A Monster Reduced to Human Proportions

A Monster Reduced to Human Proportions

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Another jolt from the past came last week when I viewed “Operation Finale,” the stirring film starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi “architect” of the final solution. Eichmann was the man who ensured that transport of Jews to the death camps ran continuously and faultlessly. In 1957, aided by a blind man (who nevertheless recognized Eichmann), and his granddaughter, Sylvia, Mossad agents discovered him living in Buenos Aires, Argentina (a prime place for former Nazi officers to hide) under the false name of Ricardo Clement.

Avenging the death of his sister, Fruma, at the hands of the Nazis, Israel’s Peter Malkin was the man who actually kidnapped Eichmann, and, surmounting a host of difficulties, the Israeli team brought him back to Israel for trial.

Eichmann could have simply been killed by an assassin’s bullet. But the Israeli authorities declined to do so. Rather, they would bring him back to be tried in Israel, with the court of world opinion watching on television, as the proceedings were broadcast internationally. The benchmark trial, flying in the face of Holocaust deniers, finally took place in 1961. As the Israelis intended, it proved to be an unforgettable, educational experience for those who viewed the proceedings.

As with many filmed accounts of historical events, “Operation Finale” is not completely accurate in all its details – after all, it is a movie, not a documentary — but, as someone who viewed the real trial on television, I find it chillingly accurate enough. (Deborah Lipstadt’s book, The Eichmann Trial, published in 2010, gives further information.)

In “Operation Finale,” Kingsley gives a nuanced and memorable performance. Yet, as I viewed the action, my mind kept drifting back to the real Eichmann, the real trial held in Israel, the one that I watched on black and white television so many years ago. In its time, it was sensational in an odd way. Behind the  bullet-proof “cage” of see-through panels that protected the defendant at the trial, sat a bespectacled, mild-looking man who might have been an accountant. The monster was reduced to human proportions.

That said, however, I thought the recent film provided an even-handed view of the trial of a Nazi who had wrongfully escaped the Nuremberg trials and deserved to die. It was, as the Israelis intended, a fair trial, even though the death sentence at the end was a foregone conclusion. In 1962, Eichmann was hanged and then cremated and his ashes scattered at sea, so that, as the film relates, he would never have a final resting place.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.