'The Eichmann Show': Programme Review

Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem in 1961 was dubbed 'the trial of the century'. 16 years after the end of the Holocaust, one of the most notorious Nazi officials stood in the defendant's dock before the court, the State of Israel and the rest of the world, to answer for the murder of six millions Jewish men, women and children, killed at the hands of the regime to which he belonged. In the aftermath of the trial, there was an explosion in Holocaust scholarship as the real extent of the atrocities was exposed, and it was regarding Eichmann that Hannah Arendt published her book exploring 'the banality of evil'. In short, Eichmann's trial was monumental.

I will be the first to admit, however, that I have not sat down and tried to watch footage from the trial before. After all, where does one start when there are 65 days to choose from, each with its own points of interest? When I heard about a new BBC production, The Eichmann Show, therefore, I was keen to see how the trial and its global significance would be portrayed.

The programme exceeded my expectations. When I heard that it had been filmed in just 23 days, and that Martin Freeman would be given a starring role (having seen him in films such as The Hobbit and Love Actually), I was somewhat wary. All credit must be given to Freeman, however; his performance as producer Milton Fruchtman is both compelling and believable, and is a fantastic match for Anthony LaPaglia's portrayal of the director he hired for the trial, Leo Hurwitz.

What I liked most about this particular representation of the trial is the way it weaved in so many different aspects of not only the trial, but the issues around it, such as giving Holocaust survivors the respect they deserved and even touching on the controversial idea of the State of Israel being created because of what the Nazis had done to the Jews of Europe. It was also interesting to witness the differences in focus between Hurwitz and Fruchtman. The former became almost obsessed with Eichmann, wanting to watch his every move and waiting for the moment when he might just show some humanity and remorse towards the victims of the regime in which he played a part. The programme often uses real documentary footage of the trial; as Eichmann sits in the dock, watching a film exposing the horrors of the camps with great impassivity, all audience members soon ask the same questions as Hurwitz: "How can you just sit there?"
The latter, on the other hand, seemed to detach himself from the actual content of the programme and become particularly pedantic about key shots and audience figures. I would imagine that much of the script is based on real events, so I can only hope that, in real life, any detachment Fruchtman showed in relation to the trial was so that he could continue working without falling to pieces after hearing such horrors for the first time.
As I have mentioned, it was Eichmann's trial that finally brought survivors of the Nazis' atrocities to be taken seriously, not having to hide their tattooed camp numbers or be dismissed as creating "fantasies" by those around them. Some Israelis previously felt that the European Jews should have left the continent for the Holy Land long ago, but soon swallowed their words when they heard about mass shootings, the transports and the camps themselves. This is a key element of the legacy of the Eichmann trial and coming to look at this history in more detail - we now have survivors that share their testimonies all over the world, and my admiration for them is endless.

The Eichmann Show is exactly the kind of programme the BBC should be creating; a good script, great actors and a programme that depicts actual events so that an audience can learn something. It is just a shame that all these types of programmes will arrive all at once in the next couple of weeks, with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau looming. For Holocaust survivors and their families, it is Holocaust Memorial Day every day. I'm not saying that hundreds of programmes about the Nazis and the Holocaust should be produced, but there would be nothing wrong with such a programme being released from time to time, away from the bigger commemorations, so that the Holocaust and its legacy are kept within our collective memory and understanding.