Visiting Eichmann’s Prison Cell
The building is currently undergoing renovations to turn it into a boutique hotel. Entrance is not allowed. It’s possible to recognize Eichmann’s holding cell from outside because his window was sealed to protect him from an assassination attempt. Today, a map of Jaffa’s fortification covers the sealed window.
The building was erected in 1897 by the Ottomans to serve as a detention center. The British continued using it for this purpose, as did the State of Israel. In 1971, the detention center also served as the backdrop to one of Israel’s most successful films, The Policeman, which tells the story of a kindhearted police officer who fails at his job because of his naivety. The closing scene is one of the most memorable in Israeli cinema. The movie was also nominated for an Oscar, the closest Israel has ever come to winning this prestigious award. Ten years before the filming of The Policeman, the jail held Adolf Eichmann, the most infamous prisoner ever brought to trial in Israel. It’s possible to recognize Eichmann’s holding cell because his window was sealed to protect him from an assassination attempt. Today, a map of Jaffa’s fortification covers the sealed window.
The Eichmann trial
There are many interesting aspects to the story of Adolf Eichmann, whether it’s his position as the commander of the Gestapo who was responsible for transporting and exterminating hundreds of thousands of Jews, his escape to Argentina at the end of the war, his capture by the Mossad who smuggled him into Israel under a fake name, or his trial and his sentencing. But it was the trial that had the most profound effect on Israeli society. The importance of the trial can be gleaned from the opening statement of Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor, which became a seminal text:
“As I stand before you, judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet to point an accusing finger toward the glass booth and cry out at the man sitting there, “I accuse.” For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka, washed by the rivers of Poland, and their graves are scattered the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voices cannot be heard. I, therefore, will be their spokesman and will pronounce, in their names, this awesome indictment.”
The Eichmann trial of 1961 marked the beginning of a shift in Israeli attitudes toward the Holocaust. In 1953, the young state had decided that the memory of the Holocaust would be observed on the day the Warsaw ghetto uprising began, and that it would be called “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.” The focus was on the Jews who had resisted – and not the ones who had been transported to the extermination camps. This might seem strange today, but the Jews who immigrated to Israel after the war were ashamed by what they had undergone, and native Israelis were not very interested in hearing their stories. The Holocaust survivors did not want to sadden their families and preferred to repress their past and move forward.
Eichmann was sentenced to death, and his body was cremated and the ashes scattered at sea outside Israeli waters. During the trial, the Holocaust survivors who acted as witnesses told of their suffering at length, which was also picked up by the media and caused people to be more open to the suffering and understand that heroism was present not only within those who resisted, but also with those who managed to hold on and stay alive under the hellish conditions of the Second World War. As the Israeli society matured and more transformative events occurred, such as the tense and anxious waiting period of the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973), the way Israeli society dealt with the Holocaust changed. The main impetus for change, however, remains the Eichmann trial.
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More sights in Tel Aviv:
St. Peter’s Church – where Christianity separated from Judaism
Jaffa Port – the unimpressive gate to the Holy Land…
Rabin Square – unimpressive, gray, lacking in history and yet…
Sarona – from German colony to exclusive shopping center
The American Colony – Mark Twain, Herman Melville and John Steinbeck in Tel Aviv
Bauhaus – a style that defined Tel Aviv