(See Part I of this article HERE:
First influence – Eichmann’s trial exposed the horrors of the Holocaust
Through the witnesses’ testimony, the trial exposed the true horrors of the Holocaust. It brought many people to tell their personal story, who may have otherwise taken it with them to their grave.
The trial gave the survivors a framework to talk about what happened to them. Speaking in court made them feel like partners in justice after the many years of war in which they lived in a situation where they had no justice. After the trial, other people were willing to listen to and believe the stories of the horrors of the Holocaust. In fact, many of the survivors then felt compelled to share their experiences with the following generations.
Opening up their memory vaults for the first time in court gave their testimonies legitimacy, and the large audience gave them support. Hundreds of people attended the trial and thousand of survivors, from all over the world, listed to it on the radio and watched it on television.
The media were ultimately the ones who exposed the trial to the world, and as the trial progressed, the world changed. From being oblivious to all that happened to the Jews in Europe during World War II, the world became aware of the torture and cruelty that Germans inflicted on the Jews. An example to the change that the population went through can be seen by looking at the questions the journalists asked the witnesses. In the beginning they asked: “Why didn’t you resist the Nazis and fight back?” The journalists were unaware of the condition of the Jews during the war, and therefore ignorant of the obvious answer. As the trial progressed and the journalists were able to understand the true horrors of the Holocaust, the question they asked was: “How could anyone resist?”
Second influence - Eichmann’s trial created a place for the survivors in Israeli society
In 1948 when a Jewish state was established, the Israeli mentality looked down upon the European Jews because the Israelis were not able to understand what the Holocaust survivors went through during World War II.
David Bankier, the head of the International Research Institute of Yad Vashem and a professor at Hebrew University talked about Eichmann’s trial and said, “It raised the consciousness of Israeli society to what had happened. Until then the survivors were rather silent about their ordeal - this gave legitimacy to the cultural and political presence of the survivors in Israeli society. Before that they felt ashamed, compared to the heroes, the Israeli Sabras, who had fought the Arabs.” (Elli Wohlgelernter, Lessons from the Eichmann Trial, 40 years on. May 2001. http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/actu/actu01/doc2001/jp010401.html)
Another example of the change Israeli society went through was being able to not look down upon the survivors, but instead look at them with pride. Once journalists heard about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, they wrote about it giving a lot of honor towards the Jews who tried to rebel. They wrote about how the Warsaw Ghetto was the highest symbol of Jewish pride. From a position where they looked down upon the Jews, they were able to understand that the Jews tried their best and therefore they should be proud of the survivors.
During the trial the survivors gained respect and empathy from the Jews in Israel. The survivors stopped being an anonymous group of people and instead became many individuals, each with his own name and his own story. This contrasts to what they went through in the Holocaust, when they were stripped of their individuality, assigned a number, and treated as flocks of sheep being brought to slaughter.
As the last of the survivors are growing old and moving on to the next world, many of them are once again very poor. Today there are organizations that help survivors live a better life. Without Eichmann’s trial, their stories would have never been told, and once again, no one would have cared for them.
Another effect of Eichmann’s trial in Israeli society was in the field of education. Eichmann’s trial was a turning point in the knowledge Israelis had about the Holocaust. Many of them didn’t know anything about the Holocaust before the trial. The education about the Holocaust began only after Eichmann was brought to court. In fact, before the trial, Israeli schools didn’t teach about the Holocaust. Only afterwards, Holocaust studies were integrated in the public school curriculum. In addition, before the trial, text books weren’t made about the Holocaust and there were no public memorials, lectures, books, plays or movies about the Holocaust. Furthermore, before the trial high schools didn’t go on trips to Poland. The trips and other memorial events began as a result of the trial.
Third influence - Eichmann’s trial created a place for Israel in the world
Eichmann’s trial gave the state of Israel and her citizens confirmation that although Israel was a newly established state, it had a strong legal system and was able to judge and execute the man who murdered so many of the Jewish People. Without the State, the trial would never have been able to have taken place. The trial demonstrated why the State of Israel was necessary. Isser Harel, the director of the Mossad said, “For the first time in history the Jews would judge their assassins; and for the first time the world would hear, and the young generation in Israel would hear, the full story of the edict of annihilation against an entire people.” (Jessica Kraft, The Eichmann Trial. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history/Modern_History/1914-1948/The_Holocaust/Aftermath/Eichmann_Trial.shtml)
Along the same lines, Hanna Yablonka, a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University and author of The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann noted, “One of the impacts on society was the vision of Israel’s place vis-à-vis the other nations. The concept that ‘all the world is against us,’ was very much emphasized during the trial. It was a concept that Israelis have a predestination - they are predestined to be hated, they will never be a normal state among other states.” (Elli Wohlgelernter, Lessons from the Eichmann Trial, 40 years on. May 2001. http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/actu/actu01/doc2001/jp010401.html)
Without the public trial as evidence of what happened, Holocaust deniers, like Iran and the Academic Left, would have more strength in their arguments. They assert that the Holocaust never happened because no one document was ever found that outlined the genocidal plan nor did anyone find any signed order from Hitler himself ordering the Final Solution. The trial brought the facts to light. Like a wall around a castle of memories, the trial protects the memories of the murdered Jews from the onslaught of Holocaust deniers.
Forth influence - “Just following orders” is not a legitimate defense
Eichmann’s defense to all the charges against him was that he was following orders. This is the same defense many other Nazis used in the Nuremberg trials. At that time, the dilemma arose about whether using the excuse “just following orders” is legitimate. Letting someone use the defense “following orders” turns him into an instrument of a larger military system who is not responsible for his own acts. Some believe that if the accused soldier is a high general he should be able to see that what his commander tells him is unjust and therefore he should not follow that order. It is harder for a lower ranked soldier to make such a determination. Eichmann was one of the top officers in the Nazi military machine and therefore he should have realized that his acts were unreasonable and thus shouldn’t have been done. The world looks to this trial as an example of how a soldier, especially a commander, cannot justify immoral acts by saying he was “just following orders.” Eichmann’s trial became a reference point for world discussions about whether a soldier is allowed to follow unjust orders.
Conclusion of trial’s influence
Today, two approaches are used when tyrants commit crimes against humanity. The accused is either brought to court and tried like Saddam Hussein, or he is killed without a trial (targeted killing) like Osama Bin Laden. Although killing Eichmann without bringing him to trial may have been logistically easier, in the long run, bringing him to court helped advance consciousness, understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.
The questions the trial raised include: Does the world have the right to try a leader of another country? Can one country condemn to death a leader of another country? Is capital punishment ever a legitimate form of punishment? These questions will continue to be discussed. The Eichmann trial reignited the discussion, and shed new light on the topic.