Shifting from the salon sofa and watching the buildup to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition on TV to actually immersing oneself in the swelling crowds at the Eurovillage in Tel Aviv’s beach front was an eye-popping opener or as one says in Hebrew:
“Ein milim” – “no words”.
For a press that usually obsesses with covering Israel in a negative light, what a refreshing change:
Britain’s The Independent ran with a headline reading:
“This year’s Eurovision was one of the best in recent memory,” praising the broadcasts “general splendor” and calling it “an incredible show.”
CNN called the grand final “a showpiece that would have disappointed few Eurovision fans.”
The New York Times, which only recently published a vile antisemitic cartoon anchored on Israeli politics, said the show had “enough glitz, plumes of fire and special effects to invigorate even the blandest Europop.”
Even the BBC was captivated by the special atmosphere. Its newsreader Graham Norton during his live commentary said of the 2019 rendition of Israel’s 40th anniversary of “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari accompanied by previous top Eurovision contestants – Conchita Wurst, Måns Zelmerlöw, Eleni Foureira and Verka Serduchka:
“What a real treat for Eurovision fans… a really special moment. A gorgeous moment.”
The BBC was spot on – it was a “gorgeous moment”. However, the entire week was a compilation of “gorgeous moments.”
Off course, there were still those who could not resist ‘aiming’ their pens in describing Eurovision in Israel as “Tel Aviv caught between partying and politics” but so be it:
The event lived up to its expectations; the theme of Israel’s Eurovision was “Dare To Dream”, a theme espoused by Israel’s founding father Theodore Hertzel, who defied the naysayers over 120 years earlier with “If you will it, it is no dream.”
The results were there for all to celebrate as the eyes of the world – some 200 million viewers – were on Israel and seeing:
How you can build a country in 71 years and that despite the immense challenges, despite being surrounded by enemies desiring our extinction, despite a biased global media in perpetual assault mode against the Jewish state, saw the curtain rise on a modern, fun-loving, exciting, enterprising, entrepreneurial and hi-tech behemoth that can also show the world:
‘How to party’
And party Israel did.
Tel Aviv lived up to its reputation of the “City That never Sleeps” or as I like to describe it, “as the city that wakes up every morning and decides what’s its going to be”.
Yes, the people of the “Start-Up Nation” know how to “work hard” but they also know how to “play hard” and the multitude of visitors from abroad were swept away by the euphoric atmosphere.
Three Swiss visitors I spoke to, agreed, “The atmosphere here is special; you will never see anything like this in Switzerland – Eurovision or no Eurovision”
A twentysomething from Germany remarked, “It’s funny; I’ve been here a week and even with the time change, Europe is fast asleep when you guys are still partying.”
Euphoria in Eurovillage
The lingua franca of the people standing around me near the main stage at the Eurovillage was a cross of European languages and many of them were holding aloft their country’s flags. Facing me were the flags of Romania, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Looking back, all I could see was a sea of people, gyrating to the music of an Abba Revival band from Sweden. The four singers down to their dress looked like Abba and if you closed your eyes, you could be back in the seventies – they sounded exactly like Abba.
Most the people around me were probably not even born when Abba won with Waterloo in 1974, but tonight was Tel Aviv’s “Waterloo” as it won in victoriously emblazoning to the world, if you want to know us, come and see Israel for yourself.
Clearly, the thousands of overseas visitors were happy they did.
BDS failed abysmally in sabotaging the event. Despite their appeals for countries to boycott – notably by their flagbearer, Roger Waters – not one European country pulled out. Noted for flying a balloon of a giant pig with a Star of David at his concerts and then denying “I’m NOT an anti-Semite”, Ranting Roger made a last ditch-11th hour incoherent rant on social media following an appeal “from my friend Omar Barghouti” for contestants to boycott Tel Aviv. A co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Barghouti does not believe in a two-state solution as he believes that the “creation of a Jewish state was a crime” and calls to restore the name of “Palestine” for the entire area from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.
Waters’ appeal met on deaf ears.
Where once people listed to his music, today, few were interested in hearing what he had to say.
Even the pro-Palestinian Icelandic ‘Hatari’ participated albeit displaying Palestinian flags. They received no thanks for doing so!
The Iceland band’s gesture cut no ice with BDS who wrote on its Twitter account:
“Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly rejects fig-leaf gestures of solidarity from international artists crossing our peaceful picket line.”
At a press conference, Hatari offered a purely positive message saying, “We need to unite and remember to love – hate on the rise in Europe.”
Yes, that hate is manifesting itself in the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Europe since WWII.
And happy to join that hate fest are Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Fatah posted the cartoon below on Facebook, showing an Israeli soldier shooting at Palestinians in Gaza. Musical notes are flowing from the “Eurovision” but turn into an ammunition belt for the soldier’s machine gun.
In a second cartoon posted by Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dressed up as Israeli singer Netta Barzilai who won last year’s Eurovision and brought the competition to Israel. Netanyahu is holding a missile in each hand:
Missiles? What the PA and Fatah neglects to advise its gullible readership is that it was the Palestinians in Gaza that only two weeks earlier had launched nearly 700 missiles at southern Israel, killing four Israeli civilians, injuring many and causing severe structural damage to property, including moving motor vehicles.
Never Stop Dreaming
Israel’s message to the world was so poignantly encapsulated by the Shalva Band. Shalva (The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities) is a registered non-profit organization that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families in Israel. The eight-piece band, which includes Israelis with blindness, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities, called on spectators “to never stop dreaming.” The band performed a rendition of A Million Dreams from the film The Greatest Showman.
