History GCSE: Managing evidence and the challenge of recording the trial of Adolf Eichmann

The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 became the first documentary television series to be broadcast around the world. It was a historic and ground-breaking moment in revealing some of the experiences and tragedies of the Holocaust and the deaths of some six million Jews. But broadcasting the trial did not come without objections.

We hear from historian, Professor David Cesarani, who suggests that the trial was important because it told the Jewish story of World War Two for the first time, and for humanising and dramatising a story so vast that it was almost inconceivable.

On the other hand, Gabriel Bach, who was deputy prosecutor at the trial, recalls objections to its broadcast from a delegation of Israeli teachers and the feelings of shame they expressed that millions of people had allowed themselves to be destroyed without defending themselves.

Television producer, Milton Fruchtman, talks about how he realised the cameras could impact on the evidence, potentially distracting the witnesses, and the solution they came up with to solve this problem.

And director Leo Hurwitz’s son, Tom, tells how his father's camerawork lent to the tension and watchability of the trial, especially the close-ups of Eichmann's facial expressions combined with cutaways to a shocked audience.

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

The trial of Adolf Eichmann revealed how rigorous the prosecution team were in the collection of evidence and ensuring its credibility. Over one hundred witnesses were selected for the trial and sixteen thousand documents were presented.

Pose questions to students such as:

  • What would define a credible witness in a trial of this nature?

  • To what extent can the live recording of a trial impact on witnesses' testimony?

Extension questions could be:

  • In what ways might the camera influence feeling towards the accused? In this case, Adolf Eichmann.

  • Why was the programme produced?

  • Who produced it?

  • How does the content impact on viewers?

  • Do you feel it is unfairly biased? Why or why not?

  • Even if the recording is biased, is it still a useful historical record?

Extension debate could be:

"In that courtroom in Jerusalem, people heard the voices of those victims in a way that they hadn't heard them before." (Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University)

How far do agree that the trial of Adolf Eichmann has come to characterise our impression of Holocaust history and learning?

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 far can one person be held responsible for the Holocaust?
How Adolf Eichmann's trial revealed the horrors of Auschwitz
The Eichmann trial and the State of Israel