Searching for His Father in the Oven Built for Cremating Eichmann

In a new exhibition in Tel Aviv, Tuly Ziv shows works inspired by the furnace his father designed, operated and dismantled after one use.

Work from Tuly Ziv’s exhibition.
Amit Gosher

Early on the morning of June 1, 1962, Tuly Ziv’s father returned home from work and told his son: “Last night I cremated Eichmann.” Ziv, who was 10, had followed the radio broadcasts from Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann’s trial. As the son of Holocaust survivors, he knew what it was about, but after his father announced that he had just burned the body of the Nazi war criminal, Tuly was unable to fall back to sleep. In some sense, he is still in the grip of that nightmare.

“The Furnace,” Ziv’s solo exhibition of paintings inspired by that morning 54 years ago, opens tonight at the Tel Avivs Artists House.

Ziv’s father, Pinhas Zaklikowski, survived the Lodz ghetto and the Buchenwald concentration camp, the only member of his family who did not die in the Holocaust. After the war he immigrated to Palestine illegally and served first in the Irgun pre-state militia and later in the Israel Defense Forces’ Givati Brigade. In Poland, his family had owned a cardboard factory, but in Israel Zaklikowski worked in a factory for commercial baking ovens owned by the Irgun’s chief operations officer, Amichai “Gidi” Paglin.

In 1962, Zaklikowski was called upon to design and build the oven in which Eichmann’s body would be burned. “For 10 days I worked on this oven with a sense of awe,” he told Yehuda Koren in an interview in Haaretz Magazine in 1990.

The Supreme Court had not yet denied Eichmann’s appeal of his death sentence when the oven was completed. It waited in the yard of the factory in Petah Tikva. After Eichmann was hanged, it was Zaklikowski who placed the body in the oven and turned it on.

Work from Tuly Ziv’s exhibition.
Amit Gosher

“My participation in Eichmann’s cremation wasn’t even a tiny fraction of revenge for what he did to my family and me. I continued to feel the same emptiness inside,” he told Haaretz. Zaklikowski dismantled the oven immediately after the cremation, and the following day he returned to his usual work responsibilities.

Ziv began work on the new exhibition five years ago, after the death of his mother, Sarah, an Auschwitz survivor. In the attic of her home in Ramat Gan, he found photographs of relatives who died in the Holocaust. And under a pile of floor tiles, in a dust-covered plastic bag, he found a drawing of the oven made by his father. His mother had hidden it for decades, and Ziv hadn’t even known of its existence.

“I felt as if I’d been given a punishment. It was as if my father had come and said to me: ‘Come on, get to work,’” Ziv recounted. The drawing became the source of an unrelenting obsession that resulted in around 500 works on paper, 100 of which make up the exhibition. The subjects include graves, grave markers, concentration camps, synagogues, railroad tracks and loaves of bread. Through them, he said, he attempted to reengage in dialogue with his late father.

“When I look at a photograph of my father, in external appearance it’s the father I know. When I see the ‘oven,’ he is the internal father that I miss. I am trying to search inside myself, inside him, in essence going inside the furnace,” he said.

Ziv graduated in 1977 from Tel Aviv’s Avni Institute of Art and Design in Tel Aviv, where his teachers included the Israel Prize laureate Yehezkel Streichman and Avigdor Steimatsky, members of the Israeli artists’ group New Horizons. Ziv’s work has been exhibited in Israel and abroad. He uses a variety of techniques and materials, but his main subject is the Holocaust. His studio is in the home in north Tel Aviv home that he shares with his wife, Yardena, who for years was the chief designer of the Honigman chain of clothing stores.

Work from Tuly Ziv’s exhibition.
Amit Gosher

Ziv’s father died 17 years ago, his mother five years ago. A sister, Esther, died in a traffic accident at a young age.

