Th e Development of Holocaust Consciousness in Israel: Th e Nuremberg, Kapos, Kastner, and Eichmann Trials – Hanna Yablonka

pg 1 – In Holocaust research, the way information on mass murder was
interpreted occurred slowly—too slowly, we should add—until people
realized that mass murder was Germany’s “Final Solution” to the “Jewish
problem.” Th e free world’s interpretation and absorption of the information
that eventually led to public awareness and rescue missions was also a slow
process. Naturally, this problem increases the more the event is removed
from known experience. Th e Holocaust was so aberrant and unprecedented
an event that knowledge of it required the deconstruction of fi xed cognitive
patterns. Cognitive processing of the Holocaust was not limited to the time of
the events. In the postwar years, too, the absorption of Holocaust information
into general awareness proceeded slowly in Israel. Perhaps it could not
have been otherwise.

pg 2 –  1945–1947: Th e Nuremberg trials: Th ese took place during the period
immediately prior to the establishment of the state at a time marked
by the intensive diplomatic and military struggle against the British
for Jewish independence and the freedom of immigration.

pg 2 – 1960–1967: The Eichmann trial: Th is period marks the beginning of
Israel’s “Golden Age” with the strengthening of the economy, international
relations, and security. Th e period ends with the Six-Day War
that ushered in a new era in both domestic and regional arenas.

pg 3 – In December 1961, Adolph Eichmann was sentenced in Jerusalem. Th e
three judges, Moshe Landau, Binyamin Halevy, and Yitzhak Raveh, chose
an extraordinary opening statement for a criminal trial. Th ey explained in
detail that their judiciary function in a trial of such international interest
Th e Development of Holocaust Consciousness in Israel • 3
was to dwell upon the unprecedented legal aspects of the “Holocaust of the
Jewish people.”² … What lessons must Israel and the nations of the
world derive from these [questions], and that every person must internalize
when relating to a fellow human being?”

pg 3 – Holocaust survivors who appeared on the witness stand and presented testimony in this courtroom will open the lock to their hearts. Material of great value for the
researcher and historian is contained here. But for the court, these are only
byproducts of the [[3. Government legal advisor versus Adolph Eichmann, Psak HaDin ( Jerusalem,1962) 7–8 [Hebrew].

pg 4 -5 – Th us, legal experts occasionally intervened and infl uenced the historical
discourse, especially when pronouncing their verdicts. Moreover, as legal
expert Leon Shelef has noted, “the court always radiates a kind of halo of
certainty and fi nality . . . that infl uences the way the public understands
the past and believes in what the past has bequeathed to it.”⁵ [[P. 341 in Leon Shelef, “From Schindler’s List to Kasztner’s Train—On
Historical Reality, Media Myths, and Judicial Truths,” in Gutwein and Mautner
(eds), Law and History, 339–356.]]

pg 5 -6 – Th e evidence of the atrocities that began to trickle in was too dreadful and shocking to internalize at once[[to the locals of israel]]. Th e general atmosphere in the Yishuv refl ected primacy, simplicity,consternation, and ignorance of the facts.

pg 7 – (in the press in Israel for the nuremburg trial before the eichmann trial) Even the term “Holocaust” was generally avoided.⁹ [[9. Zemach, A Survey of the Holocaust in the Israeli Press, 151.]] Suffi cient data exists to enable us to sketch the main characteristics of Holocaust discourse in this period. In generally terms, the war overshadowed the Holocaust.

pg 8 – “Why are we so apathetic to what history will undoubtedly record as one of the
greatest victories of the Jewish people over its enemies?” Th e answer: “We do
not believe that [the world, judges, prosecutors] understand what befell us,
are genuinely shocked by it, regret [what happened], or would lift a fi nger to
prevent a recurrence of such a Holocaust tomorrow or the day after.”¹⁰ [Tamar Zemach, A Survey of the Holocaust in the Israeli Press during the
Nuremberg, Kastner, Eichmann, Auschwitz, and Demanjuk Trials, Ph.D. Dissertation,
Th e Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1995) 151 [Hebrew].

pg 9 – As noted, the majorityof the population in the Yishuv came from Europe, had lost family members or entire families in the Holocaust, and found it unbearably painful to deal with the catastrophe at this point in their lives. Finally, many people in
the Yishuv preferred to focus on rebuilding their own lives and investing
themselves in national responsibilities such as illegal immigration and aid
missions to the survivors still in Europe.

pg 10 – The founders of New Israel [tried] to commence history with themselves by
protesting the shameful memory of their mothers and fathers, the shame of
the Jewish people and Jewish exile that brought catastrophe upon itself for
not choosing the correct path in time, the path of Zionism . . . Th e process
of eradicating the shame was ipso facto a cathartic process [[Idit Zertal, Th e Nation and Death (Or Yehuda, 2002) 91 [Hebrew].]]

