My Father Gave Eichmann the Close-Up He WantedBreaking News
tags: Nazis, war crimes, Adolf Eichman
Tom Hurwitz is an award-winning documentary cinematographer and director.
I was 14 the first time I saw Adolf Eichmann in person. He wore an ill-fitting suit and had tortoise shell glasses, with the bearing of a nervous accountant. He did not seem at all like someone who had engineered the deaths of millions of people, except of course that I was at his trial for genocide.
My father, Leo Hurwitz, directed the television coverage of the Eichmann trial, which was held in Jerusalem and broadcast all over the world in 1961. My dad was chosen for the position after the producer convinced both Capital Cities Broadcasting, then a small network that organized the pool coverage, and David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel, that the trial needed to be seen live. In the 1930s, my father had been one of the pioneers of the American social documentary film. In later years, he had directed two films on the Holocaust and had helped to invent many of the techniques of live television while director of production in the early days of the CBS network. Also, as a socialist, he had been blacklisted from all work in television for the previous decade, so he came cheap.
My mother and I joined my father in Jerusalem. Each day I stood in the control room and watched my father call the coverage — “Ready camera 2, take 2!” For perhaps the first time in history, a trial was being recorded, not as in the style of a newsreel, with its neutrally positioned single camera, but more like a feature film, with concealed cameras placed to cover several points of view — the witnesses’, the judges’, the attorneys’, the public’s, and of course, Eichmann’s. These were cut, one against the other, often in close-up, so that the drama became vastly more personal. The style of my father’s work would come to define this trial, and its place in historical memory, even more than Eichmann’s confession.
The prosecutor confronted Eichmann with his own words: “The fact that I have the death of 5,000,000 Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.” The writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel Di-nur testified from the witness box about the lines of people selected for death in the different “planet” of Auschwitz. Suddenly, Di-nur collapsed with a stroke. Through it all, Eichmann’s face, as revealed in my father’s close-ups, showed no feeling except the occasional tic.
Each night my father’s work was air-shipped, on 2-inch videotape, to be broadcast in Europe and the United States. It sharpened the way the world saw the anti-Semitic depredations of the Nazis. Meanwhile, my father was plagued by the question of how fascism had risen in the first place, how educated and progressive working classes had left their unions to fall into the lock step of a militarized, authoritarian regime.
It was a question that the West all but ignored. With the end of World War II, the prospect of justice for war criminals quickly dissolved, replaced by the need to build the postwar alliance against Communism. Leaders and thinkers were occupied with rearming for a nuclear future and rooting out leftists, the trend that had made my father unemployable.