The amount of knowledge and the nature of the knowledge that reached the people in the Land of Israel during World War II was partial and not continuous. Only at the end of 1942 did rumors of the annihilation of the Jewish people begin to reach the Yishuv. The people of the Yishuv were busy in a struggle for independence. There was no time and perhaps no desire to understand what was happening to the Jews of Europe. Immediately after the Holocaust, people began to hear stories of the atrocities of the Holocaust. However, there still wasn’t a complete picture and the Holocaust was still seen as a collection of horror stories.
The Attitude Towards Holocaust Survivors in the Land of Israel
The Holocaust survivors who came to Israel experienced a variety of reactions to their traumatic past. There were those who pitied them, while others doubted what they heard, unable to believe that such atrocities had actually happened. They believed that the survivors were exaggerating. There were those who could not and would not internalize the immensity and the horror of the Holocaust so they denied and ignored it. There were those who criticized the Holocaust survivors for not foreseeing the future and coming to the Land of Israel earlier and for going like sheep to the slaughter, without fighting and resisting (That outlook led to the admiration felt for the Jewish Resistance in the ghetto). There was also suspicion.”How did you survive? Was it at the expense of others?”
There were survivors who felt the need to talk about what had happened, to prove that they had survived as heroes, however, most of them chose not to talk about their experiences in their first years in Israel. They felt that the people of Israel lacked sensitivity and appreciation of their valor and their survival so they remained silent hoping to forget their trauma and to let their wounds heal. They hoped to start a new life.
Following the Eichmann Trial, during which horrifying testimonies were heard, the Israeli society began to deal with the Holocaust and awareness of it. Research was conducted, documents were collected, testimonies were recorded and delegations went to Poland. Over the years, the Israeli society overcame its earlier feelings. People stopped asking and accusing the survivors, “Why didn’t you resist?” The Israeli society came to understand that surviving the Holocaust and maintaining one’s humanity was heroic and the stories must be preserved for future generations.
The State Copes with the Memory of the Holocaust
The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law was enacted in 1950. The law has a moral message. “We will not forgive and we will not forget” and Israel takes responsibility for Jews all over the world. In 1953, the museum, Yad Vashem was established. Its aim is to research, document, preserve and perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust. In 1959, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day law was enacted. The date chosen was the 27th of Nisan, the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The Eichmann Trial (1961-1962)
Adolf Eichmann was the Nazi who was responsible for the logistics of rounding up and transporting Jews from all over Europe to concentration camps and extermination camps. He was captured in May 1960 in Argentina after a lengthy pursuit. Issar Harel, from the Israeli Mossad was the commander of the operation in which he was caught.
In April, 1961, his trial opened. Eichmann did not hide his identity. In his defense, he claimed that he was a soldier who carried out the orders of his commanders and that he did not know anything about the annihilation of the Jews.
The Attorney General, Gideon Hausner opened the trial with these words, “In rising to present the case against the accused, I am not alone. I am accompanied and surrounded by 6,000,000 prosecutors who, alas, cannot stand and point their finger of accusation against the man in the dock declaring ‘I Accuse.’ Their ashes are either at Auschwitz and Treblinka, or in graves scattered all over Europe. Their blood cries out but their voices are silent and unheard. It is in their name that I present this terrible awesome indictment.”
During the trial which continued until August, 100 witnesses told their horrifying stories of atrocities. The judges concluded that Eichmann had not merely been following orders, but believed in the Nazi cause wholeheartedly and had been a key perpetrator of the genocide. On 15 December 1961, Eichmann was sentenced to death. He was hanged, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered beyond the territorial waters of Israel.
The greatest impact of the Eichmann trial was on Holocaust survivors, who could finally pour out their hearts as they testified. As a result, the Israeli public became far more aware of the Holocaust as did the world of research and documentation. Moreover, empathy towards the Holocaust survivors also increased.