I went to the Virginia Holocaust Museum on May 1, not to see exhibits of history but to witness history. Justice Gabriel Bach, a former Supreme Court justice in Israel, was there to receive the Virginia Law Foundation's Rule of Law Award.
Bach was the deputy chief prosecutor for the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi known as the "Chief Executioner of the Third Reich" for orchestrating the deaths of millions of Jews.
Now 84, Bach is the sole surviving member of the legal team that prosecuted Eichmann. The award he received is given annually by the Virginia Law Foundation and the Virginia Holocaust Museum to honor someone "who has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to promoting the rule of law as the foundation of peaceful, stable, and prosperous nation states." The ceremony followed a three-day film festival commemorating the start of the Eichmann trial 50 years ago.
Eli Rosenbaum, executive director of the Office of Special Investigations for the Department of Justice and a noted Nazi hunter and prosecutor himself, introduced Bach, citing his sterling career and his historic contribution to "the case that electrified the world."
Justice Bach described what was, for him, a vivid memory of Eichmann from the trial, which took place in Jerusalem.
"The most dominant picture in my mind was the first moment of the trial, when these Jewish judges came into the courtroom, and he jumped to attention with the Israeli flag behind him ... that man whose only objective in life was to destroy these people."
Eichmann escaped from an American prisoner of war camp in Germany in 1946. He took an alias and worked as a chicken farmer. He was even employed, at one time, by an American oil company before escaping to Argentina in 1950. He lived there with his family until his surprise arrest by Israeli authorities in 1960. Eichmann agreed to be taken to Israel to stand trial, 15 years after World War II ended.
To accommodate the incredible security effort necessary to protect Eichmann, Bach, as well as two other prosecutors, lived for 11 months in the same secret compound where Eichmann was kept, having no contact with their families while preparing their case.
The four-month trial was filmed by Capital Cities, a little-known American broadcaster. Years later, William Abrams, while working at ABC News, helped produce a two-hour documentary based on the footage. The Trial of Adolf Eichmann premiered on PBS in April 1997 and was nominated for an Emmy. It was screened as part of the museum's film festival, one of the few times it's been shown since 1997. Abrams, who also spoke at the museum event, said, "My goal is to secure its re-release for schools, libraries and museums, so that many more can see this historic trial."
The evening bolstered my belief that, no matter what happens in the world, justice will, somehow, prevail. Later that same night, the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a team of Navy SEALs splashed across my television screen. The next day, his body was buried at sea by Americans, the very people he had hoped
Eichmann, who was hanged after his conviction and a series of appeals, was cremated and also buried at sea. Michael Goldmann, an Israeli police officer who testified against Eichmann and witnessed his execution, was present when Eichmann's ashes were dispersed. His left forearm bore the numbers 161135, which had been tattooed on him at Auschwitz. ©Nancy Wright Beasley 2011. All rights reserved.