Adolf Eichmann during his trial
Photo: GPO

The year silence was broken

Although it was somewhat of a spectacle, the Eichmann trial allowed survivors to finally voice their cries, making Israelis realize that there are personal, horrible holocausts

Sitting on the floor under my mother's chair at the Borochov Studios in Givatayim in the beginning of April 1961, alongside dozens others chairs arranged in a festive circle around an old, humming, Philips radio, I discovered I was part of the Jewish people. It happened when Gideon Hausner opened his speech by saying:


"When I stand here before you, oh judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. With me here are six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point their finger at the man in the dock with the cry "J'accuse!" on their lips. For they are now only ashes – ashes piled high on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is stilled. Therefore will I be their spokesman. In their name will I unfold this terrible indictment."


So terrible were his words, that all the new immigrants sitting on the room, the survivors of personal holocausts of which it was still too early to speak without falling apart, burst into tears. This was the first time in my life I saw both my parents cry, and I immediately came out of my hiding place to hug and console them. "This is a very important day for us," my mom said. "I'm sorry we're crying."


She later wrote down what happened, with numerous spelling mistakes and great hesitation, on a notebook page. This was the first essay she wrote in Israel, in which she tried – and failed – to explain her holocaust. She did the same as hundreds of thousands of others, each carrying his own personal story, heavier than a cross, each walking down a different path of victimhood.


Yes, it was a show

The great achievement for the intelligence services and the fame that accompanied the capturing of a Nazi aside, beyond the sense of social solidarity that the Eichmann trial created, and certainly more than the drama of the execution, the Eichmann year, 1961, will go down in collective memory as the year in which the silence was broken.


In his excellent book, "1949 – The First Israelis", Tom Segev writes about the seemingly marginal episode in which Hansi Brand, who served as Israel Kastner's secretary in Budapest, was invited to speak about the Holocaust of Hungary's Jews before kibbutz members. "So, what, we also had a bomb fall on our dairy farm," the members said after hearing her testimony.


She encountered this response because of the disgraceful attitude of the Jewish community in Palestine towards the Holocaust, because of David Ben-Gurion's even more shameful treatment of the survivors, whom he referred to as "human dust", and because of the shocking exploitation of the survivors' fates in order to advance the new state's political and economic agenda.


And it was no longer possible to talk about the faraway land and tell the fortunate ones in the land of the forefathers what had happened there, and how we survived, leaving behind our dead and our loved ones, our memories and our language, in the mental territory enclosed by crematoriums and barbed-wire fences and barking dogs, and people barking "achtung-schnel-raus."


The Eichmann trial opened up everything. Technically speaking, this was a show trial through which Israel sought to claim ownership over the survivors' moral and legal rights, as well as over the right for revenge.


Yes, it was a show, but there are some forms of justice that need to be carried out in the town square, and some people deserve to be locked up inside a glass booth until the day they die.


And yes, Eichmann wasn't the most senior Nazi roaming free until our finest boys put thier hands on him, but at least he was available: In his body and actions, this man was supposed to personify the Nazi beast, although he was a medium ranking railway clerk, although he seemed so banal, although it was later said that evil is by its nature banal.


New narrative

From a national point of view, this became a source of pride. The Eichmann trial, which generated huge interest in the free world, echoed throughout the globe as a demonstration of the exemplary order and substantial might of this small, orange-growing country. Even the most fantastic technological innovations were enlisted to the effort: Bureau 06, the police department that handled Eichmann, had been equipped with a "talking box," the newspapers revealed, extensively elaborating on the box that allows a policeman to receive orders from the other side of the courtroom!


And of course, there were the witnesses. Most of them had no direct relation to Eichmann's doings, and in an ordinary trial their testimonies would have been disqualified due to lack of relevance. But their cries, their despair, the exposing of secrets they had carried inside them like malignant tumors – all those were much more important than the trial itself. They enabled the Israelis whose dairy farm was hit by a bomb to understand something that has until then remained out of the public eye: The power of the personal account over that of the official narrative.


It suddenly became clear that there are holocausts which are private and horrible. And that under the slogan "Holocaust and Heroism" hid a song that was to accompany us for years to come – because every person has a name, and a story, and a testimony.


The Eichmann trial allowed thousands of survivors to talk, for the first time. Later on, when they started writing down their memoirs, their tales became fixed in an accepted, not altogether conscious, narrative: First, a bombarded childhood in the shtetl or the big, foreign city. Second – the skies become dark and the Nazi beast emerges. Third, the war years and the struggle to remain human. Fourth, aliyah and revival. If you go back to the protocols of the Eichmann trial, you'll see where this narrative was created and how it accompanies us to this day.


פרסום ראשון: 04.22.08, 09:59
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