View From Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW 28th January 2015

Over the last few days I have been watching “The Eichmann Show” the docudrama on BBC television about the filming of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961. You will remember that Eichmann was regarded as being the brains and the organisational skill behind the Holocaust which required a great deal of logistical expertise and administrative planning. In 1937 he had spent a day in Haifa, and is also believed to have acquired a smattering of Hebrew and Yiddish.

On the basis of this he had become “an expert” in Jewish matters. When the war broke out he took over the Bnai Brith offices in the middle of Berlin and from there began to organise and administer the systematic murder of millions of Jews.

The story of how the Israelis tracked him down in Argentina under the assumed name of Ricardo Clement, how they captured him and smuggled him back to Israel, and his trial in Jerusalem in 1961 is well-known. He was found guilty and in due course executed and his ashes scattered out at sea.

This brought back to me a lot of memories. I was in Jerusalem in 1961 on my gap year, and obtained a ticket for one afternoon of the trial. Eichmann was an insignificant looking man sitting in a bullet-proof glass box. Gideon Hausner was cross-examining him about the details of a deportation – how the transport was arranged, when and where it left, what was its destination. Eichmann answered in a matter-of-fact voice, denying some of the accusations and correcting some of the details. The thing I do remember very clearly was listening to a simultaneous translation of the proceedings – Hausner spoke in Hebrew and Eichmann answered in German – and hearing him plead as justification that he was merely following orders.

The trial caused enormous interest both in Israel and around the world. It was relayed live all over Israel – I remember hearing it broadcast on a bus in Tel Aviv. Suddenly details of the Holocaust became public knowledge. Without the filming and broadcast of the trial events such as International Holocaust Day might never have happened.