Today we mark the 50th anniversary of a pivotal moment in the history of Holocaust remembrance: not merely the Eichmann trial, but the searing testimony there of 100 survivors whose words—whose memories—echo across the ages from that courtroom a half century ago to this hallowed space today.
Deborah Lipstadt recounts that story in her new book, The Eichmann Trial. Presenting the survivors’ testimony was not an obvious decision at the time. Some felt that the testimony would be prejudicial or unnecessary. But prosecutor Gideon Hausner understood its extraordinary power. In his opening statement, he said:
“As I stand ...before you, I do not stand alone. With me in this place and at this hour, stand six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger towards the man in the glass dock and cry ‘J’accuse.’ …. Their blood cries out, but their voices are not heard.”
So Hausner ensured that many voices would be heard.
One French survivor told of comforting Jewish children whose parents had been deported. Often crying out in the night for their parents, all they wanted to know was when would they see them again. He tried to reassure them, knowing this was not to be.
A Hungarian woman brought to the trial a letter from her husband. He had thrown it from a train, having written on it, “Blessed be the hand which posts this letter.” The letter read, “My dear wife and children ….I shall bear my fate whatever it may be. I do not want to make you sad but I would want very much to live in your midst. May God grant that we may be allowed to achieve that.” His wish would not be granted.
Another recalled seeing his wife and daughter disappear into a massive crowd at Birkenau, recognizing them by his daughter’s bright red coat which got smaller and smaller, and then disappeared forever.
Unlike the Eichmann trial, the Nuremberg trials, as just now so thoughtfully and beautifully described by Justice Breyer, were based largely on reams of German documents, not eyewitnesses. Fifteen years later when many survivors would take the witness stand in front of Eichmann, they did not speak of bureaucratic statistics, official memoranda, or train schedules. They spoke about lives and deaths—not of faceless statistics, but of individual souls.
Today, by lighting these candles, so do we.
MEMORIAL CANDLE LIGHTING
Assisting us in our candle lighting will be Manal Elhak, a member of the inaugural class of the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program, which was established by the Museum in memory of Officer Johns who died heroically in 2009 while protecting Museum visitors and staff.
The first candle will be lit by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Charles Stein, a Museum volunteer who fled Austria after the Nazi takeover.
The second candle will be lit by Representative Henry Waxman of California, and Mania Sarna, who survived a forced labor camp in Czechoslovakia.
The third candle will be lit by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Nellie Wiesenthal Fink, a Museum volunteer who fled Nazi Germany just before Kristallnacht.
The fourth candle will be lit by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and Simon Braitman, who survived a subcamp of Auschwitz.
The fifth candle will be lit by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Helen Sternlight Jonas, a survivor of a forced labor camp in Poland.
The sixth candle will be lit by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and William Loew, a survivor of Auschwitz.