The band made it to the finals of The Rising Star, the local Israeli contest that determines who represents the country at the Eurovision. Predicted to win by judges and audience members, they dropped out because performing at Eurovision would have necessitated violating the Sabbath in order to participate in the Saturday night final broadcast.
At a press conference they revealed that they were living out their dream.
“When we first started playing together people wouldn’t listen to us, they would just leave the room,” said Band director Shai Ben-Shushan. “We worked hard, and we became better and better, and we believed in ourselves. After a lot of hard work, we got to Hakochav Haba (The Rising Star) – and in the beginning we didn’t believe that we were good enough to make it to the end.”
The Israeli public thought they did.
“We’ve made a huge change in Israeli society,” he said. “Today, when we walk in the street, the Israeli people want to embrace us – not because we’re a gimmick, but because we’re good at what we do.”
If only the PA, Hamas and BDS would understand this message
Wonder Woman On Wonder City
A quick lesson in “three minutes” about life in Tel Aviv was revealed in the back of a taxi by Gal Gadot, Israel’s famed star from Wonder Woman with taxi driver, famed Israeli comedian Yuval Semo.
“Three minutes,” says the Hollywood superstar it took for Netta Barzilai in 2018 to bring the Eurovision to Israel with her winning entry “Toy”; “three minutes,’ she joked, “is the average an Israeli waits before getting personal – a little too personal,” and “Three minutes to understand the essence of Tel Aviv – Inspiration, innovation, big ideas and open arms. Come as you are, bring who you like, love what you do, day or night, daring and caring, outgoing and including everyone under one hot sun.”
At the end of the week – All Said And Sung – the real winner of Eurovision 2019 was – ISRAEL!
As Israel’s message in its 1979 Eurovision win: “Hallelujah”
On the Sunday, preceding Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence day) on Thursday, Israelis could not escape the question:
“Will we be celebrating Independence Day, or will we be at war?”
It was a fair question in light of some 700 missiles fired at Israel from Gaza over a period of 48 hours.
Come Wednesday evening however, bands were playing on open-air stages in cities and towns all across Israel and people were joyously dancing in the streets under a night sky ablaze not from missiles but fireworks!
The quick transition from ‘dodging rockets to dancing in streets’ reminded me of a 2014 interview with the late Yehuda Avner who served as speech writer and English secretary to Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and personal advisor to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres as well as Israel’s Ambassador to Britain, Ireland and Australia.
Closeted in the very nerve center where life and death decisions were taken, Yehuda was in prime position to record intimately those monumental events and the cerebral machinations that determined the destiny of a nation.
Yet it was Avner’s experience on Israel’s first day – 14th May 1948 – that encapsulated the transition from battle to bliss.
The 14th of May 1948 was a Friday, and unbearably hot. “For three consecutive sun-grilled days and restless nights,” 18-year-old Yehuda Avner from Manchester and his 25 comrades, armed with pickaxes, shovels and a dozen WWI Lee Enfield rifles, had been fortifying a narrow sector of Jerusalem’s Western front, overlooking the Arab village of Ein Karem. They had heard rumors that an Arab offensive would be launched that night from Ein Karem, joined by Iraqi irregulars and a Jordanian brigade but with no communication with the outside world – “no field phone, not even a radio” – they were totally cut off. Needing to find out what was happening – “particularly whether the British had evacuated and whether Ben Gurion had or was going to declare independence or not” – our commander, Elisha Linder, instructed Holocaust survivor, Leopard Mahler to go into town and return “with hard news.”
A grandnephew of the famous composer Gustav Mahler, “Leopard never went anywhere without his grey knapsack from which the neck of his violin protruded.” He had been a violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic until the Nuremberg Race Laws dispensed with his services. Surviving Auschwitz, he tried unsuccessfully to obtain visas to join the Chicago Philharmonic and later the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and reluctantly settled for an opening in the Palestine Philharmonic in Tel Aviv. “When he finally got his Australian visa, Jerusalem was already under siege and the poor fellow tried to get out to Tel Aviv on a convoy, but it was ambushed, and he had to return to embattled Jerusalem.”
Being a violinist and the obvious concern about protecting his hands, “we were happy that instead of joining us digging trenches in the rock-hard earth, he should be the one to go into town and fish for information.”
He came back close to midnight shortly after there had been a lengthy exchange of fire, crying “I have news; I have news!” He related that “the British had evacuated the country and that our forces were in control of the centre of the city.”
Substantiating his claim, he opened his coat to display a Union Jack tied to his waste. “He then began pulling from his bulging pockets forgotten luxuries – Kraft cheese, Mars Bars, Cadbury chocolate, and a bottle of wine, all compliments from an abandoned British officer’s mess. And then, from his knapsack, came out cans of peaches, jars of Ovaltine and a bottle of Carmel wine.”
But most important was the news that: “David Ben-Gurion had declared independence that afternoon, and that the Jewish state would come into being at midnight.”
There was dead silence, midnight was only minutes away!
“Hey, Mahler!” shouted Elisha Linder, cutting through the excitement, “Our new state – what’s its name?”
The violinist didn’t have a clue. “I didn’t think to ask,” he said.
“How about Yehuda? suggested someone. “After all, King David’s kingdom was called Yehuda – Judea.”
“Zion,” cried another. “It’s an obvious choice.”
“Israel!” called a third, “What’s wrong with Israel?”
