Fifty years ago, on May 31, 1962, Adolf Eichmann was executed after the most public trial in history (it was the first time a trial had been televised). It changed so many things about the world’s understanding of Holocaust — as well as Jewish life in general — that today we take these monumental changes for granted.
Today, for instance, Holocaust survivors are widely viewed as heroes, even among non-Jews. Before the Eichmann trial, however, Israeli society in general despised survivors for not standing up to the Nazis and fighting back. Israelis had been propagandized by the persona of the “New Jew,” a street fighter created in the Zionist image.
Hearing survivor testimony firsthand as the “Architect of the Holocaust” listened in a glass booth a few feet away created in the public eye a different perception of the victims. In the words of Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, this perception was the “polar opposite to this Zionist Weltanschauung.” For the first time, many Israelis and Jews understood the impossibility of directly confronting the Nazis, the complexities involved in choosing to physically resist and the Holocaust survivors’ spiritual heroism. The Eichmann trial, she concludes, was a “catharsis not only to the survivors, but to Israelis and the Jewish people at large.”
Of course, the Eichmann trial also dealt a serious blow to Holocaust deniers. Here was testimony by the man arguably most responsible for orchestrating it, who was quoted as saying he would “jump” into his grave “laughing” in the knowledge that the death of five million Jews was on his hands, and who testified to important aspects of it, including personal visits Auschwitz, Treblinka, gas vans and mass graves in Russia. Despite his incredible denial of any personal guilt associated with his actions, his public testimony makes it that much harder for Jew-haters to deny the Holocaust (the denials of the President of Iran, as well as academics in the Muslim and Western world notwithstanding).
Therefore, as we read about the capture, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann, let’s remember that the Holocaust is a treasure trove of Torah lessons. At least six of those lessons were enumerated by the Novominsker Rebbe:
- Elicit in students sympathy for the victims and others in distress;
- Inspire them with ahavas Yisrael — to be more kind and do more chessed;
- Instill them with a love of Judaism;
- Give them an appreciation of the power of Torah to provide hope in the darkest of circumstances;
- Imbue them with a sense of hashgachah, i.e. that God runs the world, as well as a closeness to God, and a sense of our responsibility to do His will;
- Impart to them belief in the eternity of the Jewish People.
Eichmann’s capture and trial is a gift we can use to strengthen our emunah. It is a grand central station of Torah lessons. May we merit taking it to heart and securing these lessons for ourselves and our children.
Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief