Kastner's Haggadah

By Herman Kastner

(A book review by Gary Fitleberg, Calabasas, California)

Translated from the German version by Paul and Hanna Birnbaum. Cover Design by the author's granddaughter Michal Kastner. Published by the Ministry of Defence Publishing House, Israel. 2000. Prologue. Oil Paintings on Canvas by Michal Kastner to Narrate Story. Family Photographs. Epilogue. 143 pages. ISBN 965-05-1058-3.


"Today after all that happened - happened to us, happened to myself - I finally live in the Land of Israel, in the town of Ramat Gan, on the borders of Tel Aviv. There in the Marta Ginsburg Home, I am warden of 'Yotsei Lipkani' Synagogue.

My children and grandchildren have now become part of my old age.

Only now have I been able to find inspiration and the time to put the moving story of my life, so that nothing, which happened to us during the time of the Second World War, should be forgotten.

It is my own history and the history of my family, but above all, it is an account of the terrible suffering inflicted on the innocent Jews of Bukovina and Bessarabia.

These stories of extermination and destruction; stories to be remembered and never to be forgotten . . ."

The traditional Passover Haggadah, read annually, documents the story of the Jews enslavement in the land of Egypt and their eventual exodus to freedom in the land of Israel.

This is the story of one man's arduous and brave escape from slavery to freedom from Transnistria to a new life in Eretz Yisroel.

Herman Kastner, a native of Romania, narrates a unique account of his wartime experiences and story of survival as a young man in Bukovina. His courage, deep faith, and initiative enabled him not only to survive the persecution of the Romanian legionnaires and their Nazi allies, the unspeakable horrors of Transnistria, and his subsequent incarceration by the Communists, but also to save the lives of many thousands of his fellow Jews.

The text of this book is enriched by a collection of some 23 original oil paintings by the author's granddaughter, Michal Kastner, that serves to illustrate various episodes of the narration.

From Czernovitz to Russ-Moldovitza to Gurahumora to Mogilev to Dorohoi, he used bribes, charm, cunning, and ingenuity.

To many downtrodden enslaved Jews, "Kastner" was their "Moshe Rabbenu" who acted as their leader and spiritual guide in the toughest times for some miracles. The plagues that beset the Jewish people were many including disease, hunger, inclement weather conditions, and last but definitely not least, senseless beatings and murder. With patience and perseverance his spirit would not allow an easy victory for those who sought to oppress his brethren.

Kastner utilized every conceivable means of intervention to alleviate the painful suffering of his people. This often included "baksheesh" or bribes to those that could influence the individuals who might make important life saving or threatening decisions. When the money ran out, he utilized everything from appeals to decency, charm, and ingenuity. In the end, he was always the "Master" of persuasion and psychology with human nature. Much like "Moshe Rabbenu" pleads before Pharaoh for the alleviation of the enslaved, or G-D for divine intervention, Kastner also speaks out on behalf of his Jewish brethren and people to alleviate their terrible treatment.

When all else failed he relied on faith, prayer and ultimately the Almighty One!!! Not much has been written about the Holocaust in the area of Bessarabia and Bukovina in Romania especially from an eyewitness first-hand account.

This very special story is both compelling, remarkable in its heroism, as well as unique in its insight.

One might state that Kastner had fear of no one or nothing in his will to survive. Fear does not appear to be part of his quite extensive vocabulary. Kastner had chutzpah. Kastner had guts. Kastner had moxy. But most important, Kastner had divine intervention and many miracles as a result of his sincere heart, integrity and kindness. His special character even influenced the most evil of men bent on his complete destruction.

One noteworthy example of this is when he stands digging his own deathbed in a trench with virtually no escape possible . In a last ditch attempt, Kastner takes one last deep breath and ably uses the power of persuasion and reason with his overseer to spare his life and the lives of the others who were condemned to die. Kastner pleads his case before his judge over life and death. From above, "The Angel of Mercy" intercedes on their behalf. The desperate plea and eloquent speech was so moving and persuasive that the overseer ordered them to throw away their shovels.

Barely escaping from a visit to his in-laws in Czernovitz on the very eve of the invasion of the oppressors, he made his way to a temporary safe haven in Gurahumora. Eventually he and his family could not escape deportation to Transnistria reaching Mogilev without mishap. While there, Kastner brilliantly thought of a plan and way to alleviate suffering by instituting businesses which protected both the poor and the rich.

The clock of "good fortune" appeared to stop ticking. After spending a relatively safe experience there Kastner and his family were transferred to Skasinetz. He was condemned to a death sentence in the Wapniarka death camp.

When freedom finally seemed close at hand while traveling from Dorohoi to Kimpolung, Kastner was "detained" by two agents of the Securitate asking for his papers and "asking" Kastner to accompany them. Thus, he would remain in captivity by the liberators for quite some time. His suffering would thus not end easy.

Kastner also describes all the events and the individuals he mentions with so much detail and insight that one can visualize them as one reads this remarkable account of the tragedy that befell the Jews of Romania.

It is interesting to note that as soon as W.W.II was over, Kastner decided to keep Shabbat Hanukkah as a Day of Remembrance for those of his family who perished in the Shoah. Therefore every Shabbat Hanukah, before kindling the Hanukkah lights, let us all light a memorial candle for them in remembrance of one of two of the most celebrated and joyous Jewish Holy Days celebrating our freedom.

To order "Kastner's Haggadah" payment of $24.90 U.S. may be remitted by check or credit card to Mr. Yishai Cordova, Deputy Manager and Chief Editor of the Israel Ministry of Defence Publishing House, 107 Ha'Shmonaim Street, Dept. "A", Tel Aviv, ISRAEL 67133.