The Writing On The Wall: Private And Public Tragedies
Recently I sat in a small café in Jerusalem where the decor consisted of old newspapers. They were all from May 31st and June 1st 1962. The headlines of one announced in English that Eichmann was to be executed on that day, and the other in Hebrew, Ma’ariv, notified the readers that his ashes were already scattered in international waters in the Mediterranean.
May 31st 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. The trial and Eichmann’s execution were followed closely by the whole country, and was immortalized by Hannah Arendt, who followed the trial, in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963).
The trial had wide media coverage, and newspapers reported the proceedings in great details on their cover pages. But suddenly I noticed, at the bottom of the page, an obituary, which in Israel has a specific form. It is shaped as a small square, or a rectangle, with a simple black frame. Inside the name of the deceased usually appears in bold print and underneath are the names of the mourners. I recognized immediately the name in that death notice, it was the mother of a school friend from Haifa whose mother died in childbirth when he was only eight year old.
Since besides being a beloved wife and mother, that young woman was the daughter of a prominent minister in the Israeli government, her death notice appeared on the front page of the two papers, and one of the obits was issues by the Israeli government.
To find in 2014 the name of the mother of my class mate who died in 1962 felt significant. It was even more symbolic to realize that the two events happened of the same day, it was as though the past was telling me something which I have yet to decipher.
At that time the whole country was preoccupied with Eichmann’s trial and execution, attempting somehow to come to term with what had happened in the Holocaust and in finding ways to achieve some justice. But meanwhile, without warning, a private tragedy had occurred that forever changed the world of my friend and his family.
Although it was interesting to see the old newspapers and to read on the front pages about the aftermath of Eichmann’s trial ( Ma’ariv even included a personal account of someone who had witnessed the hanging in Ramla), it left me quite detached.
However, to see the name of my friend mother’s in print for the first time made my eyes filled with unexpected tears. 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 it was easier to grieve over this personal tragedy than to mourn the momentous one that had happened to my people less than 20 years earlier.