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Juger Eichmann

Juger Eichmann, Mémorial de la Shoah, paris

Adolf Eichmann blindfolded before being taken to Israel, photographed by Zvi Aharoni, the Mossad agent who found Eichmann in Argentina.

Fifty-one years ago, a team of Israeli agents captured a German citizen living under a false name in Argentina. The man pretending to be Ricardo Klement was the infamous ...

Juger Eichmann, Mémorial de la Shoah, paris

Adolf Eichmann blindfolded before being taken to Israel, photographed by Zvi Aharoni, the Mossad agent who found Eichmann in Argentina.

Fifty-one years ago, a team of Israeli agents captured a German citizen living under a false name in Argentina. The man pretending to be Ricardo Klement was the infamous Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, who played a major role in organizing the Holocaust. Eichmann’s trial, which took place in Jerusalem between April 11 and December 15, 1961, was almost entirely filmed and was one of the world’s first global events. The trial is now the subject of a rich, informative bilingual (French and English) exhibition at Paris’s Mémorial de la Shoah.

The aim of the exhibition, which begins with the display of front pages from some leading world newspapers following Eichmann’s arrest on May 11, 1960, is to show that Eichmann’s trial marked the emergence of efforts to remember the Shoah and of new forms of justice that would lead to international trials for genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia many years later.

Covering the preparation and management of the trial and the complex personality of Eichmann, the exhibition displays some noteworthy exhibits, including letters sent to then-Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion following Eichmann’s arrest. Some of them call for Eichmann to be tortured, while others threaten the Jews with retaliation if Eichmann is hurt. What is interesting is the vision and determination of Ben-Gurion, who wanted Eichmann’s trial to be not only about justice, but also about educating Israeli youth about the Shoah. Ben-Gurion wanted the event to inspire “memory work” that would show the entire world the unity of the Israeli people.

We also see such exhibits as a letter to German philosopher Karl Jaspers from German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, who reported on the trial for The New Yorker and coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt saw Eichmann as the archetypal “administrative criminal.”

The exhibition also focuses on Eichmann the man and, in particular, on the disparity between the man and his deeds. Eichmann was responsible for transporting millions of Jews from all over Europe to deaths camps in Poland, but some photos on display show us an ordinary man in slippers, writing his memoirs while waiting to be judged.

The exhibition ends with a room dedicated to the trial itself, where the visitor can watch excerpts on television screens. Some Jewish camp survivors’ testimonies are deeply moving, but it is Eichmann responses to the Israeli prosecutor’s questions that are most striking. He appears to be a calm, rather dull and methodical man, very much involved in his defense.

Eichmann’s defense went beyond the usual “I was just following orders” claim. We discover a man obsessed with leaving behind a positive image of himself, although he played a crucial part in one of the world’s most heinous crimes.

Because of the subject’s complexity, this is not an exhibition that can be skimmed through in half an hour. To fully understand the trial as well as the Israelis’ motives and Eichmann’s behavior takes a good two hours, but it is well worth it, given the quality of the work done by the curators.

The exhibition’s main value is that it puts the trial back into context and helps us understand why it was such a significant world event. For those who want to go beyond the exhibition, the Mémorial de la Shoah is holding a series of discussions and lectures about the trial in May and June.

Louis Fraysse

Mémorial de la Shoah: 17, rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 Paris. Métro: St Paul or Pont-Marie. Tel.: 01 42 77 44 72. Open Sunday-Friday, 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-10pm. Admission: free. Through September 28. www.memorialdelashoah.org

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