Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland

Reaction and comments on the play, 1987-2001

Rudolf Kasztner

THE KASTNER TRIAL - shown at the Jewish Film Festival in 1997

Czech film about Rabbi Weissmandel: Among Blind Fools

The Nizkor Project: Dedicated to the millions of Holocaust victims who suffered and died

Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium: Holocaust Home Page

The Confession of Adolph Eichmann

Revolt of Warsaw's Jews

 Jews of Hungary website

Hannah Szenes: famous Jewish partisan betrayed by Kastner

Jews not Zionists website

Purchase Pefidy by Ben Hecht


A scene from Perdition at The Gate Theatre, London, UK, 1999

Press comment and opinion 1987

Jim Allen: A lifetime's commitment to historical truth by Barbara Slaughter, from the World Socialist Website (11th August 1999)

An indictment of Fascism and Zionism: A fitting tribute to a man of principle by Paul Bond from the World Socialist Website (13th July 1999)

Jim Allen - Obituary from The Sydney Morning Herald (29th June 1999)

Haim Bresheeth, in RETURN (March 1989)

Controversial play resurfaces - Michael Barnett wrting in Hot Gossip UK (May 1999)

Letter from Lenni Brenner in Commentary Magazine (May 1997)

Perdition: Dancing on the graves of the victims - Union of Jewish Students (1999)

Press comment and opinion, 1987

Between January and May 1987 some 120 editorials, articles and letters to the editor appeared in the mainstream British press about the play Perdition before and after it was withdrawn by the Royal Court Theatre. - Seán Mac Mathúna

A new play about the Jewish Holocaust which opens in London later this month claims that Jews, and specifically Zionist Jews collaborated with the Nazis ... Perdition which is being put on at the Royal Court is the first stage play by Jim Allen, a former miner whose previous television work ... has made him no stranger to controversy ... The play, directed by Ken Loach was first presented to the Royal Court two years ago ...[T]he present opening date of January 27 is almost a year later than originally planned. David Rose (The Guardian, 14th January 1987).

Judging by David Rose's exposition of the case, Jim Allen's interpretation of Zionist-Nazi collaboration is basically correct ... I very much welcome the Royal Court decision (to stage the play) and the public debate/controversy that it is likely to generate. Public discussion of this aspect of Zionist history has been evaded or suppressed in many significant quarters. It is important that an open discussion of the subject take place. I and many others hope that this discussion will contribute to a critical reassessment of the role of the Zionist movement, the World Zionist Organization and the state of Israel in the determination of Jewish history at the time of and after the Holocaust as well as today - Uri Davis (The Guardian, 21st January 1987)

I am pulling the play. Not because it contains any inaccuracies, or is in any way anti-Semitic, but because it might cause distress among some members of the Jewish community - Max Stafford-Clark, Artistric director of the Royal Court Theatre in a phone call to Jim Allen just 36 hours before the first screening of the play (From Ken Loach and Andrew Homung, "Censorship & Perdition", New Statesman, 20th February 1987).

British historian Martin Gilbert condemned Perdition's court-room drama as 'a kangaroo court' and quoted David Cesarani's analysis of the play as 'a travesty of historical fact' (Daily Telegraph, 22nd January 1987). According to Uri Davis, Cesarani also claimed to have identified 'more than 60 historical errors' in the text (Ibid). To the best of his knowledge he never made the list public. Lord Goodman said that 'Mr Jim Allen's description of the Holocaust can claim a high place in the table of classic anti-Semitism' (Evening Standard, 23rd January 1987). Arnold Wesker and others damned Perdition as 'a poisonous and reactionary work' (The Guardian Letters, 27th January 1987). And Victoria Radin villied it as 'a nasty play' (New Statesman, 6th February 1987). Below is a summary of the views of Uri Davis and others:

It was a beautiful play. I found the text very powerful. There was nothing in the text, the context, the presentation, or the nuance that could support allegations of anti-Jewish racism (anti-Semitism). At bottom the play had two important messages to convey. First, every political and religious organization in Europe under Nazi occupation had produced the praiseworthy phenomenon of resistance and the shameful phenomenon of collaboration. The Zionist political organizations and Jewish religious organizations, like all others in Europe, responded in the same way. The Zionist contented that because under Nazi occupation and the Holocaust, Jews were victimized as Jews, they could not by definition collaborate with the Nazi occupation authorities (even had they wanted to). But this was nonsense. The play was based on the story of Rudolf Kasztner who, in 1954, appeared as witness in a libel action before the Jerusalem District Court presided by Dr Benjamin Halevi. A Hungarian Jew, Malkiel Greenwald accused Kasztner of collaborating with the Nazis in Hungary in 1944-45. Kasztner failed to clear his name of the charge of collaboration with the Nazis, of preparing the ground for the murder of Hungarian Jewry and of saving a Nazi war criminal after the war. One charge was not fully proven - that of sharing plunder with a Nazi war criminal).

The play's second message was that Zionist ideology and practice led important sections of the leadership of the world Zionist Organization/Jewish agency to put the priority of Jewish state building in Palestine before the priority of rescue.

To illustrate this the text quotes Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl's account of a letter in Hebrew (although, according to Weissmandl, in Roman script) sent by Nathan Schwalb. At that time Schwalb was representative of the Zionist He-Halutz (The Pioneer) organization in Geneva. The letter was addressed to the Jewish rescue Working Group, of which Weissmandl was a member, in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in about the autumn of 1942 as follows:

Since a messenger has been found he [Schwalb] writes to the Group that they must always remember that the most urgent issue, the main issue which must always be in front of us, is that in the end the Allies will win. After the victory they will divide the world again amongst the nations as they did at the end of the First World War. Then they paved the way for us to take the first step.

Now at the end of the war we must do everything so that Palestine will become the State of Israel. There have already been important steps made in this direction. And as for the outcry coming from our country, we should know that all the Allied nations are spilling much blood. If we shall not make sacrifices, with what shall we buy the right to sit at the table when the division of the nations and countries takes place after the war?

And therefore it is nonsense and even impudent on our part to ask from the nations who are spilling their blood that they permit their money to be brought into the land of their enemy to defend our blood - because only in blood shall we have the land.

This is as far as the community as a whole is concerned. As for your members of the Group, you take a walk [namely, escape], and for this purpose I provide you with money illegally by means of this messenger. (Quoted from Michael Dov Weissmandl, Min ha-Meitzar (From the Depth of Distress), Emunah Press, 194 Division Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 1960).

I was also struck by a personal affinity. Perdition is a powerful court-room drama. Ruth Kaplan, the researcher who raises the charge of Zionist collaboration with the Nazi occupation authorities, is portrayed in the play as having studied Philosophy and Arabic at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; worked for a time with the Encyclopaedia Judaica; and became a pacifist and was active in the civil rights movement in Israel. I had never met Jim Allen and I found the coincidence amazing. The portrayal of Ruth Kaplan in Perdition reflected main features of my personal history. Only later did I learn that among the books Jim had researched for the play was Dissent & Ideology in Israel: Resistance to the Draft 1948-1973 (Ithaca Press, London, 1975). The book included my personal and political history among 13 other profiles of leading dissidents in Israel. - From Uri Davis. Crossing the Border.

But there is a further complicating factor. It is that the Holocaust has come to play an important ideological role. It has been in this sense appropriated by the state of Israel and the Zionist movement. It has thus become a shield against criticism of the policies and actions of that state and of Zionism itself. The innocent dead are turned into accomplices of policies of expansion and aggression - Stuart Wood (The Guardian, 10 thJuly 1987)

'Perdition' has not been suppressed and the Jewish community will have to learn to live with it. Yet, are we so unsure of our place in Britain and Israel's place in the world that a tough piece of anti-Zionist propaganda sends us into a frenzy of insecurity? ... We need to master the art of exposing and debunking, instead of instantly branding antagonists as anti-Semites. There is a distinction between those who oppose Zionism and their motives. Anti-Semitism may be a reason for some people not liking Israel, but there are many other reasons for such hostility ... - David Cesarani (Jewish Chronicle, 3rdJuly 1987)

In 1987, after months of false accusations that Perdition was anti-Semitic, the first public readings in the Edinburgh Festival in August made possible the first critical reviews of the play as a piece of theatre. In his review of the reading Michael Billington commented:

Firstly, that the reading of the play demystified it and robbed it of the spurious excitement that is attached to a work theatrically outlawed. It strikes me as nonsensical that one should be able to walk into any bookshop and buy a copy of the text, but that the play should be considered too 'offensive' to put on a public stage. Secondly, that Perdition is vehemently anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic. (The Guardian, 19th August 1987).

