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Adolf Eichmann and me I survived Belsen and saw the monster's trial. May his evil never be forgotten

He was a monster. (Photo By Gpo/Getty Images)


April 15, 2021   4 mins

On April 6, 1941, just four days after my fifth birthday, I heard Hitler’s name for the first time. Germany had suddenly invaded Yugoslavia and the Luftwaffe had started to bomb our neighbourhood in Belgrade. Amid the sound of explosives ripping through nearby buildings, our family sheltered in the basement laundry room of our reinforced concrete-built house. And then a bomb found its home — exactly where ours used to be.

My grandmother fell on me to protect me; then, when she was hit by the room’s door, blown off its hinges, she cursed and used Hitler’s name. We were lucky; in the adjacent basement several of our neighbours were killed. Somehow, we were not.

It was only while I was a refugee in Budapest that I learned Hitler’s first name: Adolf. Then, at some point between the entrance of German troops into Hungary in March 1944 and my deportation aged eight that summer to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, I added to my vocabulary the name Eichmann. At the time, it was just one name among many others. Little did I know that almost 60 years ago to the day, I would stare him directly in the face as he stood trial for helping to organise one of the darkest chapters in mankind’s history.

After the termination of the war, and our return to Belgrade to search for relatives who had survived, I learned from my mother’s cousin the words Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen and Dachau. She had been deported to Auschwitz, but, being young and healthy, was spared the Gas Chamber and assigned to a bloc where prisoners’ items were sorted. There she found the luggage of my maternal grandparents, allowing us to know the exact day in which they were killed.

In 1948, following the end of the British Mandate over Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel, what remained of my family immigrated from Yugoslavia. Within a very short period Israel’s population more than tripled in size, largely thanks to the influx of Holocaust survivors. But for some unclear reason, nobody spoke about what they had seen.

People, especially the young, tried to integrate with and mimic those who had been born in Israel, the “Sabres”. What we had been through didn’t seem to matter. At school, for instance, everybody in my class knew that I was the only Holocaust survivor — yet nobody ever asked me what I had gone through during the war years. Enforced reticence was standard, and it continued during my compulsory military service and academic studies.

Even within families, there were two types of behaviour: absolute silence, where children and spouses never heard the tragic stories of the Holocaust experiences; and families like mine, where we discussed our experiences at every meeting. It meant I knew the survival and death story of every family member, but never mentioned them to anyone else.

But then, with the Eichmann trial, everything changed. At once, everybody wanted to talk about the Holocaust; the survivors opened up, and their stories started to flow.

The trial was held in Beit Ha’am, the major arts centre in Jerusalem, and broadcast daily for hours on the two existing radio stations. There were pages and pages of reporting each day in the newspapers. Overnight, that unwritten taboo of speaking on personal Holocaust history disappeared. Just as the number of Holocaust survivors was starting to dwindle, the term “Holocaust Survivor” became a term of praise.

You could order in advance an entry ticket to the trial, if you wanted to just to sit and listen. During the first weeks it was almost completely booked out. I managed twice to get a ticket. My late wife, who had survived Kristallnacht, visited just once. That was all she needed to conclude that before us was a monster.

Eichmann sat motionless in his glass cubicle. On occasion he would answer “Ja” or “Nein” without any flicker of emotion. On the few occasions that he gave a more detailed response, it was to merely explain how he was just a small unimportant clerk who had followed orders.

What did we think of this defence? Well, suffice it to say that for his execution — the first and last in the state of Israel — hundreds of Israelis volunteered to be the hangman. Hannah Arendt may have concluded he was proof of the “banality of evil”. We, however, did not. He was an evil man who oversaw evil deeds — and that, I suspect, is how he will always be remembered.

Certainly, his trial is remembered in the way Israel sees itself today. Perhaps more than anything else, it forged the notion of “Never Again” into our national consciousness; an attitude which the world has learned to accept.

So when Israel decided to punish the plotters and the executors of the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, when 11 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian assassins, most of the world accepted the rounding up and punishment of those behind the atrocity.

