Jews of their fates. She states emphatically that by 1944, of course, everyone knew what it meant to be deported to the East.

FILM ID 3109 -- Camera Rolls #1-5 -- 01:00:00 to 01:34:28
For the first part of the interview Hansi Brand speaks Hebrew and Lanzmann English, with the aid of a translator. Lanzmann asks Hansi Brand why she has agreed to talk to him now, when in the past she has refused. She says that her memories oppress her and that people today cannot understand what they [survivors] experienced. He asks her to give her impressions of the personalities of the members of the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest, namely Joel Brand (Hansi's husband) and Rezso Kasztner (his name is written various ways, often as Rudolf Kastner). She lists several members of the committee and their pre-war occupations as well as the personal circumstances that led them to get involved in rescue work. (01:13:46 no picture.) She describes how they found out about the killings in Kamenets-Podolsk from her sister and brother-in-law. This was the catalyst for them to begin to act. She says that both she and Joel were Zionists and were awaiting their certificates to emigrate to Palestine, although Hungarian Jewry was still living under the impression that the horrible things that were happening in Germany and Poland would not reach them. (01:23:19 picture returns.)

When the Germans entered Hungary in 1944 it changed their lives completely. It was clear that the Germans were losing the war and the Committee's main focus became helping Jewish "refugees" in Hungarian towns through negotiations and payments to the Germans. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Brand says that one day her husband received a summons to meet Eichmann, who said proudly that he now intended to carry out in Hungary what he had already accomplished in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Eichmann then mooted the "Blut fuer Waren" (Blood for Goods) scheme and told Joel that 10,000 Jews could be saved for every truck procured for the Germans by the Committee. Joel was shocked at the suggestion and told Eichmann he must discuss it with the other members of the Committee. Although the idea was macabre, the Committee felt forced to consider it.

01:29:57 (Camera Roll 5) Lanzmann and Brand begin speaking directly to each other in German, without the translator. Brand says that the members of the Committee considered the idea all night long. They knew they must do something to try to rescue those Jews who remained alive, after 5,000,000 had already been murdered. It was clear to them that the Germans themselves knew they were losing the war. Some, like Eichmann, wanted to profit personally [and for Germany?] but others wanted to save their own lives, knowing that they would be held responsible for their actions after the war. The Committee decided that Joel should travel to Istanbul, as suggested by Eichmann. Lanzmann asks whether Joel wanted to go and Brand says it is not as simple as that he "wanted" to go. Bandi Grosz, another Hungarian Jew (Brand refers to him as Grosz Bandi), had his own mission: to meet with the American ambassador in Turkey [Laurence] Steinhart. She says that the Germans chose Joel and Bandi Grosz to go on the mission [CLIP 1 ENDS].

FILM ID 3110 -- Camera Rolls #6-8 -- 02:00:05 to 02:33:35
Lanzman says that people have suggested that Joel Brand was not the best man for the mission to Istanbul, and asks whether there was a rivalry between Joel Brand and Kasztner. Hansi Brand says not at first, but that Kasztner did want to go to Istanbul, as did Kasztner's father-in-law. She says that in her opinion success would not have been achieved no matter who went to Istanbul. [CLIP 2 BEGINS] Brand herself stayed in Budapest with her two children, serving as hostages. She took Joel's place as a representative to the Germans, although certain committee members disapproved of a woman in this position. She explains that one could not tremble before the Germans or show fear but instead act as if you were an actual partner in the negotiations. She says that her husband took her to meet Eichmann before he went to Istanbul, which surprises Lanzmann because Kasztner did not mention this fact. Lanzmann asks her to describe exactly the meeting with Eichmann. She says that the apartment (in a hotel) that Eichmann was using as his headquarters was the same apartment that she and Joel had lived in up until a few months previously. Eichmann told her that she would be required to contact him every day while Joel was in Istanbul.

Hansi Brand decided to take Kasztner to Eichmann, which was the beginning of the negotiations to bring the Jews from the provinces (Cluj and, as she insists, other places) to Budapest. Lanzmann asks what they knew about Auschwitz at that time and how they heard the news. Brand says they knew quite a lot, they had reports that came to them from Weissmandel, Gisi Fleischmann and Vrba (she does not remember him by name), and that they did what they could to get the news out. She says that Eichmann told her husband that he should hurry on his mission to Istanbul, because 12,000 Jews per day were taken to Auschwitz. Lanzmann questions Hansi Brand about the highly controversial rescue mission, the Kasztner Train (Lanzmann does not use this term), especially about the "privileged" nature of the transport and the 388 passengers from Cluj, Kasztner's home town. Brand says that she and Kazstner met often with Eichmann. She talks about how they felt when they met with him and how Eichmann's mood influenced the negotiations. The discussions were very difficult and sometimes Eichmann would shout at them that they should not imagine he actually cared about the Jews [CLIP 2 ENDS].