Filling a mug to the brim with the wine, Elisha settled it with, “A l’’chaim to our new State, whatever its name.” But before the wine touched the lips, a Hassid whom we all knew as ‘Reb Nusesen de chazzan’ (he was a cantor by calling), shouted “Wait,” It’s Shabbos. Let’s make Kiddush first.”
“That was a Kiddush I shall never forget,” says Yehuda whimsically, and added, “Next day we were relieved to rest up and we went into town where masses of Jews were dancing the horah in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency building. Someone was playing a banjo and another a harmonica and before not too long Mahler took out his violin and joined in, playing HavaNagila (Jewish traditional folk song).” Picking up the beat, he began reworking it into a widely spiraling variations, his notes fluttering this way and that, improvisation upon improvisation, as if a man and instrument were rediscovering each other in shared pleasure after a long separation.”
This was the uplifting feeling of independence after 2000 years; “we were discovering ourselves as a People after 2000 years of separation from our Land.”
Now 71 years later, we were again experiencing days of war and music, and while we braced ourselves early in the week against missiles, we now pleasurably ‘brace’ ourselves for the upcoming 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv from the 14th to the 18th May.
Israel’s song in the competition to be performed by Kobi Marimiis “HOME”. Having re-established our national homeland 71 years earlier after 2000 years of exile, the last three words of the song resonate:
“I’m coming home”
It’s a mesmerizing melodious message three weeks after Pesach (Passover) where we celebrate delivery from slavery; two weeks after Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) where we pledge “Never Again”, and a week after Yom Haatzmaut, where we rejoice of our return to national sovereignty in our ancestral homeland.
The final verse speaks of “standing tall”, “not giving in” and “I’m coming home”.
“I am standing tall not giving in
‘Cause I am someone, I am someone
And now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming
Now I’m done, I’m coming home”
There are 23 741 reasons to bow our heads this Yom Hazikaron. There are 23 741 reasons to express our profound eternal gratitude. There are 23 741 reasons for our hearts to ache. There are 23 741 reasons to be proud. 23 741 reason for the tears to fall from our eyes. There are 23 741 to remember. There are 23 741 names ingrained in our hearts forever. There are 23 741 reasons for the siren to wail its mournful cry.
23 741 soldiers, security forces and police have fallen in defense of Israel since its birth as a modern state in 1948.
We will never forget them.
The stories of unparalleled bravery and selfless sacrifice like Roi Klein, who saved the life of his unit by absorbing the blast of grenade. Risking it all to leave the comforts of home in the US, to serve as a paratrooper like Michael Levine. The iconic warrior like Yoni Netanyahu who fell in Israel’s daring Entebbe operation in 1976 that rescued 102 Jewish hostages from a hijacked Air France passenger aircraft in Uganda’s capital.
The names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and so on.
Their names are seared in our hearts.
And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.
At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen warriors and victims of terror.
Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.
They are the people we love.
Yom Hazikaron is not only a day of remembrance, but also one of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.
Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.
This year is particularly poignant. I write this just days after 700 rockets were fired by terror groups in the Gaza strip into Israel, killing 4 civilians (may their memories be for a blessing) and injuring and traumatizing countless others. We were reminded again that the guardians of Israel neither slumber nor sleep as they worked 24/7 to protect us. We thankfully lost no soldiers but days like this are bitter reminders of the threats we face as a nation and how achingly close we come to situations where this is a possibility.
In recent years, Yom Hazikaron has also included honouring victims of terror attacks.
Victims targeted simply for being Israeli. We remember brave men like Ari Fuld who gave chase to his murderer before succumbing to his wounds. Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman who had come off his shift when he heard of an attack on a synagogue and rushed to assist and paid with his life. We remember teenagers Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and NaphtaliFrenkel – whose names live on in heartbreaking infamy. We remember the mothers and father, brothers and sisters, grandparents and babies – gone soon, far too soon. This year the number of victims of terror is 3 146.
There are 3 146 reason to remember, to wipe the tears from our eyes, to light a candle.
In an emotional paradox, the sun will set on mourning and Israel will don her best blue and white to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.
This year we have 23 741 more reasons to. We celebrate in their names.
They will forever be the watchers on our walls, the guardians of our gates. Their memories will be forever blessed.
“…And so they stand, the light on their faces, and the Lord,
alone passes among them, with tears in His eyes He kisses
their wounds, and He says in a trembling voice to the white
“Not a day goes past that I don’t think about the Eichmann trial”. Judge Gabriel Bach greets us warmly as he welcomes us to his apartment in a leafy suburb of Jerusalem. His living room bears testament to an extraordinary life and career. Dotted with family pictures and impressive volumes of books, the eye is drawn immediately to a collection of books entitled “The Eichmann Trial”.
It is this moment when you are aware that the gentle, charming man who has welcomed you with a twinkle in his wise eyes is one of the men who sought justice for the millions. He is the mensch who put the monster, Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for sending millions of Jews to their deaths. I do confess to being more than a little star-struck. It is men like this, the quiet giants and their pursuit of justice and truth that hold a nation on their mighty shoulders.
Monsters are usually the stuff of fairytale lore but this one was real. The world was riveted when news broke that Eichmann was captured.
Hiding out in Argentina as Ricardo Clement, the devil was now in custody, thanks to a stealth and decisive operation by Israel’s Mossad. All that remained was justice.
