A story of thanksgiving

The story in The Globe & Mail (Canadian newspaper) of 24 November 2011 was headlined “Munk’s $18 million donation aimed at attracting top brains”. Peter Munk, the former CEO and now chairman of Barrick, the world’s largest gold miner, was making another large donation to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto, which he had received his name after a previous large donation.

This second large donation is a wonderful story in itself as it will help the Centre to retain the world’s finest cardiac surgeons in Toronto to save many lives. However, there is a more interesting story behind the current one and this story requires going back to 1944 and the Kastner train.

1944 – The Kastner Train – The Nazis did not occupy Hungary, Peter Munk’s birthplace, until the Spring of 1944 when the Hungarian leader starting musing about withdrawing from the WWII and changing sides to the Allies. Part of the Nazi contingent that arrived that spring in Budapest was Adolf Eichmann, charged with implementing the final solution for the Jews of Hungary; trains packed with innocent victims started rolling to the east to the crematoria of the Nazi death apparatus.

Rezso Kastner was a Hungarian who had come to Budapest some years earlier with the goal of saving as many Jewish and other lives as possible. He started to negotiate with Eichmann for the release of Jews, the Nazis being in desperate need of trucks for the army as their manufacturing operations were being bombed daily by the Allies. The trade of trucks for Jews did not materialise; however, Kastner was able to negotiate for a train carrying about 1,100 Jews to Switzerland. Peter Munk was on that train as a young boy and, thanks to Kastner, he escaped to the West and lived.

Canada – Munk eventually came to Canada where he started a number of ventures before creating and building Barrick into the world’s largest gold miner with a market value of about $50 billion. Now, in his later years, he is in the financial position of being able to save lives through his generosity. However, but for Kastner and the Kastner train, his life would almost certainly have been lost to the Nazi extermination machine.

Paul Simon