Emanuel (Manny) Mandel knows what his life was worth: some trucks and other materials needed by the Nazi war machine.
Those were the stakes in a deal made by Adolf Eichmann in exchange for the lives of Mandel, his mother and uncle, and some 1,670 other Hungarian Jews.
Mandel, who was eight years old at the time, was among those who traveled on what became known as the “Kasztner train,” named for Rezso Kasztner, a Hungarian Jew who negotiated with the Nazis to save Jewish lives.
Mandel recounted his tale of travel from Budapest through Bergen-Belsen, from Switzerland to Palestine, and on to the United States during a Nov. 15 program at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor.
“There were 1,600-plus Jews selected in no particular manner,” said Mandel in a phone interview. “There was everyone from the most liberal to the least liberal, religious to non-religious. They exchanged blood for goods.”
Kasztner immigrated to Israel after the war, where he became a controversial figure in the 1950s for his dealings with the Nazis. He was assassinated in 1957, becoming the country’s first Jewish victim of a Jewish political assassin.
Mandel’s lecture was presented through the synagogue’s Werner Lecture Fund, which was established by June Newman in memory of her parents, Dorothy and Martin Werner. The lecture was opened to the community, she said, “so that people remember what these victims went through.”
Earlier in the day, Mandel spoke to students in Beth El’s religious school.
The program, which was also funded by Dr. Naomi Vilko, cochair of the Israel affairs committee of the Jewish Center in Princeton, was publicized to other religious institutions through the Windsor-Hightstown Area Ministerium.
Vilko said she has seen the recent movie Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt with the Nazis with her mother, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor.
“Someone Manny’s age certainly would have otherwise been killed because that’s what the Nazis did with children,” Vilko said. “It points out that sometimes the most unexpected people did things to save lives.”
Mandel left Hungary without his father, a cantor at Budapest’s renowned Rombach Street Synagogue who had been sent to a labor camp.
The Kasztner train ended up stopping in Bergen-Belsen, where Mandel and his family remained for six months, before going on to Switzerland in late 1944. His father later escaped, and the family was reunited in Palestine. They moved to Philadelphia in 1949.
Now a resident of Silver Spring, Md., Mandel has had a long career in psychotherapy.