Born in Germany, the Bach family managed to flee to Holland just two weeks before Kristallnacht (Night of broken Glass) which would result in the destruction of many synagogues and businesses and the rounding up of Jews, many who would be sent to camps like Dachau. The Bach family managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazi machine, leaving Holland just before the German occupation and sailed to British Mandate Palestine on the “Patria” which would sink on its next journey. It was here, before there was a State of Israel and safe haven for Jews, where Bach, young lawyer in the state’s attorney’s office with an exemplary record and a bright future was one of those chosen to join the team of prosecutors. He would also be tapped to be in charge of the investigation.
It was time to gather the evidence for the trial that would begin on the 11th of April 1961.
The team of prosecutors would have to wade through volumes of documents and evidence. Married with a small daughter, Bach would spend 9 months immersed in investigations and communication with Eichmann without meeting him face to face, that included ensuring that he was aware of his rights to a defense attorney of his choice. The time came to meet the devil face to face.
Judge Bach describes his first encounter with evil. “I will never forget it. I was sitting in my office in the prison, reading the autobiography of Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz who was eventually hanged in Poland, describe how they had many days when they killed a thousand Jewish children per day and he mentions how the children would kneel and beg to be spared and when he and his colleagues were pushing the children into the gas chambers his knees would hurt and he felt ashamed of this “weakness” but remembered how Eichmann had reiterated that it was the children who had to be killed first lest they grow to be a generation that would grow up to take revenge. And then 10 minutes after I read that, there was a request from Eichmann to see me. It wasn’t so easy to keep a poker face with him sitting opposite me.”
How does one even imagine what it was like to have to sit opposite such a monster?
Bach describes having to handle this like any other criminal case. Emotional moments would come later – and without warning.
The German government was most cooperative in ensuring that Bach and his team received documents from all the ministries. The evidence was irrefutable. It was time for the trial to commence.
The Eichmann trial was a game-changer in many respects. The first to be televised, the trial would allow millions around the world to enter the courtroom. The trial would also be the first opportunity that would allow survivors and witnesses to give emotional testimony. For many young Israelis who could not understand why the Jews of Europe seemed not to defend themselves, they now understood the severity, the genocide, the cruelty and the devious tactics of the Nazi killing machine that ended the lives of six million. There are accounts of Eichmann telling deportees on their way to the death camps to write postcards to their remaining loved ones and friends, not only telling them of the wonderful place they were going to, but also encouraging them to follow.
Eichmann sat behind the glass, in the dock, completely impassive. Eichmann showed no remorse and no regret.
His defense? He was just following orders. This would prove untrue when on several occasions evidence would come to light and on more than one occasion when asked to spare the life of a Jew, Eichmann would refuse absolutely.
As the trial progressed, so did day after day of emotional, harrowing testimony from survivors who gave heartbreaking account of the loss of their families and the excruciating cruelty they endured at the hands of the Nazis under the commands of Eichmann.
Most of us who have watched Schindler’s List can remember the searing image of the little girl in the red coat going to the gas chambers and her lifeless body on a pile of corpses.
A red coat would later affect prosecutor Bach’s composure! One day when hearing testimony from a survivor who during the selection process was spared for labour while his wife and daughter were sent to the gas chamber for immediate extermination. The SS were unsure of what to do with his son but eventually told him to join his mother and sister. The witness was concerned his son would not find them but saw the image of his little daughter in her red coat, no more than two-and-a-half, disappearing, never to be seen again.
Bach had just bought his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a brand new red coat. His impeccable composure was shaken to the core.
The trial would proceed until the eventual verdict. On December 13, 1961 the court found Eichmann guilty on most articles of the indictment, and on the 15th of that same month, sentenced him to death. The defense appealed to the Supreme Court which on May 29, 1962, ratified the verdict of the lower court. Eichmann and his team appealed to the President, Yitzchak ben Zvi for clemency but were denied and during the night between May 31, and June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging at Ramla Prison. In his final moments, Eichmann expressed his unwavering love and loyalty to Germany and Argentina. After his body was incinerated, his ashes were scattered at sea outside Israeli territorial waters.
Justice had been served.
At the conclusion of the process, jurists from all over the world, including some who had initially questioned Israel’s right to judge Eichmann, noted the fairness shown by the judges and their strict adherence to the principle of a fair trial.
This was more than Eichmann ever showed his victims.
Prosecutor Gabriel Bach would go on to enjoy an illustrious career that would see him assume many titles. He would go on to be State’s Attorney and then a Judge on Israel’s Supreme Court. One title would accompany him through all of this – that of mensch. Today, at his advanced age, Judge Bach is still a most sought after and loved speaker and travels the world, engaging new audiences. He is particularly moved by the interest and willingness to learn by young Germans.
Judge Bach waves goodbye to us from the window of his modest apartment. Well into his 90’s his exuberance for life and gentle personality are testament to why this man is a giant amongst the heroes of the Jewish people. The lessons have been many.
The importance of bearing witness, of seeking justice and the example set by a man who can affectionately be called prosecutor, Judge and mensch.
Escaping the clutches of the Nazis as a child, years later he would face the arch architect of “The Final Solution” in an Israeli court. ‘Insights and Revelations’ from the man who prosecuted Adolf Eichmann.
ByDavid E. Kaplan
“What was it like staring into the face of pure evil?”
It was my opening question to 93-year-old Judge Gabriel Bach, regarding his first meeting with Adolf Eichmann, whose case he investigated in 1961, and then prosecuted. As Israel’s Deputy State Attorney, he was the only member of the three-man prosecution team who had one-on-one contact with Eichmann.
We sat for the interview in the former Supreme Court justice’s modest apartment in the leafy Talbiya neighbourhood of Jerusalem, just a stone’s throw from the official residence of Israel’s State President.