At the time, I was an Olympic racewalker — and one of the six surviving members of the team who did not return home in a coffin. That was, I am convinced, a matter of luck. The apartment I was staying in — between two others that were attacked — also housed two members of Israel’s shooting team. The terrorists probably knew this and avoided our apartment for fear of facing armed resistance. Either way, Evil had come looking for me a second time — and missed me again.

This time round, though, courtesy of Eichmann, the playbook had been written. We knew how to respond. In 1978, when Mossad finally located Ali Hassan Salameh — the mastermind of the Munich massacre — Israel didn’t think twice about making sure the terrorist joined his forefathers. Eichmann had unified and emboldened us. “Never again,” was our response.

Last month, during a Passover dinner, I asked the children around the table if they knew who Eichmann was; of course, unlike me when I was their age, they all did. And that is perhaps the most important result of the trial. Just as Jews have been remembering Moses’s exodus from Egypt for over 3,000 years, Eichmann — and the Evil he represented — will never be forgotten.


Shaul Ladany is an Israeli two-time Olympian. He survived the Holocaust and the 1972 Munich Massacre. He holds the world record in the 50-mile walk.


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zdwe5fnsta
zdwe5fnsta
3 years ago

My wonderful Grandad was with the British Army as they liberated the camp, he stood guard over the commandant of that terrible camp. He was executed that same day. He never forgot Belson, It’s so good to hear that you have a good life and a family too. Thank you for the article.

David Allsopp
David Allsopp
3 years ago

The most chilling aspect for me is the cold, calculated organisation of mass murder. Not a trace of emotion. It surely is the darkest of deeds.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  David Allsopp

It is a logical consequence of adopting Darwin’s theory.
If you believe the in survival of the fittest and there is no God, then Master Race theories are to be expected and indeed celebrated.
After all, ( as they claimed themselves) they were only giving nature a helping hand…..

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

With all due respect, this is nonsense.
Darwin’s theory is an explanation of the mechanisms of evolution, subsequently elaborated and demonstrated in various ways over many studies and many experiments. Your trite and ill-informed conception of it makes me feel a smidgeon of embarrassment on your behalf.
It is not hard to learn a little more about Darwinism and the science thereof. Google can be your friend.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

It is, and will ever remain, a theory precisely bc there is nothing in any science-ism to show something coming from nothing; life from non-life; bacteria becoming botanists ad nauseum. Evolution is predicated on mutations over eons changing one species into another which has never been shown in any scientific process – mutations generally produce loss of information therefore a degradation/loss of species fitness. The rest is pure speculation and story telling. The bait and switch of evolution conflates observable process of natural selection – ie finches beaks adapting to environmental pressures (clue – they remain finches!). Explain the blood clotting cascade in evolutionary terms. Impossible. Explain the photons on a butterfly’s wings in evolutionary terms. Impossible. Explain the myriad of ‘living fossils’ unchanged in 80/90/100m+ years yet humans are suposed to have evolved from apes in less than an evolutionary twinkling of an eye! It’s evolution. Except when it’s not. Explain the DNA coding for several proteins within its gene structure in evolutionary terms. Impossible. Fairy stories. Get real.
Or try explaining a crysallis. The properties of water. The cell. ………….etc etc etc
Back to eichmann…truly evolved from pond scum.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Clearly you know nothing about Darwinism. There is no struggle between races or species in Darwin’s theory but between individuals or even, as per Dawkins, ultimately genes. A male robin’s biggest rival, for example, on a day to day basis, is another robin.

We haven’t ‘adopted’ Darwinism, as if this is some kind of arbitrary choice, any more than we have quantum mechanics or General Relativity. These theories (in the scientific sense) are supported by overwhelming evidence, although all are approximations.

As many have said, you can’t get to an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ in any case. However it is always useful to be aware of our undoubted evolutionary past and its legacies in human behaviour, rather than denying there are any such.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

You have to laugh at the logical inconsistancy of the darwinian myth believers that downtick exposure of their fallacy. Sad but inevitable result of them never actually having read the book they are supposed to believe.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago

This is exactly the kind of pedantic and bureaucratic thinking that allows evil to leak through the gaps of ambiguities in laws. Godel: No axiomatic system is free of ambiguities. Human laws are one such axiomatic system. Justice, therefore, should not suffer from imperfect and ambiguous laws.

