From Publishers Weekly
In a taut, detailed narrative, historian Florence (A Blood Libel
) relates Joel Brand's efforts to save Hungary's Jews from the Holocaust. In April 1944, Brand, a disheveled Jewish businessman was living in Budapest, working with fellow Zionists on a secret rescue committee. He met with notorious SS officer Adolf Eichmann (responsible for shipping Eastern European Jews to the death camps), who offered to sell Brand the freedom of almost a million Hungarian Jews for 10,000 heavy-duty military trucks. With this offer, Brand contacted the Allies and the Jewish Agency in Palestine. The Jewish Agency's Moshe Shertok, though incredulous, presented the proposal to the British high commissioner in Palestine, who asserted Eichmann's proposal was another Nazi intrigue and Brand a Nazi agent. Brand was eventually jailed in Cairo by the British. Some questioned Brand's competence, but Brand himself always believed his mission had been betrayed by Jewish Agency officials who couldn't grasp the reality of the Final Solution. Although Brand's story is known—particularly through his testimony in two postwar trials (including Eichmann's in 1961), Florence (Lawrence and Aaronsohn
) paints a colorful but dispiriting tale of mankind's gross inhumanity. (Jan.)
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Until March 1944, the Jews of Hungary enjoyed relative physical security, although Hungary was an ally of the Axis powers. In fact, Hungarian Jews managed to save thousands of their brethren from other central and eastern European countries by smuggling them into (and sometimes out of) Hungary. When German troops invaded, they brought intense pressure on the Hungarian government to round up Jews and transport them for “resettlement.” Thus began a valiant if largely futile effort to rescue them. Florence, a historian and novelist, recounts this struggle in a riveting and intense work. At the center of the narrative is an unlikely hero. Joel Brand was a former communist, a committed Zionist, and physically unimpressive. Yet he brought great energy to efforts to bargain with Hungarian and German officials to “ransom” Jews, exchanging their lives for material aid for the Axis cause. He did so despite the opposition of the British and American governments, leaving a legacy of bitterness that still persists. This is a fine examination of one of the saddest episodes of the Holocaust. --Jay Freeman