Conspicuous on the bookcase were leather-bound volumes – in English and in Hebrew – of the transcripts of the Eichmann trial.
An estimated 500 journalists from around the world converged on Jerusalem in 1961 to cover what was dubbed the “Trial of the Century” and what was televised live to 56 countries. The trial was the first time that testimony about the death camps had ever been broadcast live – and directly from the victim’s mouths.
TIME magazine described the accused as:
“A thin, balding man of 55 who looked more like a bank clerk than a butcher: a thin mouth between protruding ears, a long, narrow nose, deep set blue eyes, a high, often wrinkled brow. He looked puny beside two burly, blue-clad Israeli policemen. When he stood, he resembled a stork more than a soldier.”
Yet this “bank clerk” or “stork” was the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ that meticulously murdered six million Jews.
Following the audacious capture of Eichmann by the Mossad from a street in Buenos Aires in May 1960, he was brought to Israel where he was imprisoned near Haifa for nine months preceding the trial in Jerusalem. Tasked in heading the investigation, Deputy State Attorney Gabriel Bach left his young wife Ruth and their 2-year-old daughter in Jerusalem and moved into a hotel in Haifa.
He recounts before that fateful first meeting sitting in his office at the prison engrossed in reading the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and who had been executed in 1947. Suddenly, Bach came upon a startling reference to Eichmann.
“Höss was writing that they often killed a thousand children a day in the gas chambers and that the children would often go on their knees pleading to be spared. At times, when he and his colleagues had to push them into the gas chambers, he admits “my knees got a bit wobbly” but added “I always felt ashamed of this weakness of mine after I talked to SS Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, because he impressed upon me that it is especially the Jewish children that have to be killed first, because where is the logic, that you kill a generation of older people and you leave alive a generation of possible avengers who might afterwards create that race again.”
Ten minutes after Bach read this passage, a policeman walked in and said: “Adolf Eichmann wants to see you.”
A father of a young daughter facing the man who had plotted the extermination of all the Jewish children in the world, “it was hard for me to keep a poker face.”
But that is what this professional lawyer did.
One can only imagine the thoughts that went through Bach’s mind.
Sitting a metre away from the monster – separated by a desk – he recalled of sitting 20 metres away in 1936 from another Adolf – Adolf Hitler – separated by stadium seats. It was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. “I saw when Jesse Owens won the gold, Hitler walked out so he would not have to shake the hand of a Black.”
At that time, Bach was attending Theodor Herzl School off Adolf Hiller Square in Berlin. As good timing would have it, “Two days before Kristallnacht, my family left for Holland.”
Within a few years, Gabriel was the only student of his class at Theodor Herzl School – ALIVE!
The mild-mannered monster sitting opposite him was responsible for that!
Bach’s departure from Germany was not without incident or violence. At the Germany border with Holland, we were ordered off the train by the Gestapo and told to open our suitcases. After an unpleasant search on the platform, the train began pulling out and “the German SS officer kicked me in my behind as I was running, and I lunged with my case onto the train. That is how I left Germany – LITERALLY kicked out.”
In Amsterdam, Gabriel attended a non-Jewish school, but as good fortune would have it, the family left for Palestine one month before Germany invaded. If again the Bach family were blessed with good timing, the ship the “Patria” that brought them to Palestine, sunk “on its very next voyage with a huge loss of life. So, as you can see, our family was always just one step ahead of imminent disaster.”
All these thoughts percolated in the mind of Gabriel as Eichmann requested, “If he could have Robert Servatius – who had represented Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg – as his defense attorney. We agreed; even changed Israeli law to allow it and Servatius was paid by the Israeli government for his services.”
“Only Following Orders”
For this writer who had studied the Eichmann trial at law school in South Africa over four decades earlier, I recalled the two salient issues:
(1) one of jurisdiction, that is, the legality of kidnapping a man from one country to stand trial in a second for crimes committed in a third
(2) Eichmann’s defence that he had been a functionary, a bureaucrat “following orders.”
“Arguing jurisdiction did not pose a problem,” explained Bach. “The Argentine objection was mostly token, and Germany – the only other country to realistically try the case – was perfectly happy Israel took on the responsibility and cooperated fully in providing much of the material and documents from the camps to help build our case. In any event, the global sentiment shifted enormously to the view that it was most important to present the facts of what Eichmann did, and preserve them for historical record.”
Addressing the second issue of “I was following orders,” Bach refuted this with one horrifying example after another.
“In 1944, Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy wished to leave the Axis and make peace with the Allies. Hitler convinced him to stay but only on Horthy’s condition that 8,700 Hungarian Jewish families be allowed to emigrate to a neutral country. Hitler agreed – not out of any sense of humanity – but because it was more important to have Hungary remain on the side of the Axis powers, and would ensure that the remaining 800,000 Jews would be exterminated.”
Eichmann, however, would not have any of it.
“We found a telegram from the Nazi appointee in Budapest to German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, reporting that Eichmann was very upset about releasing these families, saying they were important “biological material,” who could proceed from the neutral country to Palestine, where they could help reconstitute the Jewish race. According to the Nazi telegram, Eichmann tried to speed up deportations so those Jews would be taken before their visas arrived. Eichmann thereby acted in defiance of Hitler himself, belying his claim – of just following orders.”
Documents from various countries showed Eichmann was often requested to spare particular Jews. However, “no matter how seemingly strong the request, Eichmann invariably said NO.” Bach presents the case of a German general in Paris who wrote to Eichmann requesting he spare a professor Weiss – an expert on radar – for his value to the German war effort. Eichmann refused. When the general replied saying, “How dare you refuse me, I am a General!” Eichmann responded:
“And I am a SS Obersturmbannführer and I understand you already took over his patents, so there is no need to delay his deportation.”
