“Memories of the Eichmann Trial”
From Testimony to Proof
David Perlov’s hour-long documentary film, “Memories of the Eichmann Trial” captures how a formative event in Israeli history continues to shape the Israeli experience. 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 and this memory continues to influence 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 (whose photos are now on display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts) 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. We see Ross wearing a hat, and wrapped 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 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 film.
Rafi Eitan, who ran the operation that led to the capture of Eichmann, is the first person interviewed in the film and we see him leafing through a series of photos of Eichmann who was inside his glass booth during the trial. Eitan sat beside Eichmann (who under a blanket in the back seat of a car) after his capture and had 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. Moving to 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.
The banality of evil has itself become a banality. A recent biography of Otto Adolf Eichmann by Bettina Stangneth has rekindled the debate over Hannah Arendt’s portrait of the Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer, logistician, and executor of the Final Solution as an apathetic, bureaucratic functionary “who never realized what he was doing.” Perlov’s gives us reminiscences by trial witnesses, Holocaust survivors, Israelis of the second generation, and others who were directly involved in the Eichmann case. Perlov is considered the father of Israeli nonfiction cinema, having given it his deeply personal, artistic sensibility. This is what makes this film so striking and unforgettable.