When the Nazi criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 I was nearing the end of my time at a high school for girls in London. There was a fairly strong Jewish contingent, but the overwhelming majority of pupils were Christian. In fact, several of the girls in my class stated that it was their ambition to go to Africa as missionaries, though whether they actually did so or not I never found out.
So, as well as trying to keep up with schoolwork and the impending A-level exams, I found myself suddenly confronted with a subject with which I had only a passing acquaintance. My parents had arrived in England as refugees from Germany just before the war, and they – and we, their children – devoted considerable energy to becoming as English as possible, learning to ‘fit in’ and be ‘just like everyone else.’ The subject of the Holocaust was never discussed in our household, although we children were aware of the losses our family had suffered (we had no grandparents).
I know now that for me becoming just like everyone else was mission impossible in England at that time, though I believe that the country as a whole is far more tolerant and accepting of others than it was then. And so the impact on me of the widespread publicity and coverage given to the Eichmann trial was little short of traumatic. Suddenly the Holocaust and all its horrors were brought to light and laid out in front of me in the newspapers as well as on the TV screen.
All these thoughts were brought back to the surface of my mind by the recent TV broadcast of the first of three programmes presenting the tape recordings made in 1960 by a Nazi sympathizer, a Dutch journalist called Sasser, who was living in Buenos Aires and was friendly with Eichmann there. He interviewed Eichmann over the course of several sessions, and so we hear Eichmann declaring how proud he was of his contribution to achieving the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish problem by sending six million of them to their deaths in concentration camps. Eichmann had been responsible for organizing the trains that criss-crossed Europe, collecting and transporting the masses of individuals in inhuman conditions to work as slave labourers and gassed in the concentration camps.
At his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann claimed to have been ignorant of the fate of the Jews, that he had been a lowly clerk, someone who had simply done his job. After hearing the tape recordings of his voice it is clear that he was no mere cypher. He was imbued with the Nazi ideology of the purity of the Aryan race and the threat of its contamination by alien blood, i.e., Jews. This incorporated a burning hatred of anything and everything Jewish – men, women and children, literature, music, art, society, religion and the very air they breathed.
I have a faint recollection of one of our teachers at school bringing the subject of the trial up in class and asking for our views about it. Some girls were incensed at the idea of the ‘poor chap’ being kidnapped from his home and family and made to stand trial in a foreign country. Most of us Jewish girls thought it only fitting that someone who had played such a pivotal role in so many murders should pay the price for it. When Eichmann was finally executed and his ashes scattered over the sea some of us recoiled at this ‘barbaric’ treatment, but no one on any side seemed to be very distressed, and of course, those were times when our attention was focused more on Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele and similar teenage idols.
But hearing Eichmann extolling his achievements in his own voice must inevitably shut the mouths of those who claim that the Holocaust never happened.