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From a Veteran Jewish Journalist’s Diary at the Eichmann Trial, 1961
by Itzhak Luden
Translated from the Yiddish by Barnett Zumoff; published in Letste Nayes, April 27, 1961
“Juden raus!” (Jews, get out!)
“Forsichtig — a tot-gefar.” (Be careful, danger of death.)
“Forsichtig, Itsik” (Watch out, Jewboy.)
THE NIGHTMARE of those horrible days of anti-Jewish boycott and terror in Nazi Germany, of the expulsion of the Ost-Juden (Eastern Jews), of the Black Sabbath and the Night of the Long Knives, surfaced in Beth Ha’Am in Jerusalem at the 14th and 15th sessions of the Eichmann trial.
Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann opens his “office” at exactly 9 o’clock in the morning. There is a large pile of files on his desk. He sorts them carefully. The files are arranged in order — each document has its number.
These are copies of documents. The originals are with the prosecutor. Every time the prosecutor recites from a document from Eichmann’s “personal files”, the dark man in his “office” — his glass chamber — follows along in his copy; that’s how he keeps track of whether the points in Dieter Wisliceny’s characterization of Eichmann, which the general prosecutor is reciting, are correct.
“Eichmann was a weak-minded scoundrel,” writes the other scoundrel, Wisliceny. “He didn’t make a single move without permission from above. He was very cynical in his position regarding the killing of the Jews. He was not immoral — he didn’t have any morals at all, was ice-cold in his attitude.”
In all the meetings in which the methods of eradication of the Jews were discussed, both of these lowlifes, Eichmann and Wisliceny, participated; the latter was initially Eichmann’s superior and later became his subordinate, because Eichmann evidently distinguished himself more in his “profession.” Only in 1944 was Wisliceny not present at such a meeting, and, as he testified before being sentenced to death in Bratislava, Eichmann reported the content of the meeting to him: “Hitler has ordered us to begin the ‘Final Solution’.” That meant, Eichmann explained, the eradication of the Jewish race.
“Don’t be sentimental — that is the Fuehrer’s order!” cried Eichmann when Wisliceny looked at him quizzically. During his questioning in the Israeli prison, Eichmann had said that he was by nature sentimental, couldn’t look at an open wound...
But Eichmann did nothing without an order, without a written document. He was, after all, a bookkeeper of death. That’s why he hadn’t stopped the killing of Jews even at Himmler’s demand. He requested a written order — otherwise he couldn’t.
“Ordnung muss sein” “There must be order!”
AND NOW AN OLD JEW with a beard appears across from the glass “office” where Eichmann is sorting his files. What is he doing here, this old Jew? Did Eichmann meet him somewhere back when he was in office?
Eichmann met thousands, hundreds of thousands, of such Jews in Germany, in Poland, in Hungary, in the Auschwitzes and Treblinkas, but him personally — no. However, his name spoke volumes. This was the 75-year-old Zundl Grynszpan, whose son Eichmann had indeed met, as he had ordered the young man brought in for questioning. He was curious to see him personally, this young Herschel Grynszpan, who had dared to shoot one of his colleagues, the German diplomat Ernst von Rath. Now Hershl Grinshpan’s father had come to him, and also his brother Mordecai, who lived in Israel.
“If you are tired, you may sit,” the judge proposed to the old man.
“In honor of the court, I will stand,” answered the 75-year-old Zundl Grynszpan, and he began to relate how he and six hundred other Ost-Juden who lived in Hanover, together with another 12,000 Ost-Juden from all over Germany, were driven on October 28, 1938 to the Polish border, to Zbasyn; how they were savagely beaten on the head with whips, how he fell into a ditch and his son, Mordecai Eliezer, raised him up and supported him. “Let’s run, father, or else we will die.”
Zundl Grynszpan spoke in Yiddish. The Ost-Jude, the Polish Jew, was standing before the court and was looking the murderer in the eye through the glass wall. “It was then that I first saw the savagery of the German people,” he declared. His son had then been in Paris. From Zbasyn, on the Polish side, Grynszpan had written him a letter: “Don’t write to Germany any more.”
His son was Herschel Grynszpan.
Now his second son, Herschel’s brother, appears in the witness box. He recounts that two weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War they settled in Radomsko, their father’s birthplace. When the Germans entered that city, they immediately started searching for the Grynszpan’s, who fled to Bialystok.
“My life in prison is monotonous. I hope that French justice will understand me,” Herschel Grynszpan wrote in a letter to a cousin in Israel. Mordecai Grynszpan presents that letter to the court.