pg 11 – Shortly after the war in 1946, a Holocaust survivor from Vilna, Mark
Dworzecki, conducted research that was published under the title “How
Did You Survive?” He sought to explain why he remained alive, while so
many of his family members and neighbors were murdered: It seems that I am branded with a mark that will never be expunged—[the mark of] shame for remaining alive when everyone else is gone, lost . . . My living thoughts are with those killed and vanished . . . Now, at nighttime, their shadows appear to me . . . and I hear their voices speaking: ‘We have perished . . . and you are alive.’ Please tell me, dear conscience, how to answer
them . . . My conscience replies: it’s a tie. I can’t give you an answer. You’ll
have to search for [it] yourself, for the rest of your life . . .[[Mark Dworzecki, “How Did You Survive?” MiBifnim, 11(5) (1946) 410–15
Herein lies one of the central pillars of Holocaust discourse in the 1950s,
which was called the “guilt of the victim.” According to this perspective,
the crucial factor in the mass murder of the Jews, trapped as they were in
the jaws of fate, was their survival strategy.

pg 11 – Th e law is designed to punish the criminals,
vindicate the innocent, and let our camp [our side] be purged [Pinchas Rosen, Divrei HaKnesset, 4 (27 March 1950) 1147–48 [Hebrew]

pg 15 – (eichmann trial went religious) Judge Halevi’s
decision left its singular linguistic legacy intact in Israeli consciousness.
By labeling Eichmann the “devil,” the judge had shifted the discourse on
Nazi evil from the human context to the meta-historical, metaphysical,
and theological plains, where rational tools are not applied and only emotional
ones are pertinent. Th is trend was to be reinforced in the Eichmann
trial—the paramount event in Israel’s Holocaust consciousness.

pg 16 – According to some commentators, his mental collapse returned him to the world of the dead,
to “Planet Auschwitz,” and created the impression more than anything else
heard in the Eichmann trial that what occurred there was not perpetrated
by human beings on this planet. Th e demonization of the Holocaust that
began with Halevi’s verdict in the Gruenwald trial was now transformed
into the meta-history of “another planet.”²⁷
Halevi’s verdict dragged the Holocaust discourse in Israel into the
realm of emotion, horror, fear, and the sense of predetermined fate that
nullifi ed humanistic-historical discussion on the nature of human beings
and their ability to choose..

pg 17 – 18 Gideon Hausner, shortly
after the trial. They and we—are united. We could have been there physically instead of
them, and had we been there and they here, then they would most certainly
have established the Yishuv . . . and the IDF [Israel Defense Force] . . . And
if fate had been cruel to us and we were there—our fate would have been the
Th e Development of Holocaust Consciousness in Israel • 17
same as theirs, and our heroism no less. Th e diff erences do not lie within the
nation, but in the “here and there.”²⁸[[Keshev Shabtai, As Sheep To the Slaughter? (Beit Dagon, 1962) [Hebrew].]]

pg 19 – Th e main diff erence between the Eichmann trial and Nuremberg
trials was that, in the latter, the Jewish catastrophe was refl ected through
German documentation, while, in the Eichmann trial, Jewish witnesses
testifi ed directly about it. Th is was the intention of the designers of the
trial. Th e Eichmann trial was a turning point in Holocaust research in that
increased legitimacy was accorded to Jewish documentation and accounts.
Although Eichmann’s judges based their verdict solely on the thousands of
documents presented in the trial and not on the oral testimony of the 110
witnesses, it was the witnesses’ stories that shaped Israeli collective memory
and Holocaust consciousness in the following years.

pg 20 – is sentiment signals the beginning of a three-way change in the
attitude of Israelis toward the survivors. Th e fi rst was the attitude toward
the survivors who had been part of Israeli society since the late 1940s, and
toward these within the Holocaust context—the recognition that they were
not merely immigrants whose good fortunate had seen them through the
great slaughter, but that they were also victims. Th e second change was
the process of soul-searching in Israeli society over the absorption of the
survivors and the role that veteran Israelis played in the operation. Finally,
the Israeli public began to view the survivors as a community possessing
the exclusive ability to serve as a bridge between the devastated Diaspora
and the present—only the survivors could sanctify the numberless dead
in memorial services and “restore them to life in people’s minds, like a
shrill cry in the dead of night.”⁴⁰ [[Ma’ariv, “Yoman Ma’ariv,” 10 May 1961, 10.]] It became the survivors themselves who
imprinted Holocaust consciousness.

pg 20 – 21 – All of us should bear the enormity of
the Holocaust and its mandatory lesson for the nation’s retention of its
country.”⁴⁴ He also stated that “the Holocaust could recur elsewhere and
we must cling to this country, preserve and support every stone and rock,
since it is our last refuge.”⁴⁵ [[To Shmuel Gross and Nava Ezrahi (Ramat-Gan) from Gideon Hausner, 3
September 1961, Hausner Archives, Yad Vashem, 12/90– TR.
45. Unpublished internal briefi ng to the Foreign Ministry, adjacent to the trial,
ISA, Foreign Offi ce/I 9/ 3352.]]


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