Gaylen Ross is an award-winning producer and director with her own company, GR Films. She earned her Emmy for her film “Blood Money: Switzerland’s Nazi Gold,” and has made films about Manhattan’s Diamond Center and Russian mail-order brides. She is presenting the American debut of the controversial “Killing Kasztner” in New York City.
Ross first found out about Kasztner when she did the film on the Swiss banks and met a woman who had been a passenger on the train. She thought the story was compelling but complicated, and people advised her to stay away from it. But when she attended the Kasztner Symposium at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, moderated by Egon Mayer, the sociologist and Kasztner supporter whose mother was on the train while pregnant with him, Ross could not let the story go. At the beginning of the film, she shows how the museum director, David Marwell, tried to control angry attendees.
In the film, she brings the family and Kasztner’s murderer together. What ensues is an engrossing, fascinating encounter, but the filmmaker doesn’t choose between them. She lets the viewers decide if Kasztner was a hero or villain. She compares him to an inkblot.
Ross said, in an interview on Monday, “People put on him what they feel. First and foremost, there is the guilt felt by the survivors for having lived while others died and then there are the moral questions of dealing with the Nazis and of buying Jewish lives for cash.” She added that “Jews questioned the motives of other Jews, forgetting that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis, not Jews.”
Later Eichmann slandered Kasztner at his own trial, and what Ross and others find astonishing is that people would rather believe a war criminal and killer like Eichmann instead of Kasztner, who tried to save Jews.
The film will have a private reception at YIVO at the Center for Jewish History on Oct. 20 and opens at New York’s Cinema Village on Oct. 23. J.F.