“... And from the expulsion of the Ost-Juden on October 28th, 1938, to Kristallnacht, on November 10th of the same year...” In the witness box stands Benno Cohen, chair of the banned Zionist organization in Germany during the years 1933-1939 and one of the representatives of the Jews of Berlin to the German government. He describes the Jewish community’s lack of rights, the pogroms, the emigration to Israel (led by the then legal Palestinian Authority), the German vandalism, the burnings, the horrific “Night of the Long Knives,” the appearance of Adolf Eichmann as the person in charge of Jewish affairs, and his (Benno’s) meeting with the enemy at that time.
Again the name of Herschel Grynszpan is mentioned, as well as the name David Frankfurter, who shot Wilhelm Gustloff, the Nazi representative in Switzerland.
Between the expulsion of the Ost-Juden and Kristallnacht came the heroic act of Herschel Grynszpan. In repayment for the death of one German diplomat, a decimation of German Jewry was carried out: 280 synagogues were burned and the Jews had to pay an indemnity of a billion marks; 40,000 Jewish men were driven to concentration camps and many Jewish women received letters stating:
“Your husband has died of a heart attack. We are sending you his ashes. The shipping-cost comes to three and a half marks.”
The witness describes the despair that seized German Jewry after Hitler’s revolution, after the first Black Sabbath of April 1, 1933. Jews who were deeply immersed in German culture refused to believe that this was possible at all. They were hit especially hard by the cultural decrees, when, for example, Jewish musicians were forbidden to play the works of Aryan composers...
“They were, of course, permitted to play Mendelssohn,” remarks the Judge, Mr. Landau, at that point. Yes — Mendelssohn they could play. To the Germans, he had become treyf.
The witness quotes from an article in Judische Rundschau by its editor, Robert Weltsch: “Wear the yellow patch with pride!”
Adolf Eichmann sits in his glass “office” and takes copious and rapid notes. Yes, he remembers the Judische Rundschau — he was deeply involved with it at that time.
But all of that pales in comparison with the period when he himself, Adolf Eichmann, appeared in the arena of Jewish affairs — a wolf in sheep’s skin. He appeared for the first time before the Jews of Berlin during a farewell gathering in honor of the departing Jewish leader Joachim Prinz in 1937. The hall was packed and not everyone could get in. Eichmann came with a retinue of Gestapo agents in civilian clothes. He called up Benno Cohen and yelled and threatened him: “What sort of mob is this? I will bring order here!” In the confusion, Eichmann accidentally received a blow to the belly, but he remained calm and acted “correctly”: He continued to sit in the hall, listen to the speeches, and scribble notes, as he is now doing in his glass booth. From his scribblings came the forced emigration, the registration and confiscation of Jewish possessions, Kristallnacht, and later the Holocaust.
Then he started yelling again: “You shitty Jew!” he screamed at the Jewish representative he had called up to him.
“Wasn’t the impertinent behavior of the Jewish representative the reason for Eichmann’s anger at that meeting?” asks Eichmann’s defense lawyer, Dr. Robert Servatius, audaciously.
His provocative question remains hanging in the heavy air of the exhausting cross-examination session in Beit Ha’am. Still echoing in the air are the sounds of the Yom Kippur prayer that was composed after Kristallnacht, for which its author Leo Beck was tortured to death in a concentration camp: “Who gave the world the value of honoring Man, who was born in the divine image? Who preached to the world the commandment of righteousness, the social ideal?”
Itzhak Luden was educated in Warsaw’s secular Yiddish schools and at the Medem Sanitarium. A lifelong Bundist, he published his first newspaper article in the youth supplement of a Bundist newspaper in 1937. After surviving a Soviet gulag and settling in Israel, he began a forty-year as a political analyst and art critic for the daily Israeli Yiddish newspaper, Letste Nayes, while also writing for the Yiddish press in the USA, France, Mexico, Australia, Poland, and Canada. After retiring from Letste Nayes, he served as a correspondent for the Yiddish Forverts from 1997 to 2011. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Bund’s bimonthly Lebns-Fragn from 1971-2014 and continues to edit its online incarnation. During his more than 70 years as a journalist, Itzhak Luden has published over 6,000 articles. His first-hand account of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Accords, Fun Kholem Tsu Sholem (From Dream to Peace) was published in 1979, and his collection of art criticism, Perl fun Gan-Eden (Pearls of the Garden of Eden) in 1987. A two-volume collection of some 500 of his articles, In Geyeg Nokh Momentn (In Pursuit of Moments), was published in 2009; an English translation of the book, from which this article was adapted, is being prepared for publication. Jewish Currents thanks Jordan Kutzik for his help in preparing this article.