When the SS came, professor and Mrs. Weiss managed to drop off their infant daughter at their neighbors, who sent her to America. During the trial, this young woman came to Israel and visited Bach in his office. She said she had no memories of her parents, and asked Bach to help her locate photos. He tried but was unsuccessful.
In Lithuania, the Germans arrested a Jewish woman who was the widow of an Italian war hero. This Italian officer had died fighting the Allies with the Germans. The Italian ambassador to Lithuania asked Eichmann to spare her, saying that, “All of Italy feels this lady should be allowed to return,” and “the Italian authorities demand her return, in memory of her husband.”
Eichmann refused and sent her to the camps.
For Eichmann, there were no exceptions.
Postcards From The Edge
Always Gabriel thought there might be “one case” where Eichmann might find reason not to send a Jew to his death – but it was not to be.
In Holland, the Dutch Fascist leader requested Eichmann spare a dozen or more Jewish Dutch Fascists, “on the grounds that their deportation would demoralize their party comrades, and because they could help identify other Jews.” Eichmann agreed only to delay their deportation to Auschwitz for two weeks.
After that, Eichmann said, “their comrades would be used to it.”
Far from “following orders”, Eichmann proved a master manipulator at devising ways to keep Jews unsuspecting on their path to destruction. One such devilish stratagem, explained Bach “was forcing the new arrivals at Auschwitz, moments before being sent into the gas chambers, to write postcards to their relations – the wording determined by Eichmann – such as:
“The conditions are good here, come before all the best places are taken.”
During the trial, “We came across a survivor who had received such a postcard before himself arriving at Auschwitz with his family. This witness came to Jerusalem the night before he was to testify but because it was already 11 o’clock at night, I told him to come to my office in the morning. However, he arrived late the next morning, and so I proceeded blind, putting him on the witness stand, without having heard his testimony.”
The witness testified of how he arrived at Auschwitz on the train, with his wife, 12-year-old son, and 2 1/2-year-old daughter. “The guards told his wife and daughter to go to the left, which he later learned were the gas chambers. Telling the guard he had been a metal worker in the army, he was told to go to the right. However, the guard was uncertain where to send his son. They waited some time until the guard returned and told his son to “run along after your Mama.” The son went off to the left, and the father stood there trying to see them, wondering if his son caught up with his mother and sister. Meanwhile hundreds of people had gone between them, and soon the father could not see his son anymore, nor his wife. But his young daughter was wearing a red coat, which he suddenly spotted. He watched this red dot get smaller and smaller, and so his family disappeared from his life. His last recollection of them was of a red dot.”
Bach points to a family photograph on a shelf. “Here is our daughter Orly, who was roughly the same age as the girl in the red dress. Only the day before hearing this testimony, my wife had photographed me standing with Orly wearing her new red-coated dress that we had bought for her two weeks before. Hearing this testimony, culminating with the red dress moving inexorably towards the gas chamber, I suddenly was unable to speak — I could not utter a word. The judges looked to me to continue, but all I could do was shuffle my papers for three minutes before I gained my composure and was able to proceed.”
Day after day over a period of four months, live testimony brought to the world the horrors of the Holocaust.
Did Bach at any time during the trial ever get the impression that Eichmann felt any remorse?
“NEVER – he showed no sign of it.”
Supporting this assertion, Bach referred to an admission made by Eichmann in 1956 – eleven years after the war and five years before his trial – that he had only one regret:
“that I had not been tougher because now you see what has happened, the Jews have reconstituted their State.”
Yes, a Jewish state that would hunt him down and expose his crimes to the world.
As I stood up after an enthralling three-hour interview, staring at me from framed photographs were Bach’s children and grandchildren. Their smiling faces left no doubt that Eichmann’s biggest fear – couched in the instruction to Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Höss, “to kill the children first” – was realised.
The smiling children of Israel, today, tomorrow and forever are the message to the Eichmanns of the world – “Never Again”.
*Feature picture – Adolf Eichmann on trial in April 1961. Photo : Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis.
On the evening of May 1st, Israelis will begin to mark Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It is a day when we remember the destruction of an entire civilization. The world of European Jewry came to an end in gas chambers, crematorium and countless ditches and rivers. We remember people like us slaughtered without mercy or cause, simply because they were Jews, It didn’t matter if they were orthodox or atheist, Zionist or communist, healthy or disabled, rich or poor, old or young, man or woman, even babes in their mothers’ arms were pitted on bayonets.
An estimated one third of the Jews of the world were brutally exterminated. Two thirds of the Jews of Europe, 90% of Poland’s Jews, were all to meet in mass graves or have their ashes dumped in rivers, lakes or plowed under with bulldozers.
First, they lost their civil right and then they were robbed of all their property and possessions, forced into ghettos and traumatized with disease, starvation and slave labour-before they were transported to the death factories.
Who is guilty?
Is it the German Nazis and their henchmen who perpetrated these atrocities? Absolutely. The Nazis who along with all those who benefited from the slaughtered? Of course. But there is more. The world is guilty.
The British who closed off the gates to what was then mandate Palestine, the ancestral homeland, to those fleeing from the killers.
The Americans who denied visas to those who desperately sought asylum in the land of immigrants. Even their fellow Jews who in their comfortable safety in many nations, were fearful to demonstrate in their millions to cry out for their trapped brethren. Silence was not golden; it was a death sentence. Whatever happened to the biblical exhortation “Thy shall not stand idly by thy brother’s blood?”
