May 31,1962 will remain in our nation’s history as the day when the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, the only person ever to be sentenced to death in Israel, was hanged. Although the trial had prominent media coverage, I was too young to remember anything. Throughout the years I have seen photos and footages from the trial, but I never got to see the newspapers from that time.
Thus, I was quite surprised when I entered a small café in Rehavia, Jerusalem, where all the walls were covered with old newspapers. A closer look revealed that they were from May 31st, and June1st, 1962. One headline, of the English newspaper, announced that Eichmann was to be executed on that day, and the Hebrew Ma’ariv notified the readers that his ashes have already been scattered in international waters of the Mediterranean.
But something else caught my attention: a death announcement, at the bottom of the front page in one of the newspapers. It suddenly dawned on me that I knew that name. It was the obituary of the mother of a classmate, in my elementary school in Haifa, who died at childbirth when he was only eight year old. I remember him well, he was loved by the girls because he was sweet-natured and very handsome. Since the young woman was also the daughter of the prominent statesman, the Minister of Police at that time, Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit (1895-1967), her death notice appeared on the front page of the two papers, and one of the obits was issued by the Israeli government.
It was startling: I didn’t expect to find something so personal and so real on the walls of a café, and found it to be symbolic. It was as though the past was telling me something significant, which I have yet to decipher. I have a feeling that it has to do with collective and personal memory.
At that time the whole country was preoccupied with Eichmann’s trial, and the imminent execution, attempting somehow to start dealing with the Holocaust and to find ways to achieve some justice. But all the while, without warning, a private tragedy had occurred that forever changed the world of my friend and his family.
In a strange morbid way it was interesting to look at the old newspapers and to read about the aftermath of Eichmann’s trial. Ma’ariv even included a personal account of someone who had witnessed the hanging in Ramla. Still, emotionally, even those details left me quite detached.
On the other hand, to see the name of my friend mother’s in print for the first time made me so sad and my eyes filled with unexpected tears. I realized that I met my classmate, for the first time, only a short time after his mother died. I thought about the orphaned children, the father who remained a widower, and the parents who lost their daughter at such a young age.
Somehow even 54 years later it is still easier, for me, to grieve over this personal tragedy than to come to terms with the momentous tragedy that had happened to my people in the Holocaust.