More than almost any other event, it was the trial of Adolf Eichmann that, in 1961, brought the Holocaust into the public consciousness of the world. In both Europe and Israel, the trial marked the beginning of the end of a period, immediately after the Second World War, when the Holocaust was deliberately ignored and forgotten. The cause of the change: the medium of television.
A new 90-minute BBC drama, “The Eichmann Show” — which aired in the United Kingdom January 20 as part of a season of programming to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — captures the making of the Eichmann Trial as a television spectacle. It was an American producer, Milton Fruchtman (played by Martin Freeman), who persuaded David Ben-Gurion that “only television can show the world what Eichmann did,” and that the trial of Eichmann would be “the most important television event in history.”
Fruchtman hired Leo Hurwitz (Anthony LaPaglia), who was blacklisted in the United States during the McCarthy period, to direct his show. “The Eichmann Show” homes in on Hurwitz’s singular obsession with Eichmann, what the camera could do to inspect him, and his failure to get the much-desired close-up of him showing even a scintilla of regret. “Come on, do something!” Hurwitz bellows, as Eichmann watches stony-faced images of trucks plowing piles of skeletal corpses into mass graves. His face barely even twitches.
Crossposted from Batya Reads
This year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, starting January 9, is heavy on the Holocaust. Two films, however, stand out in conversation with one another. “Hannah Arendt,” directed by Margarethe von Trotta, is a fictionalization of Arendt’s presence at the Eichmann trial. And a new documentary, “The Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” directed by Michael Prazan, attempts to retrieve the Eichmann trial from the clutches of Arendt’s highly controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” and to reinterpret the event through a different lens.
Arendt famously saw in Eichmann not a monster, but a bureaucrat following orders. She derived the term “the banality of evil” from observing Eichmann and his reactions during the trial. While the prosecution attempted to portray him as a conniving anti-Semite — the force and form behind the Final Solution — Arendt saw Eichmann as a cog in the machine of the Third Reich. She derided the theatrical nature of the trial and was deeply critical of Ben Gurion’s attempts to turn a matter of justice into a platform for nation building. The prosecution insisted on calling survivor after survivor to testify to their suffering in Germany, Poland and France. As far as Arendt was concerned, the question of Nazi atrocities had nothing to do with whether or not Eichmann was guilty of orchestrating the Final Solution.
Can a murderer be someone with no literal blood on his hands? Someone who never gave a direct order to kill? In the case of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader who organized the transport of millions of Jews to death camps during the Holocaust, the answer was a resounding, unanimous “yes.” After years in hiding, Eichmann was caught in 1961 and put on trial in Jerusalem, where he was sentenced to death and hanged for his role in the Shoah. The affair is well documented in Hannah Arendt’s controversial, landmark book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”
However, before being captured and brought to judgment, Eichmann spent a decade hiding out in Buenos Aires with his family, working a series of odd jobs under the name Ricardo Klement. In a turn of rather puzzling behavior for a fugitive trying to keep a low profile, he sat down for a series of taped interviews with Dutch journalist and Nazi sympathizer Willem Sassen.
Crossposted from Haaretz
In 1979, Channel One broadcast “Memories of the Eichmann Trial,” a documentary directed for the Israeli television station by David Perlov. The movie, shot on 16mm film, was aired only once and for the 32 years since has remained unseen in the channel’s archives. The director, who passed away in 2003, did not own a copy of the documentary himself, but rather a yellowed video cassette prepared for him by the archive, which was missing the first three minutes and the closing credits.
With the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial this year, Perlov’s family, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, decided to save the film from oblivion. Last month, with the help of Channel One archive director Billy Segal, Perlov’s daughter Yael and Yad Vashem Visual Center director Liat Benhabib located the boxes containing the original copy of the documentary.
On Wednesday, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries. She is the author of the new book “The Eichmann Trial.” Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I have spent much of the past few weeks talking about my new book, “The Eichmann Trial.” I don’t want to make this blog entry about the book. (To be blunt, I’d rather have folks read the book.) But something has struck me in the talks and interviews I have conducted.
For so many people the issue of the Eichmann trial remains Hannah Arendt. They seem to have a hard time conceiving of the Eichmann trial independent of Arendt’s “analysis.” I am speaking of who abhor what she said as well as of those who espouse her views.
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