There will be many fine speeches and many calls of “Never Again,” but I want to make this more personal.
My mother’s parents were lucky enough to have left Europe many years before the Holocaust. My maternal grandmother and her brothers and sister left the Polish city of Przemsyl, after the area was ravaged during WW I. Their family had been successful for middle class Jews in Poland, owning a flour mill and fruit orchards. My grandmother often told me of how, as a child, she and her siblings would catch fish in the stream that powered their father’s mill where the local peasants would bring their grain to be ground into flour. Had there not been the destruction wrought by the war, they would have remained in Poland and I would never have been born, and they would have ended up, like the other Jews of Przemsyl, in the death camp at Birkenau.
My mother’s father, my Zaide, was born in Vienna. The son of a family of furriers, well off by most standards and fiercely proud of being part of the Germanic world. My grandfather served in the Kaiser’s army during the Great War as a cavalryman and fought against the Allied armies of America, England and France. Why did his family leave a prosperous existence? They were by no means religious Jews, but, as they would say, “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion.” But the raging anti-Semitism after the war, when the new nations that emerged after the dismemberment of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire were feeling their birth pangs, the new nativist parties descended on their minorities with a vengeance and the Jews of Austria caught the enmity of their neighbors in their faces. Regardless of my grandfather’s service in the military, he was beaten and broken by the hatred and his family also left for the shores of America and arrived at the gates of New York.
My father’s family left Kaminetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine, after the Bolshevik revolution. My paternal grandfather was a bootmaker and had a small shop where he made all types of leather goods from boots and shoes to harnesses for horses. The Soviets took his shop and called him a lousy “Zhid,” Russian for “dirty Jew”. When I first heard this story, as a small boy, I couldn’t understand why they hated this man, with his shining blue eyes, quick smile and warm embrace. But, now I know, that they did him a favour because it motivated him along with my grandmother and my father, his two brothers and baby sister, to make the trek that ended up in an apartment building in the Bronx, weirdly, not that far from where my mother was living as her family also lived not far away.
So, for me, because my family took an often hazardous and dangerous sea voyage across the Atlantic, I eventually came to be. I used to tell my students when I was teaching children in my temple, that for want of a sea voyage, many of them would never have been born-including their esteemed teacher.
That is not to say that I didn’t lose hundreds of cousins who weren’t fortunate enough to have left Europe, and even though I never knew them, I grieve for them.
Only G-d knows how many souls were destroyed, how many artists, musicians, doctors, teachers, went up as greasy smoke in the crematoriums of the death camps, or were machine gunned and fell into muddy pits all over the European continent. Was the cure for cancer murdered at Majdenek, or burned at the stake at Kluga, or drowned in the Danube? Was anyone of them my kith and kin?
But as a people we have survived and thrived. We have rebuilt our sovereignty in our own homeland, and I am doubly blessed to be alive and living in the land of our ancestors. I wake up and see the flag flying from the pole in front of the elementary school across the street; I see and hear beautiful Israeli children schlepping their book bags to classes, laughing and talking in Hebrew. I watch as young men and women in the uniform of the IDF standing at the bus stop on their way back to their bases and, most importantly, I know that every day the sun rises over a free, proud and independent Jewish state and blesses her people with a bright, shining “boker tov” that another Holocaust shall never happen to this people again. We continue – not in mourning for what was lost, but in celebrating of being alive, free and forever Israeli.
Irwin Blank was born in NYC in 1952 and has a BA in Political Science from Colombia University NY. He was part of the Speakers’ Bureau American Zionist Youth Foundation and editor of the Zionost Organization of America. He made Aliyah in July 2008 and lives in Maaleh Adumim.
Everyday. Everyday we are reminded that it is everywhere. The cancerous hatred that is antisemitism is rapidly metastasizing around the world.
It has manifested in the images of swastikas on schools, the defilement of monuments to the Holocaust, the thin disguise as anti-Zionism – as if telling us that we have no right to self-determination as a nation makes it better!
The new phenomenon of politicised antisemitism that lurks the halls of the UK Labour Party, as well as the ill-disguised venom of the Ilhan Omar’s, Linda Sarsours et al that are pervading American discourse. The soccer thugs chanting “Jews to the gas” and the repugnant images of the hook-nosed, money hungry Jews, the vile BDS campaigns against our state Israel, the institutionalised obsessive hatred in the UN and in NGOs who have forgotten about the oppressed of the world with their disproportionate focus on Israel.
As I write this, it a matter of hours since news broke of yet another shooting in a synagogue in the USA. This time at the Poway Chabad in San Diego, killing one and wounding others. The attack occurred six months to the day of the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that claimed the lives of eleven. Communities around the world are reeling because an attack on one is an attack on us all.
Antisemitism is visible in WASP, exclusionary snobbery and the trolls on social media who hide behind avatars and cowardice. Social media is fast becoming the playground of the hater evident in the number of posts and comments as the medium is abused by these perpetrators to state their intentions or publish their manifestoes.
Every day. Everyday more news breaks about antisemitic incidents on university campuses. It is not just restricted to students but also faculty members and universities who seek to divest from co-operation with Israeli universities. While volumes can be written about this, two recent examples include:
– South Africa’s top university, the University of Cape Town (UCT) mulling an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. A resolution to this effect will be further addresed by UCT’s Senate on the 10th May.