Jim Allen: A lifetime's commitment to historical truth by Barbara Slaughter (11th August 1999). From the World Socialist Web Site

Like A Choice of Evil (1971), Allen's play Perdition is also based on historical events in the closing months of the Second World War. Despite the fact that Germany was losing the war, half a million Hungarian Jews were transported to the concentration camps and murdered because of the collaboration of leading members of the Jewish community in Budapest. The Zionist leaders in Hungary did a deal with the Nazis that allowed certain selected people to leave the country, provided that instructions were given to the vast majority of Jews to board the trains going to the camps. The truth came out in a trial held in Israel after the war.

Every national newspaper attacked Allen and Loach. In the Evening Standard Lord Goodman accused them of peddling anti-Semitic lies and suggested that they were trying to deny the Holocaust ever happened. Bernard Levin of the Times attacked the play, whilst admitting he had never read it. Most critics argued that if you attacked Zionism you were attacking the Jews as a people. Under pressure from the Zionists, the play was called off by the board of the Royal Court the day before it was due to open.

In an interview with myself and Vicky Short three years ago, Allen explained what happened:

"It was a very bad experience. We never got it on the stage except a shortened version at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where it appeared for one night. It is just impossible to explain the pressure. The bloke who put it on said, 'I've never known such pressure, I'm a nervous wreck. The phone never stopped ringing from all over the world.' "After it was blackballed, one Zionist leader in London said to Ken Loach, 'I've got six friends who are very powerful, and we'll stop it going out.'

"One man - a big producer in the West End - did agree to put it on. Within 24 hours he phoned back to Ken and said to Ken, 'I'm sorry, forget it. I've had phone calls telling me if I put Perdition on I will never open on Broadway again. And I am responsible to directors and so on. I'm sorry.' "And so it went on. They followed us to Ireland. Wherever we went they followed us. The campaign they orchestrated with the press was incredible - the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph ... and it reached so far out. It was attacked in America.... And I was getting calls from Germany. It was an orchestrated campaign and it terrorised people. And arising out of that came the libel action. For two years I think my earnings were about £10 a week. Plus I was going through a bad time personally because of my wife's illness - phone calls, abuse.

You've no idea what it was like.... "

Then we, a group of us, put it on for a week in London, in some secular society, I forget its name. We showed the shortened version and it appeared for a week. It was packed, mainly with Jewish people, because this was a chapter of their history they didn't know, like Land and Freedom for the Spanish people.

"I'm not exaggerating, there were some people there crying - old people - because of some of the facts that came out in the play about the Zionists doing everything they could to disorganise the Jews in Hungary."

After Perdition had been shown at The Gate Theatre, Allen commented: In his interview, he told me that he once said to Loach:

"Well, if ever I win the lottery, the first thing I'll do is hire a theatre and put Perdition on. Apart from that there's no chance."

Allen didn't win the lottery, but he lived to see his play staged in London under the direction of Elliot Leavey, a young man whom he felt confident had done his research and would be able to defend the ideas behind the play. He was too ill to travel to London to see the production. It was staged in the tiny Gate Theatre, which seats no more than a hundred people, by actors working for expenses only. He derived great satisfaction from the fact that it was a co-production with the Royal Court, who had originally banned the play. He told his daughters, "It's about time. It shows that the truth will win out." He received letters from members of the audience who told him that they had opposed the play 11 years before, but now understood what had gone on in Israel. Some had broken down in tears and told the director of the play how wrong they had been.

Jim Allen - Obituary from The Sydney Morning Herald (29th June 1999)

The play Perdition was about the deal done by some Zionists in Hungary in 1944 with the Nazis, in which a certain number of Jews would be allowed to escape to Palestine in return for silence about the destination of those bound for the concentration camps. Previous attacks were as nothing compared with the Zionist fury unleashed when the play was being rehearsed. To Allen's disgust, and to the shame of the Royal Court, the play was withdrawn. Crude charges of anti-Semitism were discounted by critics when the play was heard in public at the Edinburgh Festival.