Last edited 3 years ago by Vijay Kant
greg waggett
greg waggett
3 years ago

Anti-semitism is a light sleeper. Be ever-vigilant.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  greg waggett

Or the next variant.
Which could be any group the Government needs to scapegoat

Michael James
Michael James
3 years ago

Do you agree with Hannah Arendt that Israel should have handed Eichmann over to the United Nations to be tried for crimes against humanity?

Christoph Richert
Christoph Richert
3 years ago

being german born in 1946 i am ashamed and deeply shocked by what my parents generation

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago

But you as a German should put all that behind you now, and remember your German culture which has produced so many great thinkers, philosophers, poets, musicians and artists. Brahms ? Beethoven ? Kant ? so many others. I would be very proud to be German because your country has done more than any other single country to define and enrich Western culture.

Last edited 3 years ago by Giles Chance
Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 years ago

You are not responsible for the sins of your parents’ generation. Just be glad you did not have to try and survive under a vicious totalitarian government – and teach those who come after you to be vigilant in ensuring it never happens again.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

…and rejoice in being German.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

It’s easy enough to say it may have been illegal to kidnap Eichmann and bring him to trial in Israel for his crimes against the Jewish people. But it’s much harder to argue that it was unjust to hold him to account in a court of law for what he did.
I’m not sure whether the Israeli state was right in what they did. But sometimes Justice and Law are not exactly the same thing. Though even Justice may not always be the supreme good.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
imackenzie56
imackenzie56
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Sometimes? You need to attend more court proceedings even in the “enlightened” world. The Law in sane countries has never pretended to be justice, just the most reasonable facsimile we can come up with. Sometimes grotesque crimes call out for justice no matter what the law says.

William Blake
William Blake
3 years ago

When discussing monstrous evil one should start from the point that unless judged from the perspective of Christianity anything is permissable no matter how horrible and inhumane, provided one can get away with it.
Added to this is the fact that the nature of the first man – Adam, changed after his disobedience and eviction from the Garden of Eden. He was no longer perfect and capable of any sort of dishonesty and worse.
Also the angel (Satan) who persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey their Creator God and who was thrown out of Heaven after attempting to usurp God his maker, ended up on this earth of which the Bible tells us he is still Lord, until Jesus returns to remove and end his reign of oppression for which the correct description is EVIL.
So in this context what Eichmann did was to him and his compatriots perfectly reasonable and quite normal behaviour. Unoriginal banality perhaps. Although one can quite sure that he was manipulated by Satan who still does whatever he can to frustrate God’s intentions by persuading unwitting human beings to carry out the most horrible acts. Hence the activities of ISIS and other depraved sects.
But of course it is not quite the done thing to mention all this because the Church of England all but denies the existence of Satan, not wishing to upset Liberal Theologians, who insist on choosing what passages in the Holy Bible they will accept. Satan must be hugely delighted.

Last edited 3 years ago by William Blake
Graham Cresswell
Graham Cresswell
3 years ago
Reply to  William Blake

How interesting to learn that only Christians are capable of judging what is good or evil.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago

I think your comment misrepresents what William says. If you look at it logically, materialist have no basis to judge good or evil which are immaterial therefore cannot exist in a material world — if you believe we are simply the products of time and chance, there are no moral absolutes therefore there is no foundation for good or evil/right or wrong; if each thought is simply a random collision of chemicals and electrical impulses, dancing to DNA’s careless music according to Dawkins – a real evolutionary masterpiece – then there can be no ultimate truth. Everyone doing what they think is right in their own eyes. Attila, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Fred West, Shipman all thought they had every right to manage their own behaviour in their own way.
Whereas there is an ultimate Judge, according to Christianity.

JĂĄnos Klein
JĂĄnos Klein
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Christianity or any other religion can be helpful in teaching children and adults to behave morally but even atheists are naturally moral people when you consider the restraints imposed by society. Plus the fact that only Christians, not atheists, can confess their sins and be forgiven, which seems plausible to some people.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

Yeh like international police were scouring the world for Eichman..

