Emissary of the Doomed
Bargaining for Lives in the Holocaust
By Ronald Florence
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670020720, 352pp.)
Publication Date: January 7, 2010
List Price: $27.95*
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The official little known WWII story of a desperate attempt to save Hungary's Jewish population
When Nazi troops invaded in March 1944, Hungary contained the largest intact Jewish population in Europe. Until then, stories of Auschwitz and other "resettlement camps" were still treated as unconfirmed rumors inside Hungary and among the Allied powers. With the arrival of Adolf Eichmann-and reports from the first escapees from Auschwitz confirming the most horrifying rumors about the camps-the 850,000 Jews of Hungary faced annihilation.
Emissary of the Doomed is the riveting and heartbreaking account of the heroic attempt to save Hungary's Jewish population. Learning that Eichmann and Himmler were willing to bargain for the lives of as many as one million Jews, Joel Brand and the Jewish rescue committee in Budapest took up the German offer and embarked on a desperate race across Europe and the Middle East to persuade the reluctant Allies to trade funds and matériel for Jewish lives. Against the backdrop of the Normandy invasion, the Soviet advance across Eastern Europe, and the American advances up the Italian peninsula, Brand and his colleagues tried to stop the final push of the Nazis to destroy the Jews of Europe. This untold chapter will appeal to all readers of World War II literature.
"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, Booklist
"Engrossing account of Joel Brand's desperate attempts to save the Hungarian Jews from Nazi extermination.
Novelist and historian Florence (Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T. E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 2007, etc.) ably chronicles the multilayered story of the bargaining for Hungarian Jews in the spring of 1944 and the aftermath. Brand was a leader in the Budapest-based secret rescue organization, Vaada, which aided Jews in occupied Slovakia and Poland to arrange safe routes to the relative security of Hungary and elsewhere. By March 1944, Hungary still possessed the largest remaining Jewish community in Europe, mainly because Hungary was Hitler's early cooperative ally. However, Eichmann, chief engineer of the "Final Solution," was entrusted with the job of stripping the 800,000 Hungarian Jews of their wealth, ghettoizing them and eventually deporting them to concentration camps. He summoned Brand and made his offer: "blood for goods," or one million Jews for 10,000 heavy-duty trucks that the Germans needed on the Eastern Front. Brand was given a few weeks to travel and meet with Western officials, but he was in an impossible position, as the Normandy landing was getting underway and the Allies refused to barter with the Nazis. The so-called Auschwitz Protocols, an eyewitness account by two camp escapees on what was really happening to the Jews there, was disseminating that spring, and Jews as well as Allied officials, while incredulous, were grasping the truth. While Brand was held in limbo in Cairo, his colleague back in Budapest Rezs= Kasztner was negotiating with the enemy, extorting enormous sums from Hungarian Jews for safe transits to Palestine.
The whole sordid tale would not emerge fully until the postwar trials of Kasztner and Eichmann, and Florence does a fine, thorough job bringing the period to life." -Kirkus Review