Haim Bresheeth, in RETURN, March 1989

In the case of the Kastner episode, around which Jim Allen's play PERDITION is based, even the normal excuse of lack of knowledge of the real nature of events does not exist. It occurred near the end of the war. The USSR had advanced almost up to Germany. Italy and the African bases had been lost. The Nazis were on the run, with a number of key countries, such as Rumania, leaving the Axis. A second front was a matter of months away, as the western Allies prepared their forces. In the midst of all this we find Eichmann, the master bureaucrat of industrial murder, setting up is HQ in occupied Budapest, after the German takeover of the country in April 1944.

His first act was to have a conference with the Jewish leadership, and to appoint Zionist Federation members, headed by Kastner, as the agent and clearing house for all Jews in their relationship with the SS and Nazi authorities. Why they did this is not difficult to see. As opposed to Poland, where its three and half million Jews lived in ghettoes and were visible different from the rest of the Polish population, the Hungarian Jews were in integrated part of the community. The middle class was mainly Jewish, the Jews were mainly middle class. They enjoyed freedom of travel, served in the Hungarian (fascist) army in frontline units, as officers and soldiers, their names were Hungarian - how was Eichmann to find them if they were to be exterminated ?

The task was not easy, there were a million Jews in Hungary, most of them resident, the rest being refugees from other countries. Many had heard about the fate of Jews elsewhere, and were unlikely to believe any statements by Nazi officials. Like elsewhere, the only people who had the information and the ear of the frightened Jewish population were the Judenrat. In this case the Judenrat comprised mainly the Zionist Federation members. Without their help the SS, with 19 officers and less than 90 men, plus a few hundred Hungarian police, could not have collected and controlled a million Jews, when they did not even know their whereabouts.

Kastner and the others were left under no illusions. Eichmann told Joel Brand, one of the members of Kastner's committee, that he intended to send all Hungary's Jews to Auschwitz, before he even started the expulsions! He told them clearly that all these Jews will die, 12,000 a day, unless certain conditions were met. The Committee faced a simple choice - to tell the Jews of Hungary about their fate, (with neutral Rumania, where many could escape, being in most cases a few hours away) or to collaborate with the Nazis by assisting in the concentration process. What would not have been believed when coming from the SS, sounded quite plausible when coming from the mouths of the Zionist leadership. Thus it is, that most of the Hungarian Jews went quietly to their death, assured by their leadership that they were sent to work camps.

To be sure, there are thirty pieces of silver in this narrative of destruction: the trains of 'prominents' which Eichmann promised to Kastner - a promise he kept to the last detail. For Eichmann it was a bargain: allowing 1,680 Jews to survive, as the price paid for the silent collaboration over the death of almost a million Jews.

There was no way in which the Jews of Hungary could even be located, not to say murdered, without the full collaboration of Kastner and his few friends. No doubt the SS would hunt a few Jews here and there, but the scale of the operation would have been minuscule compared to the half million who died in Auschwitz. It is important to realise that Kastner was not an aberration, like say Rumkovky in Lodz. Kastner acted as a result of his strongly held Zionist convictions. His actions were a logical outcome of earlier positions. This is instanced when he exposed to the Gestapo the existence of a British cell of saboteurs, Palgi and Senesh, and persuaded them to give themselves up, so as not to disrupt his operations. At no point during his trial or elsewhere, did Kastner deny that he knew exactly what was to happen to those Jews.

Controversial play resurfaces - Michael Barnett wrting in Hot Gossip UK, May 1999

One of the most controversial plays of the 1980s is due to be revived by the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill in June. In 1987 Perdition was due to be produced at the Royal Court but was pulled hours before its preview because of accusations that it was anti-semitic. It's based on the true story of Dr Rudolph Kastner, the head of the Zionist Rescue Committee in Budapest during the war. He sued a pamphleteer who claimed he'd helped the Nazis exterminate 500,000 of his own people. Kastner lost the case after admitting to negotiating a deal for the safe passage of 2,000 people out of Hungary in exchange for goods with Adolf Eichmann. A higher court overturned the verdict a year later - but by that time Kastner had already been shot dead by rightwing Jewish extremists. Perdition was written by Jim Allen (whose script-writing credits include Land and Freedom, and whose long-term creative parner, Ken Loach, had been due to have directed the play at the Royal Court. The Gate feel it deserves a chance to be seen - and the Jewish actor, Elliott Levey, who is directing it, says it's historically accurate and pro-Jewish. But art historian David Cesarani, who fought hard against the play a decade ago said it contained distortions and lies