Simon Melville
Simon Melville
3 years ago

Sam – I really like your blog on Romania (which I stumbled over while googling why Romanians don’t have a word to distinguish “foot” from “leg” – thanks for the info!) but I can see why the legality of what happened to Eichmann would be a topic for another post (maybe Unherd can commission that). This seems more of a personal reaction to the phenomenon of “Eichmann” for post-Holocaust Israelis although it could have been touched on at least.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago

Uighurs, Kurds, Jews, American Indians…the list is long.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago

Totally agree. The “eye for an eye” approach unilaterally pursued against its enemies by the state of Israel is not justice.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Ah, we’re back to ‘turn the other cheek’. There is not a human being on earth who does not instinctively react to an attack with a counter-attack (whether that emotional reaction is converted to action or not). An ‘eye for an eye’ is not only justice, it’s the only real form of justice. What the doctrine, as espoused by ancient humans, meant was ‘not 27 eyes (or ‘whole village’) for an eye’, which would have been considered normal by some men of violence at the time (as it was for Hitler). Every modern legal system in the West is based on the principle (it underlay, quite correctly, the death penalty in the UK for murder, till it was abolished by sentimentalists). You can argy-bargy about whether, philosophically, ‘levelling the scales’ is ‘just’ or not, but most people naturally think of it as being so. What denying this implies is a lop-sided argument for ‘natural entitlement’, that is ‘freedom from just vengeance’ on the principle of a self-declared ‘natural’ superiority of some individuals (on what grounds exactly? – all the usual reasons are founded in some kind of supernaturalist myth e.g. ‘we are descended directly from Gods and thus have higher levels of privilege as a result’).

Tony Nunn
Tony Nunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

(it underlay, quite correctly, the death penalty in the UK for murder, till it was abolished by sentimentalists).

I guess you might call me a sentimentalist then, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the possibility of convicting an innocent person is sufficient grounds for abolishing the death penalty. A wrongly imprisoned man has the chance to prove his innocence; a wrongly executed man does not.

Jo Jones
Jo Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Nunn

For that reason, I will never support the death penalty.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

It may not be justice, but it has enabled Israel to survive despite the countless attacks on it since 1948.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

In an ideal world inhibited by ideal people this would be true. But we live in an imperfect world compelled to follow the logic of natural selection: Eat or get eaten. In reality, humanity is condemned to live inside Plato’s cave.

Last edited 3 years ago by Vijay Kant
mac mahmood
mac mahmood
3 years ago

Oh, I don’t know. Can’t see a lot of difference between Eichmann and a zionist. One talks of “freedom of my blood is my birth right” and the other says “the promised land is my birth right”. One does not see Jews as people, the other does not see Palestinians as people!

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  mac mahmood

When Palestinian refugee camps are converted by Israelis into death camps, then you may have a point. In the meantime, you don’t. Israel is repressive (perhaps less so than its neighbours) but not genocidal like Eichmann and his ilk.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  mac mahmood

“Oppression” narrative is what Palestine has gifted the world. It has so far been a profitable endeavour. When Yasser Arafat died, he had more than $50m in his personal bank account! This “oppression” narrative works well in the Middle East because all the countries in that region are governed by one or the other form of dictatorship. The ordinary public in the region naturally identifies with oppression, as it were. The Middle Eastern dictators have cynically exploited this paranoia and pointed their accusing fingers at “outsiders”.

Last edited 3 years ago by Vijay Kant
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  mac mahmood

That is a wildly false equivalence – that’s routinely trotted out as a justification for tyranny. I’m sorry, but it’s indefensible.
Just because you have heard such talk among your confederates, don’t glibly accept it.
Please – sincerely – I urge you to stop, consider what you’re saying, put it into a more honest historical and moral context and then – hopefully – rethink it!

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

No, I think Mahmood is right. The behaviour of Israel and the Jews towards the Palestinians is indefensible, and could be described as genocide.

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Can you please tell us where we can see evidence of the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians?
If you cannot, you should apologise and withdraw your poisonous and ignorant comment.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Could be described as genocide..except that in reality,it’s not.

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago
Reply to  mac mahmood

Oh, I don’t know. Can’t see a lot of difference between Eichmann and a zionist.”
Then you are likely a fool who cannot be bothered to read much.