History GCSE: How far can one person be held responsible for the Holocaust?

The televised trial of Adolf Eichmann brought to a global audience many of the previously unknown horrors of the Holocaust.

And on 11th December 1961, Eichmann, sitting impassive and unemotional, was pronounced guilty of all charges against him and sentenced to death.

But how far can responsibility for the Holocaust be attributed to Eichmann? Was it right to blame Eichmann for it all?

This short film explores the background to the Nazi paranoia about a Jewish conspiracy to take over Germany and Eichmann's responsibility for the 'de-Jewification' of Germany leading up to World War Two.

Historian, Professor David Cesarani examines the evidence, analysing how Eichmann presented himself as hapless, with no choice, following orders, and it was not for him to question the instructions of the ‘big bosses’.

However, he eventually gave away his personal hatred for the Jewish people under the pressure of cross-examination.

This short film is from the BBC series, The Eichmann Show.

Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, we strongly advise teacher viewing before watching with your pupils.

Teacher Notes

Nazi bureaucrat, Adolf Eichmann, organised the killing of thousands, without a sense of its wrongness. And his defence was reasonably straightforward: Adolf Eichmann was sincere in thinking his acts were defensible – following orders, inability to ignore his superiors, what could he have done otherwise, etc.

Possible questions for class:

  • Did Eichmann believe he had a reasonable chance of being found innocent by the court?
  • Once in Israel, why did Eichmann cooperate in the judicial process?
  • Were the three judges presiding over the Eichmann trial likely to give him a fair trial?
  • Why did the United Nations vote to accept Israel's right to keep Eichmann and put him on trial?
  • Discuss the sentence handed down to Eichmann. Would there have been any value in giving him a life sentence?
  • The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 was at a time when many Nazi war criminals were still on the run from justice. Is there any value in continuing to search for Nazi war criminals in the 21st century? Is there a value in putting old men, or women, on trial?

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching history. This topic appears in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from The Eichmann Show

Adolf Eichmann: Architect of the Holocaust
How Adolf Eichmann's trial revealed the horrors of Auschwitz
The Eichmann trial and the State of Israel
Managing evidence and the challenge of recording the trial of Adolf Eichmann