Fifty years have passed and Gabriel Bach still thinks every day of the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
Bach, a famed prosecutor and retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, doesn't appear to think much about the legal ins and outs of that case, even though the trial and conviction of the infamous Nazi Eichmann is considered one of the most famous in legal history.
Rather, Bach focuses on the moments he remembers from the investigation and prosecution of Eichmann, who is today considered the architect of the Holocaust.
They are small things. Human things.
Moments when Bach, a senior prosecutor in the 1961 case, confronted the sheer horror of what Eichmann had done through the eyes of a single witness, or by reading a single piece of evidence.
"These are moments of interest and trauma . and also fascination," Bach told about 300 gathered Thursday at Creighton University to hear his speech in the 50th anniversary year of the Eichmann trial.
There was the moment that Bach found a letter while combing through the evidence against Eichmann in preparation for trial.
The letter, written by a German general, pleaded with Eichmann, a top SS leader, to spare the life of one European Jew.
The man is a highly respected expert of radar technology, the general wrote, and his research could prove highly useful in the war effort.
Bach read that letter and thought, "Surely that man has been spared," he told the crowd.
A few days later, he found Eichmann's reply. Absolutely not, it said.
In ensuing letters, the German general angrily accused Eichmann of ignoring his rank and insinuated he was hurting the war effort. Eichmann was steadfast.
The Jewish professor went to the gas chamber.
Eichmann's answer "was always no," Bach said.
There was the moment during the trial when Bach questioned a Holocaust survivor. The 12-week trial, which today is credited with opening the world's eyes to the Holocaust, was filled with similar interviews with survivors.
What happened to your family, Bach asked the survivor on the stand.
In response, the man described how he, his wife, their 13-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter had climbed off the train together at the concentration camp.
The Nazi SS guard pointed the man to the right and his wife and 2-year-old daughter to the left.
He wasn't sure what to do with the 13-year-old boy, so he asked his boss.
Go run after your mother, he told the boy finally.
And then the man described how he looked up to watch his 13-year-old son jog into the crowd of Jews headed to the left. He could no longer see his wife; she had disappeared into the crowd.
But his 2-year-old daughter had on her red coat, so her father watched the speck of red fabric, bobbing up and down with a child's steps, until it was out of sight.
The survivor finished the story about how he lost his family, and waited patiently for the next question.
"I couldn't utter a sound," Bach told the crowd, remembering that moment of the trial when he felt most overwhelmed. "The television was on me . I started to play with the documents."
Fifty years later, Bach's heart still races whenever he sees a young girl wearing a red coat, he told the audience.
There was the moment when Bach stared intently into Adolf Eichmann's eyes, and watched Eichmann gaze at a 45-minute documentary submitted as part of the prosecution's case.
Eichmann had nearly escaped the justice of the Israeli court that he faced in 1961.
He had slipped out of a postwar prison — his role in the Holocaust largely unknown to the Allies — and lived in hiding for a decade in Argentina before being captured by Israeli intelligence agents.
Then, in 1961 — 16 years after the end of World War II — Eichmann sat and watched the documentary, filled with images of starving women and children, and bodies stacked like cordwood inside the concentration camps.
Bach looked for some sadness in Eichmann's eyes, some regret.
Eichmann's eyes never flickered, he said.
Bach, now 84, told the crowd that he had written his master's thesis arguing against the death penalty, except in cases of genocide.
"If one person really deserved that sentence, it was Eichmann," Bach told the crowd.
But he also recalls moments since the 1961 Eichmann trial, which ended with the conviction and eventual execution of the infamous Nazi.
Moments such as traveling to Germany because he'd been asked to speak to schoolchildren. Or the moment when he randomly met a German carpenter's apprentice on a train and the young man told Bach that he felt so bad about the Holocaust that he learned Hebrew.
The carpenter's apprentice had never met an Israeli before, or a Jew. Bach ended up having a conversation with the young man in his halting Hebrew.
"These things are in a way very helpful to see that maybe, perhaps, things like this will never happen again," Bach said.
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