“I injure the paper and heal it. It heals itself,” he declared while describing his work, which features the smearing of oil paint and an obsessive repetition of images in a changing set of compositions on a series of subjects. His work is dense and highly charged. They provoke stress in the viewer even before the content is considered.

“It’s frenetic work that generates emotional energy and releases it,” said Arie Berkowitz, the director of the Artists’ House and the curator of the exhibition.

Work from Tuly Ziv’s exhibition.
Amit Gosher

“I fill the painting and actually fill myself,” added Ziv. “I do it through the form of smoke and fill the surface in round strokes. It provides volume and a feeling that something is happening inside,” he noted.

The exhibition was produced by Avner Avraham, a former member of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service who shares Ziv’s obsession with Eichmann. “We have a mutual friend,” he chuckled. “Eichmann.”

Avraham is an artist and curator who has curated several exhibitions for the Mossad, notably “Operation Finale.” Devoted to Eichmann’s capture in Argentina, it has received considerable public exposure. It was displayed in the Knesset in 2011, for the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, before moving to Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot. The exhibit is scheduled to travel to the United States soon.

The major source of material for “Operation Finale” was the Mossad’s own archives. For the first time in the agency’s history, documents and other original items from its archives were displayed in public. A few items were contributed by private individuals, and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot lent the famous bulletproof glass booth used to protect Eichmann during his trial.

Work from Tuly Ziv’s exhibition.
Amit Gosher

Ziv met Avraham when the former came to see the exhibit. When Avraham heard about the drawings of the oven that Ziv had found, he realized that another piece of the puzzle surrounding Eichmann had been found.

Zaklikowski’s interview in Haaretz was also a part of that story. On May 31, 1962, President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi rejected Eichmann’s request for clemency, clearing the way for the only execution in Israel’s history.

“At around noon, they called the factory and told me to tell my wife I would be returning from work after midnight that night,” Zaklikowski recounted in the interview. “According to the instructions, people who had been through the Holocaust were prohibited from having anything to do with Eichmann’s execution, but since my job was only to turn on the oven and to make sure the fire didn’t go out, I participated in the operation,” he explained.

Tuly Ziv.
Ofer Aderet

That afternoon, an unmarked police truck rolled up to the factory and the oven, which weighed one and a half tons, was placed on it, Zaklikowski told Haaretz in 1990. The oven was brought to a police warehouse near the Ramle prison where Eichmann had been incarcerated and where he was executed. At 6 P.M., Zaklikowski lit the oven to make sure that it worked properly.

“In complete silence and supreme levelheadedness, he built the crematorium,” Ziv recalls, “not to avenge a grudge, because there is no real revenge for an entire world destroyed and whole families that were extinguished. Dad built the oven as a citizen and a free resident of the State of Israel, as a partner, a confidant and as an excellent and even outstanding craftsman,” Ziv says.

“That’s my dad, who would pass out bread in the Lodz ghetto. Bread is baked in ovens. I don’t really known what went through his head. He didn’t say and I didn’t ask. Did he think about the connection between the crematoria ovens and the bread-baking ovens? Did he see his parents in his mind’s eye, his brother and sister suddenly alive, watching the kind of memorial that he was making to them, like a marker for a grave whose location is unknown? I no longer have anyone to ask,” Ziv says.

Eichmann’s body arrived after midnight, in a heavily-guarded car, in the clothes Eichmann was wearing when he was hanged, the noose still around his neck. After the cremation, his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea from a boat, beyond Israel’s territorial waters.

Tuly Ziv.
Ofer Aderet

“The morning Dad died, I went into the studio. I felt I had said goodbye to him, but looking back, ever since then I’ve been running after him, through ghettos and labor camps, trains and death camps and death marches, hunger and helplessness, grief and orphanhood and terrible isolation, trying to catch up with him,” Ziv says.

“Even though Dad died many years after the crematoria and after he built the oven to burn Eichmann’s body, I still go looking for my father in the crematorium,” he confessed.