8. April 2011 - 28. September 2011

The Eichmann Trial


An Historical Trial

On 11 April 1961, one of the most spectacular trials in recent history began in Jerusalem: the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Whilst most European countries still tried to suppress the memories of the Second World War, the unexpected announcement of the capture and subsequent judgment of a man, who was presented, not without exaggeration, as one of the principal architects of the “Final Solution”, reopened a case which had remained unresolved since Nuremberg.

A major event, the trial of Eichmann, one of the main coordinators of the Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews, aroused much international interest and was entirely filmed. It was the first important trial held by a national jurisdiction of an individual person for crimes directly relating to the Holocaust. The trial raised the issue of how to judge, years after the facts, crimes of a nature and gravity without precedent, without adopting the proceedings of a war time tribunal, contrary to democratic principles. This was not the first trial in which Holocaust survivors were asked to testify, but it constituted an exceptional platform for the witnesses in Israel, a country which hadn’t existed at the time the deeds were perpetrated. The Eichmann Trial thus triggered a debate on Israeli identity which has never really come to a close.

Furthermore, as a sort of follow-up trial to Nuremberg and an important example for future trials, the Eichmann Trial proposed the first official interpretation, questioned and debated in the presence of one of its main executors, of the process which had led to the extermination of 5 to 6 million people within a relatively short time. Rarely a trial had shown with such intensity the both close and conflicting relationship between justice, memory and history, a triad which has become one of the essential components of the manner in which contemporary societies deal with the past.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of this event, the Shoah Memorial presents an exceptional exhibition displaying original documents from the Memorial’s archives (Centre de documentation juive contemporaine – CDJC) which had been handed over to the prosecution prior to the trial, as well as a large number of original documents and films, made available to the Shoah Memorial as part of a partnership with the Israel State Archives which hold these sources in their entirety: excerpts of the preliminary interrogations and the diaries kept by Adolf Eichmann in prison, sound recordings, photographs or reactions to the trial.

These archives are completed by other important manuscripts such as excerpts of the correspondences of Hannah Arendt or of David Ben Gourion, the then Prime Minister of Israel, and documents lent by the Argentine government.

Finally, and also in the context of this partnership, the entirety of the images of the trial, filmed by Leo Hurwitz (approximately 250 hours) can be consulted, from the opening date of the exhibition, at the Shoah Memorial, the only archive in Europe holding the trial’s complete film records.

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