Fri 2/19-Sun 6/12
More than 50 years ago, Ricardo Klement seemed to be just a normal guy living in Argentina with his family. However, the ex-German’s story was anything but commonplace.
It turned out Klement was an alias for a name with which the world was all too familiar: Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi mastermind who created the logistics behind state-sponsored genocide that led to the death of more than six million Jews.
Had it not been for the vigilant efforts of the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service Mossad, Eichmann may have lived out his days in South America. Instead, in 1960, the war criminal was secretly captured by agents and brought to trial in Israel. The epic spy tale is depicted in detail in the brand-new exhibit Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann, which appears Fri 2/19-Sun 6/1212 at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
The 4,000-square-foot multimedia exhibition, which is produced by the Maltz Museum in collaboration with Mossad and Beit Hatfutsot — The Museum of the Jewish People, features recently declassified artifacts, 70 photographs depicting his capture in Argentina and his subsequent court trial that led to a death sentence.
CoolCleveland talked to Maltz Museum executive director Ellen Rudolph about the unprecedented exhibit.
First of all, how did the Maltz Museum go about creating Operation Finale?
We worked on it in collaboration with Mossad. The artifacts were curated and put on display before but not the exhibition. So it’s the first time Mossad has allowed artifacts connected to a clandestine operation to leave Israel. The exhibit presented an opportunity to tell this story of Eichmann’s capture and trial, and talk about the legacy of that trial, which is something that hasn’t been truly fleshed out. We provide some context so people can understand who he was, what his role in the Final Solution was and a little bit about the events of WWII and the Holocaust.
In your opinion, what are some of the highlights in the exhibit?
There are lots of amazing artifacts that I think people will be fascinated by. One of the key pieces in the exhibition is the bulletproof glass booth that Eichmann sat in during the trial. And we actually have created an immersive three-channel video installation that shows footage from the trial. You will kind of feel like you’re sitting in the courtroom. And there will be three screens all around you showing witnesses testifying. You see the prosecution, you see Eichmann answering questions and his facial expressions throughout the proceedings. You see audience members reacting. That’s very intense.
Naturally for the Jewish community the exhibit is very personal and emotional. In addition, Eichmann’s amazing capture, seemingly plucked out of a Cold War spy novel, would be appealing to the general public.
It’s a very captivating spy story and the artifacts are really fascinating. One of the things I think is really amazing to think about are some of the artifacts in the exhibition — forged IDs, documents and passports. For example, an El Al airline ID. Those were all made by hand and when you look at them, they are incredible. When you think about this, the full operation from taking surveillance photos of Eichmann to forging these passports and license plates, it all happened in a pre-digital era. I think seeing those items in person is really exciting.
It seems as though for much of the world, the Nuremberg Trials acted as a bookend for WWII. If this was the case, did the Eichmann capture and trial act as an awakening?
Absolutely. One of the prosecutors actually described it as a chance to put the Holocaust on trial. Not just to talk about necessarily one individual person’s act but they carefully orchestrated the trial to bring in witnesses from throughout Europe to show the breadth of what occurred and to really get into the horror of what the Nazis did.
How was the Eichmann trial received around the globe?
It was really one of the first global media events. The trial went on for over three months and it was televised into people’s living rooms in the United States. It was really one of the first times Holocaust survivors were publicly talking about what happened to them during the Holocaust. So it was really a huge awakening for the world to understand what happened during the Holocaust. Prior to that, survivors really didn’t talk. Being a survivor was a source for shame and people didn’t talk about their experiences.
Finally, do you feel Eichmann’s capture and trial was cathartic for Holocaust survivors?
It’s hard to say. I think it was certainly cathartic for Israel. Here was a fledgling country that was only founded in 1948 that summoned an intelligence agency to mount a very complex operation in another country. I think it was an enormous victory for Israel to have Eichmann in their hands and to be able to try him for his crimes, and to eliminate him from the face of the earth. I certainly think it was a pivotal moment for survivors.
Operation Finale is included with Maltz Museum admission: $12 adults, $10 seniors (60+) and students, $5 youth (5-11) and free for Maltz Museum Members and children under 5.