Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.
NEW YORK—The 1961 trial of Nazi arch criminal Adolf Eichmann changed the philosophy and future thinking of the state of Israel.
Opening a window of understanding about the unimaginable horrors of the Nazi killing machine, the testimony given by those Eichmann sought to murder proved to be a turning point in Israel’s attitude toward those who survived—and those who were murdered—of the Shoah.
Speaking at a recent event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the trial, Israel’s Consul General in New York, Ido Aharoni, said Eichmann was “what evil looked like…Israel was forever different; the nation stopped to listen to the voice of the witnesses. It felt their agony.”
Tammy Hausner Raveh, daughter of Gideon Hausner (the State Prosecutor who “turned testimony into accusations and the demand for moral justice into practical justice”), and Itai Arad, grandson of Isser Harel (who, as head of the Mossad, led the operation that captured Eichmann in Buenos Aries, Argentina), each spoke of the remarkable contributions of their families.
“For the first time in history, the Jews would judge their assassins. Jews were in control of their destiny,” said Arad.
The Nazi mastermind Eichmann, spotted in Argentina in 1957, was living quietly as Ricardo Klement, a member of the German “ex pat” community. Information pinpointing his whereabouts was received from a half-Jewish Argentinian and conveyed through the German mission. Eichmann had remained completely unrepentant, telling a friend that he wished the Nazis “had finished the job.”
With the capture of Eichmann accomplished, the second phase of the chronicle began.
Raveh was 14 years old when the trial began. She recalled that her father had questioned his ability to represent the six million without being one of them. Gideon Hausner did, indeed, become “the voice of the six million.” The recently appointed State Attorney decided to act as the trial’s chief prosecutor. That decision, said Raveh, “changed my family’s life…When Eichmann walked into our door, he never really stepped out.”
For months before the Eichmann trial began, the Hausner home was the venue for pre-trial interviews. The trial, said Consul General Aharoni, gave voice to the accounts of the witness to the Shoah. It provided a unique opportunity to enter the darkness of the Holocaust through the words and actions of its “Operations Manager” and emerge into the light of the future.
As the date of the trial approached, Hausner wrote and rewrote his opening remarks, even through the night before the trial. “I don’t stand alone,” he declared. “I stand with six million who cannot rise to their feet and cry ‘I accuse.’”
“It falls to me to be their spokesman,” he said.
Eichmann was executed by hanging May 31, 1962. He is the only person to have suffered capital punishment in the history of the state of Israel. Michael Goldman-Gilad, investigative officer for the trial, called Eichmann “a nebbish” in 1996.
“Yet, the minute he opened his mouth, I felt the gates of the crematorium opening before me,” Goldman-Gilad said at the time.
Hausner, said Raveh, changed as the trial progressed. “In those days, he didn’t smile, he didn’t tell jokes. He cried twice; the first with Rivka Yosselevska, who crawled out of a mass grave, still alive among the dead, and lived to tell of the horror. Tears came a second time, after Michael ‘Mickey’ Goldman scattered Eichmann’s ashes in the sea.”
“Justice,” Hausner said at the time, “has been done, but so late and so little.”