– a chemistry professor from Vermont’s Middlebury University who posed the following question to his class:
“Calculate the lethal dose of poisonous gas that was used in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.” He has been suspended but antisemitism is becoming mainstream and it is our duty to fight it.
Every day. Every day we see how more and more complicit the media is becoming in disseminating anti-Jewish rhetoric. It is alarming that many media outlets cannot seem to make the correlation between some of their content and rising antisemitism. The most recent example of this is a cartoon published in the international edition of the New York Times that shows a blind Donald Trump, yarmulke on his head, being led by Netanyahu who is portrayed as a dog. This could quite easily have come from Der Sturmer circa 1939 and again traffics in a dangerous trope that was espoused by the Nazi’s and many hatemongers today who compare Jews as either controlling global leaders or as inhuman and like animals.
The New York Times offered a weak apology that excluded “we are sorry”.
Every day. It is happening every day and the silence of the world that has not learnt from the history of the Holocaust is deafening. Today, space has been created for Holocaust revisionism and blatant denial. This is the greatest insult to the Jewish people and compounds an already spreading hatred that must be fought. This week as we approach Yom HaShoah -Holocaust Martyrs and heroes Day in Israel – we are reminded again of what happens when hatred goes unchecked. It spreads like the malignant, rapidly metastasizing cancer that it is.
Every day we need a reminder. We need to be reminded that the Holocaust started with words – not gas chambers. We need to be reminded that hatred and intolerance is not just a Jewish issue, it belongs to us all.
The time is now. Do we choose to stay silent and complicit or raise our voices and take a stand? After the Holocaust we declared NEVER AGAIN. Never again has become every day. Whether it is the far left or the alt-right, political figures or campus activists, the media or non-governmental organisations and once-revered global institutions, this hatred needs to be checked.
NEVER AGAIN – well, it is happening again. Everyday. ENOUGH is ENOUGH
My Name is Rella Krok. I was born in the small town of Rakashik, Lithuanian in 1918. My father Yankel Krok was a leather merchant. He was a wealthy man and upstanding member of the community. My mother, Dvora Gruniye (nee Assness) took care of us all. We were six kids – Ettie, Ollie, Yaakov, Zalman, Sonya, Sima and me. I was the baby.
I was the lucky one.
Ettie married Mendel Maron – and Ollie married David Yaakov. The young couples made the long sea journey to Cape Town, South Africa, where their children were born. The pain of separation was excruciating.
The rest of us stayed.
I finished school and went on to study nursing. I was living in the ghetto of Kovna and working in the hospital nearby. The atmosphere was tense. Everyone was afraid. I was engaged to be married to a fine young man. He wanted to escape. He decided to run. He was going to cross the border of Lithuania and keep going until he was safe.
He begged me to run with him. I refused. I could not leave my home, my family.
He was shot dead near the border.
One of my colleagues, a Gentile doctor in the hospital, approached me quietly. He told me that if I was ever in trouble to come to him.
People were starving. There was no food. I made a decision. That night I was going to look for bread. I removed my yellow star and snuck out after dark. I found someone willing to sell me some bread. I hid it under my thick winter coat. I was almost back in the ghetto when I was caught by soldiers. I was terrified. What now? They took me to a room somewhere and locked the door. They told me to strip naked. I did. I was shaking from fear. Are they going to rape me? Are they going to murder me? They forced me to lean over and they whipped me. It was agony. The humiliation more than the pain. They told me to get dressed again. They had had their fun. They dumped me back in the ghetto, without the precious bread. Everyone was still hungry.
What now? What next?
I approached the Gentile doctor. I told him I need a place to hide. He did not hesitate.
I spent the next two years in a tiny crevice dug below the basement floorboards. I never saw daylight. The Gentile doctor’s wife was angry that he had brought me into their home and endangered their lives. She was terrified. I was hidden from their children. They lived in fear that the neighbours would hear a noise. I was alone all day and most of the night in this tiny little hole. Once a day, late after dark, they let me out to relieve myself and eat. I was embarrassed and ashamed to use a pot. A pot that the doctor’s wife had used to empty and clean. A meal was raw potato skins and hard bread. But a meal it was.
I owe them my life. I survived.
After the liberation, I returned to Rakashik to my family home, hoping and praying that I would find my family alive. It was not my family I found. The Lithuanian neighbours had claimed our family home. It was now theirs. I begged them for knowledge of my family – of their whereabouts. They would not let me in. They slammed the door in my face, so I knocked again. My mother’s Lithuanian neighbor and friend opened the door and threw some of my mother’s belongings at me. My mother’s winter coat. My mother’s starched white linen. I sobbed. She threw my mother’s things at me and told me to go.
My old school friends crossed the street to avoid me.
My brother’s twin infant boys were cared for by a Nanny. She adored those boys. A streak of hope…. Maybe she took them to be her own. Maybe my nephews were alive. Maybe they were safe and sound. I started to run. I ran all the way to her house and knocked on the door. But I was wrong.
They were all dead. My family had not survived.
My sisters Ettie and Ollie sent me a ticket to Cape Town. I travelled by boat. I was with them for nearly a year. They begged me to stay, to settle in South Africa, to be close to them. I refused. I would not. I could not.
I made Aliyah and settled in Petach Tikva. I found a job at HaSharon Hospital as a surgical nurse. There was no other place for me. Israel was now my home. Israel was now MY home. Here I was safe. I would always be safe. I was safe for 60 plus years.
I died August 2004. I was 86 years old. I died of old age.
I am buried in the Yarkon Cemetery. I have a grave.
Martine Maron Alperstein made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.