A Living Record: The Eichmann Trial and its Influence (Part Two)

Uploaded by YadVashem on 06.04.2011

In order to accuse him of being an accomplice to the murder of all those people,
we had to be able to show what he had done, what he knew, how he deported the people,
how he knew, through coordinating with all the government offices involved, that everyone would be murdered.
But we also had to show that the people had actually been murdered,
so if we were charging him, he couldn’t be convicted as an accomplice to the murder if we couldn’t show that the people had actually been murdered,
even if he wasn’t present at every one of the camps, and certainly not at all times.
We had to show that his department had coordinated all the instructions, and all the plans, the capture of all the people,
and their deportation, in the knowledge that they were being deported to the death camps.
Eichmann told us about the first order he had given. When the first Jews were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz,
before they went inside the gas chambers they were made to write postcards to their families and friends.
That was an order from Eichmann. They had to write:
“We are in a lovely holiday resort called Waldsee.
Great excursions and the work is not hard, but there isn’t much room,
so come as quickly as you can.”
At the trial, I questioned all the witnesses from Hungary.
Suddenly, the day before I had finished – it had taken four or five days to bring all the witnesses to the stand –
I was told that there was a Jew in Israel who had one of those postcards.
I phoned him up and told him to come to Jerusalem immediately.
He came at 11:00 at night. I mention this because I researched most of the witnesses very thoroughly in advance,
but I was told about this man at the last minute, and I never slept more than 3 hours a night, so when he came at 11:00 at night,
I said “Show me the postcard, translate the Hungarian into Hebrew for me,” and he did.
And I said “Tell me what happened to your family tomorrow morning when I call you to the stand.”
As soon as we arrived in Auschwitz, people appeared. We didn’t know who they were because we had never see uniforms like those.
We were ordered to go down quickly, and to leave all our belongings on the train.
We climbed down, it all happened so fast that we had no idea what was going on,
and then they said “Men to the right, with boys over 14, and women to the left with the little boys and the girls.”
And the women already started moving while we were still standing there, so that they had almost disappeared.
I was with my son, who was 12, and we kept moving forward.
Suddenly I was in front of a man, I didn’t know who he was. He was elegant, dressed in a German army uniform,
and he asked me what my profession was. I knew that lawyers were not liked, so I said that I was a former officer.
He looked at me and then asked “How old is the boy?”
At that moment I could not lie. I said “12 years old.”
and he said “Where is his mother?” And I said “She went left.” He told him “Run and catch up with your mother. Run after mother.”
I kept moving to the right and I saw how my son was running,
and thought “How is he going to find his mother? There are so many men and women here.”
And then I saw my wife. How did I spot her in the crowd?
My little girl was wearing a red coat, and when I saw that splash of red I knew she was there.
The red dot grew smaller and smaller,
I went right, and I never saw them again.
I myself had a two and a half year old daughter,
and two weeks earlier, I had bought her a red coat.
The day before, my wife had taken a photograph of me together with my daughter wearing the red coat.
When the witness testified, I heard this story for the first time, and I felt as if my throat had been cut.
Suddenly I couldn’t say a word.
The witness collected himself and waited for the next question. The judges signaled to me to continue,
television cameras were on me, so I started to rifle through my documents.
It took me several minutes until I managed to pull myself together and carry on.
I can only say that since that day, I can be at a basketball game,
I can be sitting in a restaurant, I can be walking in the street, and suddenly my heart will start beating faster.
I’ll turn around, and see some little boy or girl wearing a red coat.
It’s only be a small story, banal maybe, but for me, this somehow symbolizes the trial perhaps more than anything else.
Today, I feel a certain satisfaction regarding the trial that our goal then, which we could not clearly define, but wished to achieve, definitely was achieved,
not only in Israel, not only in the way it affected the generation that was alive at the time of the trial, but mainly in the way it affected the younger generation.
I sometimes get phone calls from youngsters, high school students.
I get feedback from abroad.
This trial was without doubt the Jewish people’s Nuremberg trial.
At the Nuremberg trials they also mentioned the murder of the Jews, the number 5-5.5 million Jews was even quoted,
but they weren’t trials about the Holocaust.
The Nuremberg trials encompassed all that happened in World War II.
The Eichmann trial was without doubt the Jewish people’s Nuremberg trial.
To my mind, the most important aspect of this trial was the impression it made here on Israel’s young people.
Their generation had perhaps some general knowledge about what had happened to the Jews in different countries in the Diaspora.
For them to learn what happened in the Nazi period,
to understand what Eichmann had done, Eichmann who was one of the most prominent Nazis,
perhaps the most prominent after those who worked directly with Hitler – that was a great thing.
There was a very significant development in Germany.
I had been told that there were always teachers who wanted to teach about the Holocaust in the schools,
and there were always prosecutors who wanted to bring Nazis to trial, especially those who had been in the death camps,
but they never had a budget. They never received any support or encouragement.
On the contrary, the parents who had been Nazis certainly didn’t want their children to hear about it in school.
Then the Eichmann trial started, and every household listened to it for a whole hour each evening for months on end, until it was over,
and then no one was standing in their way anymore. Teachers who wanted to were able to teach,
and so the knowledge began to spread amongst the youth there.
Prosecutors suddenly started a chain reaction of trials against Nazis – all the big trials, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibor.
It should perhaps have begun earlier, but at least it did finally start after the Eichmann trial.
It’s also critical now, in the battle against today’s Holocaust deniers.
Today, thanks to German precision, we have many documents from the German courts that describe, in minute detail, what took place in all the death camps.
So now we have responses for the Holocaust deniers in many countries around the world, and not just from the Eichmann trial.
They might say that they don’t accept the information that emerged in the Israeli trial, but now there is material from many German courts.
In addition, all over the world there are individuals who have the authority to do what Eichmann did,
be it in Yugoslavia, Africa or South America.
Today, people who are in that position know that if they succumb, and perpetrate crimes of this nature, they can be caught,
investigated, put on trial, and subjected to the most severe punishment available in democratic countries even 16 years later.
This does provide some form of deterrent, I hope, that in many cases people will be deterred from perpetrating these crimes,
and in every such case, it’s not one person that will be saved, but thousands, and even tens of thousands of lives that will be saved.
Since the trial, both while I served in the Police Force and afterwards,
I have continued to this day to research the Holocaust period.
The deeper I delve, the more I read and the more documents I see,
the more I understand how little I know about what happened in the Shoah.
I have not been traumatized by the Holocaust. I’m not even sure I know what it means to be traumatized by the Holocaust.
I do sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and my wife tells me I cried out.
After all, it’s impossible to turn the page and start a new one pretending that the previous one doesn’t exist,
but I continue to research the Holocaust from a historical perspective.
I joined the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations in order to see the other side of the darkness we went through,
because there were also people who saved Jews – not many, but there were.
When World War II started, I was 14,
and when I emerged from that hell, all I knew of the Jewish people was what I had seen during that period.
I wanted to get to know my people.