02:22:34 [CLIP 3 BEGINS] Lanzmann says that Kasztner is sometimes criticized for not warning the Jews in Cluj, for example, about what would happen to them in Auschwitz. Hansi Brand says that is the most evil lie and gives examples of Jewish leaders from Cluj (she uses the German name of the town, Klausenburg) who knew quite well what Auschwitz meant. Lanzmann says that some people from Cluj who survived Auschwitz later complained that they were not told what it meant to be sent to the camp. Hansi Brand says that many people did not want to know that the Jews were being exterminated. She finds it impossible that anyone could not know by 1944 what was happening in German-occupied areas. She talks about the postwar Kasztner trial, in which Judge Benjamin Halevi believed the witnesses against Kasztner [CLIP 3 ENDS]. They continue to talk about how much information was or should have been given to the Jews of Cluj.

FILM ID 3111 -- Camera Rolls #9-13 -- 03:00:00 to 03:34:07
[CLIP 4 BEGINS] In answer to a question from Lanzmann, Hansi Brand attempts to describe her emotional and mental state knowing that 12,000 Jews were being sent to Auschwitz every day and that she and Kasztner were negotiating with Eichmann in an attempt to save some small number of Jews. She says that they were always between fear and doubt and hope. He asks her to describe how it was possible to discuss the matter with Eichmann from a business standpoint when they knew what was happening to the Jews in the meantime. She says they had no other way out and, in addtion, she and Kasztner were arrested during this time by the Hungarian Abwehr (?), who wanted information about Joel's mission. She was beaten but did not reveal anything and was eventually released on a direct order from Himmler. After she was released she was brought to [Gerhard] Clages, Himmler's chief of security in Budapest. [CLIP 4 ENDS] The last few seconds of this camera roll has sound but no video.

03:11:31 Lanzmann asks Hansi Brand to return to the question of the burden on her soul (seelische Belastung) caused by negotiations with Eichmann. Lanzmann reads two quotations from the "Kasztner Report, " in which Kasztner expresses a kind of guilt for negotiating with Eichmann, and asks for Hansi Brand's reaction. She says that he wrote this after the war, and that they did not only rely on the Germans but took other measures such as preparing bunkers and making false papers. [CLIP 5 BEGINS] She says that the "Blood for Goods" deal would have worked if they could have procured the goods from other countries. They circle back to the question of whether Kasztner should have informed the Cluj Jews of imminent danger and Lanzmann asks what Hansi Brand thinks of the accusation that Kasztner saved certain people from Cluj (his own family and Zionists). She says that she would ask him what he would have done, whether Lanzmann would have acted for his own family? Lanzmann says, "That is a very good answer." Brand says that Kasztner would not have been human otherwise. Lanzmann asks Brand to explain how people were chosen for the transport to Bergen-Belsen (the so-called Kasztner Train rescue mission). She says that the types of people chosen varied greatly but included the most endangered refugees, Zionists, Jewish intellectuals, orphans, and rich people, whose wealth helped pay the $1,000 per-person ransom demanded by the Germans.

Lanzmann asks if there were old people in the transport, and whether Kasztner was a vain man. She answers that Kasztner was as vain as any other person, that it is a human quality. Lanzmann asks why [Andreas] Biss (another member of the Committee) hated Joel Brand so much and Hansi Brand answers that it had something to do with [SS officer Kurt] Becher, whom Hansi and Joel Brand were "against" after the war, while Biss was "for" Becher (Kasztner testified on Becher's behalf after the war). Lanzmann continues to question Kasztner's character and Hansi Brand continues to defend him. He asks why she thinks her husband's mission to Istanbul did not succeed and she replies that the English did not want to help the Jews because they did not want to deal with the problem of Palestine. She says further that the Jews in Palestine were not informed as to what was happening. She ends the interview by defending her husband against historians who say that he did not return to Budapest out of fear for himself (Joel Brand was arrested by the British in Aleppo and eventually ended up in Palestine) [CLIP 5 ENDS] .

Event:  September or October 1979
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:02:32
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