Israeli Schools to Teach About Eichmann Trial for First Time

High school students will learn about the trial and its impact on the collective memory of the Holocaust.

High school students will learn for the first time about the Eichmann trial and its impact on the shaping of the collective memory of the Holocaust in Israel.

The new chapter in the history program will be introduced in the coming school year, and questions on the subject may be used in the matriculation exams. To date, the subject was not officially taught in history classes in schools.

"The trial of [Nazi war criminal Adolf] Eichmann is a watershed in the transformation of the Holocaust into a central element of Israeli identity," said Prof. Hanna Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University, who chairs the committee advising the Education Ministry on the Shoah.

She says that the 50-year anniversary of the capture of Eichmann in Argentina, and his trial in 1961 are "an opportunity to bring forth for the students some of the founding events that altered the face of Israeli society."

Learning about the Eichmann trial will be carried out within the framework of the new history program and will include six lessons. It will be the first time that schools will officially deal with the trial, and the broader aspects of society's attitude toward Holocaust survivors and the changes that this underwent over the years.

According to Michael Yaron, who is charged with the history program at the Education Ministry, "if prior to the trial the dominant view was that Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, then following it the concept of courage received broader significance. It was a process that commenced with the Eichmann trial and has become stronger since, both due to the impact of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War."

The Education Ministry stressed emphasis will be given in the new lessons to describing those who perished, survived and rebelled during the Holocaust, as heroes. "The idea is to entirely remove from the lexicon the concept of sheep to the slaughter, which stemmed from paternalism or misunderstanding of what took place in the Holocaust," said Dr. Orna Katz, a history teacher and a member of the team for implementing the new program.

One of the ways this will be done, according to sources in the ministry, is by not asking "judgmental questions, such as why did the Jews not fight?"

As far as Yaron is concerned, the purpose of the new lessons is "for the pupils to understand that the memory of the Holocaust is a dynamic process, which is very much affected by processes in Israeli society. These are subjects that to date were not taught in schools."

Yablonka, who published several books on the subject of attitudes toward Holocaust survivors during the first years of statehood said, "the absorption of survivors [as immigrants] was a complicated story. It cannot be said that they were ridiculed or rejected."

"The Eichmann trial gave the survivors an important social role: They were the sole link to the Jewish past that was murdered in the Holocaust," she said. "The trial was also the first time in which the survivors were perceived as part of the Holocaust story, and subsequently there was gradually an end to the talk of the '6 million' and a change to dealing with survivors" as actual people.

It is too early to tell if the new lessons will include a critical approach to the Eichmann trial and the use that was made of it by the leadership of the country, as was argued by Hannah Arendt at the time.

"Beyond the great importance of placing Eichmann on trial, the trial had political aspects as well, like comparing the Nazis and the Arabs," said Katz. "Precisely because of the enormous impact of the trial, such questions are particularly important, and it is not clear whether the new chapter will address them. If the end result is that we return to adopting the standard cliches, then we gained nothing."