'Memories of the Eichmann Trial' / From Testimony to Proof

Perlov's documentary film captured how a formative event in Israeli history continues to shape the Israeli experience.

Uri Klein
Uri Klein
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Uri Klein
Uri Klein

In "Memories of the Eichmann Trial," David Perlov approaches the trial not as a formative event that brought the story of the Holocaust into Israeli consciousness, but as a formative event that turned into a memory itself - a memory that continues to envelop the Israeli experience and shape its development to this very day.

In a scene about the establishment of Holocaust memory, Perlov asks photographer Henryk Ross to describe how he was able to secretly take dozens of photos of life in the Lodz Ghetto, where he and his wife Stefania (who is also interviewed in the film ) lived. Ross is wearing a hat, and has wrapped himself in a coat and scarf, which hide the camera he is holding underneath. He shows how he quickly drew the camera from behind an opening in the coat, shot the picture, and with the same haste returned the camera to its hiding place.

This moment - when Perlov captures Henryk Ross' reenactment of how he documented a reality that became a memory of both presence and absence - is one of the most beautiful, moving and significant moments in the history of Israeli film.

The documentary's first interviewee is Rafi Eitan, who ran the operation that led to the capture of Eichmann. He is seen leafing through a series of photos of Eichmann inside his glass booth during the trial. What affect can these photos have on the person who sat beside Eichmann after his capture (under a blanket in the back seat of a car ) and has even visited the former Nazi in his jail cell? Eitan looks at the photos tranquilly, almost with a smile.

In one of the pictures, Eichmann is seen in his jail cell, wearing house slippers, leaning back in his bed and examining some kind of document. In a second photo, his naked back is to the viewer as he washes himself at the sink in the cell. I did not recall these pictures from earlier viewings of Perlov's documentary, but I will definitely remember the image of Eichmann's naked back bent over the sink, as shown in the picture Eitan holds in his hand - even more than the look of his grimacing face in the glass booth.

Near the end of the movie, we are told that Ross never took another photograph after he was released from the Lodz Ghetto. The film ends with a series of photos of a young, smiling Stefania Ross, accompanied by an argument between her husband and Perlov playing on the sound track. The two immigrants both speak Hebrew with heavy accents, each according to the country of his birth.

Something about this ending - in which the listener can perceive a smile on Ross's face and one in Perlov's voice - moves with the force of emotion, compassion and faith in the inherent power of daily life, turning the memory that fills Perlov's film from testimony to proof.