Life & Culture

‘When Eichmann opened his mouth, I saw the gates of the crematorium’


In the late 1950s and early 60s, the teenage Tami Hausner was aware that some of her schoolmates were the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors. But she today admits: “We did not treat them very nicely.” Their parents had arrived in post-war Israel in shock and trauma, only rarely speaking about their Shoah experiences because they were afraid their new families would not believe them. All that changed with the Mossad’s astonishing capture in Argentina of leading Nazi Adolf Eichmann, and his subsequent trial and execution in Israel in 1961. Now a remarkable exhibition about the trial, With Me Here Are Six Million Accusers, is to be shown for the first time in Britain at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green.

Tami Hausner Raveh, daughter of the chief prosecutor at the trial, Gideon Hausner, will be in London along with former policeman Miki Goldman-Gilad, whose own testimony was given by another witness at the trial and who was present at Eichmann’s execution.

Though Hausner was himself born in Lemberg, later Lvov, he was not a survivor. In fact, his diplomat father had been appointed Polish consul in pre-state Palestine at the end of the 1920s, allowing the family to escape the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe. “Yes,” agrees Raveh, “we have to thank the Polish government for the fact that our family was able to live and thrive in Palestine. And, of course, very few Jews survived from Lvov.”
Hausner had just been appointed Israel’s Attorney-General when he made the decision to prosecute Eichmann himself. Eventually he succeeded in bringing 108 survivor witnesses to testify at the trial, but it was not an easy task, as his daughter recalls.

“We lived in a small apartment block in Jerusalem and there were about seven other families, and two or three of those were survivors. When the trial began and the witnesses started to come into our building, often my father had to persuade them to speak. One of the survivor wives confronted my mother, Yehudit. She shouted at her: ‘Why does your husband do this to us?’ But afterwards, she came again and asked for forgiveness.” It was a very painful time for the entire family, recalls Raveh, who herself became Israel’s deputy Attorney-General, and whose brother and daughter are both lawyers. “The prosecution wanted all kinds of witnesses and many people refused to come. They said: ‘Our families don’t believe us, why should a courtroom? But my father invited them to our home and he asked them to tell their stories. He would close the doors to our salon but I was behind the doors [aged 14] and I heard the stories. Those stories have never left me.”

Hausner — whose famous opening to the trial: “With me here are six million accusers,” gives the name to the LJCC exhibition — must have had iron self-control to deal with the witnesses and present a coherent prosecution case. His daughter recalls him crying just twice — speaking to Rivka Yosselevska, a young woman who had crawled out of a mass grave of Jewish dead and lived to tell of the horror; and when he was informed that Goldman-Gilad had scattered Eichmann’s ashes in the sea. “Justice has been done,” Hausner said, “but so late and so little”.

After the trial, Hausner, who went on to be Minister of Justice, became the representative for many survivors in Israel, chairing the Yad Vashem Council. He died in 1990 and for a decade his widow and children ran a foundation in his name dedicated to helping Holocaust victims. After their mother’s death, however, Amos Hausner and Raveh elected to continue the legacy by lecturing about the impact of the Eichmann trial. “When Eichmann walked through our door, he never really left us,” Raveh reflects.

For Goldman-Gilad, now 89, his immediate reaction on hearing Eichmann speak was visceral. “When he opened his mouth, I saw the gates of the crematorium.” Born in Katowice, Poland, he spent nearly three years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After liberation he briefly served in the Soviet army before coming to Israel on the immigrant ship, Hatikvah. The ship was seized by the British navy and its passengers sent to displaced persons camps in Cyprus. At 23, Goldman-Gilad arrived in Israel and enlisted in the police service. When Eichmann was captured in Argentina and brought to Israel, a special unit was set up within the police, Bureau 06, to which he was attached as a German-speaking investigation officer.

In detailed testimony to Yad Vashem in 2007, Goldman-Gilad recounts his experiences in Bureau 06 and in preparing for the Eichmann trial. About 70 per cent of the 40-strong Bureau 06 were survivors, who had become experienced investigators, expert at assembling evidence and ensuring that the best people testified in court. “We had been approached by people who… said they had seen Eichmann and others I could tell ‘wanted’ to see him. We knew that very few people had actually encountered Eichmann or met him and could therefore testify to that effect and identify him.”

Goldman-Gilad was in charge of collecting material and proving Eichmann’s guilt for the murder of Jews from Poland, the conquered Soviet territories, Baltic areas, and extermination camps. “This was psychologically the most difficult part for me… I met him several times to clarify this matter or that. The first time I sat opposite him at Bureau 06, I looked at him and told myself: ‘Lord, this was the king of the Jews?’”

In assembling the evidence for the trial, Goldman-Gilad told Yad Vashem: “We hadn’t too much time to think, or we might have gone out of our minds.” For him, every day was “like going through the Holocaust all over again.” After Eichmann’s conviction he was told that he would be one of the witnesses to the execution. “I didn’t feel anything,” he told Yad Vashem. “No feelings of revenge, because there was no revenge. No human can avenge what they did. Only God can. One person had been hanged — compared to all the others? Compared to my family? Compared to my 10-year-old sister who was murdered in Belzec together with my parents?”

Goldman-Gilad boarded a police boat with a jar containing Eichmann’s ashes and, together with the head of the Israel Prison Service, threw them into the sea six miles outside Israel’s territorial waters. On their return to Jaffa port the pair were greeted by a small group of fishermen and port workers “who applauded and hugged us. When I saw this, I suddenly felt we were alive. The sun was shining, we are in Israel and in Israel there is life. The nightmare was over. A new chapter had begun.”

The exhibition, prepared by Yad Vashem, will be complemented by special events and film screenings. Tami Hausner Raveh and Miki Goldman-Gilad will speak at the centre on May 20.

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