Letter from Lenni Brenner in Commentary Magazine, May 1997

Saving Jews

TO THE EDITOR: Hillel Halkin's favorable review of Shabtai Teveth's Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust [January] is a defense of the indefensible. Among many sinners against Labor Zionism Mr. Halkin lists Jim Allen. Allen's maleficium was to quote in his play, Perdition, a letter written to Labor Zionist rescue workers in Slovakia by Nathan Schwalb, the movement's agent in Switzerland. After the war, Schwalb's letter was published by Rabbi Michael Dov-Ber Weissmandel in his memoir, Min HaMaitzer ("From the Depths"). Allen had found the letter in my book, Zionism in the Age of Dictators.

Under Zionist pressure, the play was canceled before production, generating massive publicity. Allen then determined to have it published, together with a commentary by me. Suddenly Schwalb (going under his Hebrew name, Dror) sued Allen for libel. Though the suit was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence, under Britain's archaic libel laws, Schwalb was able to get an interlocutory injunction blocking publication of the letter. When the book appeared, I had the strange experience for an American of seeing a blank in my essay where I had quoted the letter.

Mr. Halkin discusses but never quotes a syllable of this letter that he says "never existed." So that readers may determine the truth for themselves, here is Weissmandel's reconstruction of it, preceded by his introductory comments:

There was another letter in the envelope, written in a strange foreign language and at first I could not decipher at all which language it was until I realized that this was Hebrew written in Roman letters, and written to Schwalb's friends in Pressburg. It took up a page and a half. It is still before my eyes, as if I had reviewed it 101 times.

This was the content of the letter:

Since we have the opportunity of this courier, we are writing to the group that they must constantly have before them that in the end the Allies will win. After their victory they will divide the world again between the nations, as they did at the end of World War I. Then they unveiled the plan for the first step and now, at the war's end, we must do everything so that Eretz Israel will become the state of Israel, and important steps have already been taken in this direction.

About the cries coming from your country, we should know that all the Allied nations are spilling much of their blood, and if we do not sacrifice any blood, by what right shall we merit coming before the bargaining table when they divide nations and lands at the war's end? Therefore it is silly, even impudent, on our part to ask these nations who are spilling their blood to permit their money into enemy countries in order to protect our blood--for rak b'dam ["only with blood"] shall we get the land.

This is in respect to everybody--but in respect to you, my friends, atem taylu, and for this purpose I am sending you money illegally with this messenger.

Rabbi Weissmandel pondered over the note:

After I had accustomed myself to this strange writing, I trembled, understanding the meaning of the first words which were "only with blood shall we attain land." But days and weeks went by, and I did not know the meaning of the last two words until I saw from something that happened that the words atem taylu were from tiyul ["to walk"], which was their special term for "rescue." In other words: you my fellow members, my nineteen or twenty close friends, get out of Slovakia and save your lives and with the blood of the remainder--the blood of all the men, women, old and young, and the sucklings--the land will belong to us. Therefore, in order to save their lives it is a crime to allow money into enemy territory, but to save you, beloved friends, here is money obtained illegally.

It is understood that I do not have these letters - for they remained there and were destroyed with everything else that was lost. In Mr. Halkin's words, Teveth believes Weissmandel made this up "in order to cope with a haunting guilt" because he escaped from a death train while his family perished. If true, the rabbi should be awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize for literature. Because only another Isaac Bashevis Singer could concoct a political libel involving such singular Jewish details - a letter in Hebrew in Latin script, and agonizing over the conjugation of a Hebrew verb - which give the story its distinctive credibility. In fact, the note was in keeping with Labor Zionist thinking. After Kristallnacht, London, hoping to ease pressure for increased immigration to Palestine, proposed admitting thousands of Jewish children into Britain. David Ben-Gurion, speaking on December 7, 1938, put Zionism above the lives of Jews: If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children but also the history of the people of Israel. Weissmandel deceived no one. The ugly truth is that the movement that produced Ben-Gurion after Kristallnacht produced Schwalb during the Holocaust.