Friday, September 9, 2011
Art review: Sketches of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann stir emotions about Holocaust
At an event in Dallas, speakers examined what the sketches said about the convicted man.
DALLAS Temple Emanu-El hosted artist Edward Eichel and writer Deborah Lipstadt Thursday night to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Eichmann Trial. The night’s exhibition and lecture served as a reminder to all in attendance of the post-war effect of the Holocaust, the importance of our continued recognition, and a recollection of the trial.
In 1961, Edward Eichel was a young expressionist artist living in Paris. Commissioned by French magazine L’Arche, he was sent to Israel to cover the trial of former Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, a man once in charge of the deportation millions of Jews to extermination camps. As the lone courtroom artist, Eichel was compelled by the gravity of the verdict at hand; Eichmann was being charged with crimes against humanity among 15 other war-related and human rights offenses. The artist felt the intrinsic need to expose Eichmann for the world to see, just as the voices of 100 Holocaust survivors who offered their first-hand accounts of the unspeakable crimes against humanity that took place behind the concentration camp fences. The accounts were staid reflections of the horrific rise of evil and abuse of power against an entire race. Taking place after the Nuremberg Trial, this was significant in that the world was hearing the victims' own stories. And as the world listened, Eichel sat and drew.
"You have to see Eichmann to see what he really is … The way that I draw captured the character of this man," Eichel said. "I felt I could do something different, something powerful." And he did. Over the course of the two weeks he spent inside the courtroom, he produced 10 small ink-on-paper gesture blot sketches in order to capture the reaction of the gallery of onlookers, the judges, and Eichmann himself. His quick-handed technique breaks the tension of the courtroom while revealing an almost scattered intensity. The images move as thoughts do, like rapid-fire vibrations, emotions, and judgments together in each mark, moving from blame to forgiveness and every feeling in between.
Eichel’s profile sketches of Eichmann reveal a man who has no other defense than carrying out orders and doing as he was told. A viewer of these sketches should perhaps like to believe that the officer was under the spell of evil, that his freedom of choice had been encumbered by an especially sinister force, and he, as all men are capable though not all do, succumbed to the darker potential. Especially stirring is Eichel’s sketch named “The Cage.” Eichmann, seated behind glass accompanied by guards on either side, reveals the intensity of the trial, as many worried the former Nazi might be assassinated before a verdict was reached.
Eichmann was later found guilty and hanged in 1962.
Lipstadt, author of The Eichmann Trial, offered a lecture about the 1961 trial. It was a time for Israel itself to take up the responsibility to speak and act out on its own behalf. Lipstadt worries that as the years go by and the survivors pass on, the legacy of their will to endure and overcome will begin to fade. Fortunately, Eichel’s sketches provide us with a living document and the undeniable proof of the events, thus preserving a resounding voice against injustice and a continued call for hope.
The Eichel drawings have been on long-term loan to the Dallas Holocaust Museum by the artist since 1994. They will be on view again at the Dallas Holocaust Museum in early October.
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