- Fifty years after Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann was convicted in an epic trial that helped shape Israel's national psyche, the Israeli parliament yesterday put on display for the first time dozens of artifacts from the daring 1960 operation in Argentina that captured the Nazi criminal.
The gripping public testimony during the trial by more than 100 Jews who survived torture and deprivation captured world attention and vividly brought to life the horrors of the Holocaust. It also brought to light stories of Jewish bravery and resistance that shattered the myth of Jews meekly walking to their deaths. As a result, more survivors went public with their experiences, which greatly helped research and commemoration efforts.
"The capture and the bringing to trial of Eichmann was a turning point in which the state of Israel and the Jewish people began carrying out justice against their tormentors," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Known as the "architect of the Holocaust" for his role in coordinating the Nazi genocide policy, Eichmann fled Germany after World War II and assumed the name Ricardo Klement, in Argentina. He was hunted down and captured by Israeli Mossad agents in an operation that remains one of the most defining episodes in the country's turbulent history.
Eichmann was hanged after his 1961 trial in Jerusalem.
The exhibit, which will be housed in a Tel Aviv museum, showcases items that had been classified and stashed away for decades: the cameras used by Mossad agents to track Eichmann, the briefcase in which they carried fake license plates, the keys to Eichmann's Buenos Aires apartment and the forged Israeli passport - with the alias Zeev Zichroni - that his captors used to smuggle him out of Argentina.
There are also personal effects that were found on Eichmann's body - a comb, a pocket knife and a plastic cigarette holder.
Rafi Eitan, who headed the operation, said that he identified Eichmann by searching his body for distinctive scars on his arm and stomach.
"Notice how back then with primitive means we carried out an operation like this," said Eitan, 85. "There were no communications, there was no Internet, there were no computers, no weapons, and this exhibit shows that even with primitive means you can do great things."
During the 1961 trial, Eichmann sat on a wooden chair inside a bulletproof glass booth and calmly listened to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.
Eichmann's defense was that he was merely following orders. Covering the trial for the New Yorker, the political theorist Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann.
Six million Jews were killed by the German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, many of them following Eichmann's blueprint drawn up for liquidating the entire Jewish population of Europe.
Eichmann was convicted in December 1961. His 1962 hanging was the only time that Israel has carried out a death sentence.
Until they heard the testimony of Jews who survived torture and deprivation, many Israelis looked down on the survivors as weak, at odds with the macho image of the "new Jew" of Israel. The descriptions of the horrors they survived changed the perception for many Israelis and allowed more survivors to go public.
"The Eichmann trial," said Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin, "broke through the wall of silence."