The Pictorial Testimony During the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem in 1961-1962

The Pictorial Testimony During the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem in 1961-1962

Batya Brutin (Beit Berl Academic College, Israel)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6258-0.ch003

Abstract

Drawings by four painters were presented at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961-1962, in three different testimonies. The paintings, made during and after the Holocaust, included depictions of Holocaust events from the Theresienstadt ghetto and Auschwitz concentration camp and were an inseparable part of constructing the comprehensive story of the Holocaust in the trial. Presenting the paintings as forensic evidence calls for an inquiry about their importance and their unique contribution to the process of the trial as complementary evidence to a witness investigation. This chapter shows how the paintings allowed witnesses to expand the information that they could lend the court, and that in practice the testimonies were held in two combined languages: pictorial and verbal.
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Introduction

On April 11, 1961, after strenuous months of investigation and information gathering, the trial of Adolf Eichmann opened at Beit Ha'am [People’s House] in Jerusalem in front of a panel of three district court judges (Yablonka, 2001; Ben Naftali, 2011; Bilsky, 2011). He was brought to justice in accordance with the Law for Judgment of Nazis and their Collaborators, 1950 (Book of Laws 57, 9.8.1950: 281). On behalf of the prosecution appeared a team of lawyers led by Attorney General Gideon Hausner, and at the head of the defense team was Dr. Robert Servatius, a German lawyer, who represented in the past several defendants in the trial of the major war criminals at Nuremberg. Adolf Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem on charges of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, war crimes and membership in a hostile organization (SD, SS and Gestapo). Two years later he was convicted, sentenced to death by hanging, and was hanged on May 31, 1962. The next day, his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea outside the territorial waters of Israel. This was the only time in the history of the State of Israel that a death sentence imposed on a defendant in a criminal trial, in due process, was carried out.

Eighteen drawings by four painters: Leo Haas, Ferdinand (Felix) Bloch, František Mořic Nágel and Yehuda Bacon, and one album with twenty drawings by Zofia Rosenstrauch (Naomi Judkowski) were presented at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961-1962. All these were presented in only three testimonies given by Mordechai Ansbacher in session no. 38 on May 12, 1961, by the painter Yehuda Bacon in session no. 68 on June 7, 1961 and by Vera Alexander in session no. 71 on June 8, 1961. The paintings, some made during the Holocaust, while others were painted right after

World War II, included depictions of Holocaust events from the Theresienstadt ghetto and from the Auschwitz concentration camp and were an inseparable part of constructing the comprehensive story of the Holocaust in the trial.

The paintings were presented as forensic evidence for all intents and purposes: sometimes as a supportive proof to the witness testimony and occasionally as complementary evidence to a witness investigation. Presenting the paintings in this way raises questions such as: who decided to present artworks during the trial? What was their importance and contribution to the process of the trial? How were they related to Eichmann's actions?

It can be assumed that Eichmann's involvement with the atrocities that took part in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz was clear to the prosecution, and therefore it is an interesting fact that during the investigation of the witnesses at the trial the prosecution did not verbally connect between the paintings, presented as a legal document, and Eichmann's deeds in those places. A possible explanation for the decision to present paintings as legal evidence is found in Gideon Hausner's book Justice in Jerusalem:

I wanted to tell what had happened in every area under the Nazis, and I wanted the story told by a broad cross-section of the people – professors, housewives, artisans (my highlight B.B), writers, farmers, merchants, doctors, officials and labors. (Hausner 1966: 296)

The paintings presented in the trial can be considered as evidence written in the language of art and the artists who painted these paintings are considered as witnesses that tell of what they saw and experienced in an artistic language. For the above reason, Yehuda Bacon was asked to bring his drawings as an addition to his own testimony, and Mordechai Ansbacher, who worked at Yad Vashem at that time, was asked to bring paintings from Yad Vashem's collection to be presented during his testimony. In this chapter, I will discuss only several artworks out of the eighteen presented in the trial from Theresienstadt and from Auschwitz.

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The Theresienstadt Ghetto

The Germans invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 and occupied the area of Bohemia and Moravia; they annexed those territories to the expanded Germany and established a protectorate. By July 1939, the Central Office for Jewish Emigration is established in the Protectorate, headed by Adolf Eichmann. The goals of the Bureau: forced migration, smuggling, and theft of property, humiliation and isolation of Jews.

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