"Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt... you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; you must not forget." (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
Fifty years ago tonight, at midnight between May 31 and June 1, 1962, Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel for organizing and coordinating Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution.” The indictment brought by the State of Israel for his trial there consisted of 15 counts of "crimes against the Jewish people," "crimes against humanity," "war crimes," and "membership in a hostile organization" - that is, the SS, SD (Security Service), and Gestapo, all three of which had been declared "criminal organizations" by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946.
The crimes against the Jewish people with which Eichmann was charged encompassed all aspects of the persecution of millions of Jews, including their arrest and imprisonment, organizing deportations to extermination camps, and the theft of their property.
The trial, conducted by the District Court in Jerusalem, began on April 10, 1961. It took place in a Jerusalem community center that had been adapted for this special purpose. The court consisted of Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau (who presided), Jerusalem District Court President Benjamin Halevi, and Tel Aviv District Court Judge Yitzhak Raveh.
One of the many survivors testifying at the trial was Moshe Bejski z”l, a former member of the Claims Conference Board of Directors. Justice Bejski immigrated to Israel after surviving the Plaszow camp and became a Supreme Court Justice.
On May 31, 1962, Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi turned down Eichmann's petition for clemency, citing a passage from Samuel I: "As your sword bereaved women, so will your mother be bereaved among women." (1 Samuel 15:33, Samuel's words to Agag, king of the Amalekites).
Eichmann’s body was cremated and the ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israel's territorial waters. His execution remains the only time that Israel has enacted a death sentence.
In 2002, the Claims Conference supported the opening of a permanent exhibit at the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies in Israel about the Eichmann trial. The exhibit, “Six Million Accusers—The State of Israel v. Adolf Eichmann,” is the centerpiece of the Massuah Museum.
“Six Million Accusers” confronts the Holocaust through the prism of the Eichmann trial. It features three time periods: The time of the trial and how the Holocaust was remembered in the Israel of the early 1960s; the Holocaust era, through the testimonies and evidence presented at the trial; and the present, in which the Eichmann trial is examined as a turning point in Israeli society’s attitude toward the Shoah.
The exhibition includes a gallery that documents the spontaneous response of the Israeli street to the announcement on May 24, 1960 about the capture of Eichmann in Argentina and transport to Israel; his detention in Israel; and his upcoming trial in Jerusalem. It describes the preparations for the trial, including a three-screen presentation that is projected in the exhibition courtroom.
The exhibition then advances to the trial itself: a visit to the courtroom as the trial takes place, following the sequence of topics that were raised in the trial: the 1930s and the Nazis’ rise to power, the occupation of Poland, the ghettos, the onset of mass murder in the death pits, the transports, and the extermination camps. A separate room is devoted to the trial’s cross-examination of Eichmann.
The multimedia system that accompanies the exhibition includes 150 annotated clips of testimony and thousands of documents and photos, most culled from the evidence presented at the trial.
To help Massuah mark the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, the Claims Conference provided funding to double the number of guided group tours through the exhibition. The Claims Conference also supported publication of the album, "Six Million Accusers,” which was launched at a ceremony attended by the fifth president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon. At the time of the Eichmann trial, former President Navon was the court reporter who covered the trial for the newspaper Hamerchav.
Massuah organized various events over the past year, including a special seminar devoted to the trial with leading Israeli historians and jurists. A symposium for senior IDF command was held, as well as a seminars for defense officials, children of survivors, government officials, and college students.
There were also special tours of the exhibition for directors of European Holocaust memorials, the team establishing the educational center for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and for staff of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Following these events there have been many requests from institutions worldwide for archival materials, and many schools have requested to focus on the Eichmann trial during their visits to Massuah in the coming year.
Just as the Eichmann trial educated a generation of Israelis about the horrors of the Shoah, the Claims Conference support for this exhibition and educational events will help educate Israelis and others today and in the future. As we move further in time away from that pivotal event in Israeli history, the need to educate about it grows even more urgent.