Last night I went along to the London Jewish Cultural Centre in north London to see a small but compelling exhibition about the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann and hear the recollections of two people who found themselves very close to the trial.
Tali Hausner-Raveh is the daughter of the trial's Chief Prosecutor Gideon Hausner, and Investigating Police Officer Miki Gilad Goldman, an Auschwitz and death march survivor, was part of a unit, Bureau 06, set up to investigate the evidence against Eichmann in the lead up to the trial. Goldman was also present at Eichmann's execution and the scattering of his ashes in international waters in the Mediterranean.
It was an emotive and unforgettable evening, with many Holocaust survivors in the audience. When I came home last night, I watched further clips from the trial on YouTube (you can find most of the four month trial sessions there) and it is truly and deeply chilling to look at close up footage of the face of the monster that was Adolf Eichmann. He stands or sits in the bullet proof box clothed in a regular dark suit, no longer in the Nazi uniform of SS-Obersturmbannführer with its death's head insignia, so well-known in the iconic photo of the younger him. Throughout the trial he never once showed remorse - even while listening to the chilling and damning testimonies, just a constant look of impatience and sardonism.
The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 was a watershed event in the world coming to know what had happened in the Holocaust. At the Nuremberg trials in 1946, there were no first-hand witnesses called (probably it was too raw and painful) - only documents were produced. During the 1950s and the Cold War, and the hard fought establishment of Israel, survivors kept their heads down and did not talk about their experiences. Eichmann's defence was that he was a man who had simply followed orders and he asserted that the decisions had been made not by him, but by Müller, Heydrich, Himmler, and ultimately Hitler. The testimonies of many witnesses to his brutality and evidence that he had even countered decisions made higher up (that would have saved some lives) in his frenzied mission for the total annihilation of all Jews of Europe, served to ultimately prove the case against him.
The trial followed the discovery of Eichmann living under a false name, Ricardo Klement, in a suburb of Buenos Aires and the subsequent capture of him by Mossad agents. How he was discovered is a remarkable set of circumstances and if you don't know, it's worth taking a look on Google. Eichmann's capture and secret delivery to Israel to face trial in the Jewish state was greeted by amazement and shock when it was announced two days after his arrival by Prime Minister Ben Gurion. One can only imagine the thoughts of the many survivors living there and elsewhere.
Tali Hausner Raveh, a retired attorney herself and who is still very beautiful in her late 60s, explained how before the Eichmann trial her father was always laughing and telling jokes at home, but once the four month trial had started his personality changed and his sense of humour disappeared.
In the weeks preceding the start of the trial, Tali recalled many survivors coming to their home, and over "tea and cookies", Prosecutor Hausner sensitively encouraged them to give witness testimonies.
Prosecutor Hausner's opening speech, which became an enduring legacy of the trial, described the responsibility of the task that lay ahead. He said to the packed courtroom, containing many who had lost their entire families, "Their blood cries out but their voices cannot be heard."
Miki Gilad Goldman talked about the time he spent as a teenager captured in Poland, where he was in Auschwitz-Birkenau and then a slave labourer at the IG Farben factory at Auschwitz III. He suffered a death march before his eventual liberation.
On one brutal occasion he was whipped 80 times by a Nazi guard. He went on to reiterate about people not believing the stories of survivors in the decade following the war and told us that one person in Israel in the 1950s whom he had told about his whipping responded by saying that the terrible suffering of the survivors had caused "their imaginations to make things up". This he told us, he had regarded as his 81st lashing, and prior to the trial didn't speak again about his experiences as a teenager.
Miki went on to tell us about his time in Auschwitz and how he did not know which aspect of life there was the worst: hunger, where a raw potato would be fought for to the death; cold where he witnessed someone being beaten for taking a guard's sock to help keep himself warm; the living conditions, where one had to decide whether to sleep on the bottom of the tightly packed bunk and risk being defecated on as bowels and bladders could not be controlled or to sleep on the top and risk being dangerously late for roll call as it was so hard to climb down; the lice who drove you to madness; or the humiliation of no longer having a name and just being a number.
Why I am compelled to write this today, while these stories are fresh in my mind, has also been motivated by the news this morning of HRH the Prince of Wales comparing Putin's actions to the Holocaust - and saying this to a survivor he met this week in Canada. I am sure His Royal Highness was well meaning and I am sure Putin has a grand plan and motive, but it does not involve annihilation of millions on a Stalinist scale.
In the next few days the Anne Frank Trust will join thousands of organisations and individuals who have submitted their responses to the Prime Minister's Holocaust Commission Consultation. As we eventually move forward into the post Holocaust survivor world, we who are privileged to work in the field of Holocaust education, those who have had the privilege of knowing survivors personally, those school pupils who have learnt about the Holocaust in their history and citizenship lessons, must all strive to remain guardians of their truth.