The Eichman Effect – 50 years later

Posted Monday, June 4th, 2012. Filed Under My Daily Dose

I want to share an article written by Allan Gould in the National Post about the Eichman Effect 50 years later. This incident brought the collective consciousness to greater awareness not for just those that suffered in the Second World War, specifically what became known as the Holocaust but for all peoples that suffered a holocaust type of event in their country and against their culture, creed or religion.

Subject: by Allan Gould from the National Post: The Eichmann Effect

Today, the first of June, marks exactly 50 years since one of the most
infamous men of the past century, Adolf Eichmann, was hung by the
State of Israel — the first and only time that the death penalty was
civilly imposed in that country. Following his execution, the body of
the Nazi henchman promptly was cremated, and his ashes were scattered
over the Mediterranean Sea.

As a young man, passing through Israel on a youth pilgrimage during
the summer of 1961, I witnessed Eichmann’s trial, and have been
haunted by what I witnessed ever since. But I also have come to
realize that the Eichmann trial eventually raised the consciousness of
the world, and thereby changed humanity for the better.

When Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Mossad in 1961 and flown to
Israel, most of the world was furious. The Washington Post condemned
Israel’s implementation of “jungle law” and for “wreak[ing]
vengeance.” And Time magazine attacked the young nation’s “high-handed
disregard of international law.” Perhaps these pundits already had
forgotten the flaws that vitiated an earlier exercise in international
law, merely 16 years before: the Nuremburg Trial.

That trial failed in crucial ways because the victors of the Second
World War placed dozens of Hitler’s top Nazis in the dock just weeks
after Germany’s collapse: Few soldiers had returned home from battle.
At trial, the killers of 80% of European Jewry were charged with
general “crimes against humanity.” And so the procedures lacked a
specific moral focus. This was a mistake that Israel did not want to
see repeated with Eichmann.

At Eichmann’s Jerusalem trial, many Holocaust survivors spoke publicly
for the first time, giving “a voice to the victims that they had not
had before, and would compel the world to listen to the story of the
Final Solution in [an unprecedented] way,” as historian Deborah
Lipstadt wrote in last year’s acclaimed book The Eichmann Trial.

I was born and raised in Detroit, the son of parents who had fled
Toronto in the early 20th century because of antisemitism. In the
mid-30s, “No Jews or Dogs Allowed” signs were posted along old Highway
2 (now the route of the 401), and along the beaches of Lake Ontario.
Many jobs were closed to Jews, as well. My family’s memories of those
experiences were what propelled me to attend Eichmann’s trial — a
watershed in the history of the fight against antisemitism. I set my
alarm for 3 a.m., snuck out of my Jerusalem youth hostel, walked a few
miles, stood in line until dawn when free tickets to the trial were
handed out, and ended up sitting in the front row, a few feet from
Eichmann himself, in his glass booth. That transparent structure had
been built to protect the criminal, a cartesian representation of
irony if ever there was one.

At the time of the trial, 50 years ago, some people had a vague
awareness of the mass killing of Jews under Hitler. But the world’s
consciousness had not yet been raised, in any general sense, about
genocide. Anne Frank’s diary had been translated into English only a
few years earlier. And Eli Wiesel’s Night had been out for only a
year, in its English edition. The word “genocide” was rarely heard,
and the term “The Holocaust” had not yet entered the vocabulary of the
world. Eichmann’s trial changed that: Unlike at the time of the
Nuremberg Trials, television was now watched by hundreds of millions.
In the United States, the major channels — ABC, CBS and NBC; and in
Canada, CBC and CTV — showed excerpts from the Eichmann trial every
weeknight for months. All in all, there were 750 international
journalists in Jerusalem covering the trial.

The Israeli prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, was eloquent when he opened
the proceedings in April of 1961: “As I stand here before you to lead
the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. With me stand
six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an
accusing finger. For their ashes are piled up in the hills of
Auschwitz and in the fields of Treblinka, or washed away by the rivers
of Poland; their graves are scattered over the length and breadth of
Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voices are not heard.”

The impact on the 13-year-old state of Israel was shattering. In the
1950s, the tiny nation’s young people, many of them citizen-soldiers,
had taken a cruel and condescending attitude to the 500,000 survivors
who had immigrated after the war. Nearly all had believed that the
European Jews had gone “like sheep to the slaughter.” In contrast, the
Israelis had crushed five invading Arab armies in 1948.

The Eichmann trial showed the youth of Israel that during the Second
World War under the Nazis, physical resistance was nearly impossible.
The Jews of Europe had no weapons or armies. They were tricked by
their killers, who had told them they were being sent to the East to
work, hiding the truth of the shootings and gassings awaiting them. By
the time the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place, the majority of its
inhabitants were starving women and children. “If I had escaped from
the camp, I knew that 50 others would be lined up and shot,” said one
witness. Israelis began to grasp that what differentiated them from
their European brethren was not their courage, but the luck of their
birthplace.

In the course of the 1,350,000 words spoken at trial, the world
learned from Eichmann’s own notebooks that he had no remorse, that he
bemoaned the fact that the Nazi regime had not killed more Jews, and
that he expressed great satisfaction about how smoothly the
deportation process had run. In particular, he regretted that he did
“not achieve my ultimate aim, which was to free Hungary of all its
Jews.”

In self-justification, Eichmann declared: “I was merely a cog in the
machinery that carried out the directives and the orders of the German
Reich.” He was “only following orders,” a defence which had been
rejected at Nuremberg 16 years earlier. Prosecuting attorneys read
reports that several prominent Nazis had refused orders to shoot women
and children, yet had never been punished by their superiors for their
insubordination — a fact which did not help his case.

On a cold December day in 1961, the Israeli judges issued their
judgment: Eichmann was found guilty of the destruction of millions of
Jews. The Nazi bureaucrat was sentenced to hang on June 1, 1962, 50
years ago today.

The Eichmann trial accelerated the growth of a new field of study
around the world: genocide. And the German government reversed its
opposition to extending the statute of limitations, allowing more war
criminals to be prosecuted. For the first time, there was a consensus
among democratic states that genocidal killers cannot take refuge
behind claims of obedience to superior orders. There was a
proliferation of museums and annual commemorations around the world.
The media took on the challenge of depicting the Holocaust. Movies
such as Judgment at Nuremberg and Schindler’s List; TV shows such as
Holocaust; and novels such as The Wall, Mila 18 and Exodus all owe
something to the educational effect of the Eichmann trial.

The trial also had a profound effect on my own life. I became involved
in the American Civil Rights Movement, participating in the
Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, and later became a scholar of the
Holocaust. Having long ago returned to Toronto, I have spent much of
my life trying to fulfill the commandment of tikkun olam — righting
the world’s wrongs.

On a global level, the Eichmann trial, and the prominent place of
Holocaust education more generally, has encouraged other communities
to become vocal in commemorating their own tragedies — from the
slaughter of aboriginals in North America to the mass murders of
Armenians in 1896 and again in 1915, to the deliberate starvation of
over 7-million Ukrainian kulaks by Stalin in the 1930s. On some
occasions, the community of civilized nations even rouses itself to
give meaning to the words “never again” — through interventions in
Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. And just days ago, Charles Taylor of Liberia
was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his own war crimes.

One of the 613 commandments in the Five Books of Moses teaches: “You
shall not stand idly by when your neighbour’s life is in danger”
(Leviticus 19:16). The Eichmann trial of 1961 helped teach us all the
truth of that lesson.

National Post

Allan Gould is the author of over 40 books, including the
widely-quoted anthology, What Did They Think of the Jews? He
frequently lectures on the Holocaust and other Jewish topics across
North America.

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