The challenge of filming Adolf Eichmann's trial

What were the arguments for and against filming the Eichmann trial? We hear a range of points of view and learn how and why the trial came to be broadcast.

The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 became the first documentary series 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 death of some 6 million Jews. But broadcasting the trial did not come without its objections.

We hear from historian, Prof. David Cesarani who suggests that the trial was important for bringing into the open the ‘Jewish story’ and for humanising and dramatising a story so vast that it was almost inconceivable. On the other hand, Gabriel Bach, deputy prosecutor at the trial, recalls objections from a delegation of Israeli teachers to the trial and the feeling of shame they had that millions of people were destroyed without defending themselves.

Television producer Milton Fruchtman discusses how he realised the role camera could play on the impact on the evidence, potentially distracting the witnesses. Director Leo Hurwitz’s son discusses how his father's camera work lent to the tension and watchability of the trial, especially the close-ups of Eichmann's facial expressions combined with cut-aways to a shocked audience.

Teacher Notes

The trial of Adolf Eichmann revealed how rigorous the prosecution team were in the collection and credibility of evidence presented. Over 100 witnesses were selected for the trial and 16,000 documents presented.

Pose questions to students such as:

What would form a credible witness in a trial of this nature?

To what extent can live-recording of a trial impact up witnesses and defence testimony?

Extension questions could be: In what ways might the camera influence the feeling towards the accused? In this case, Adolf Eichmann. Why was the programme produced? Who produced it? How does the content impact viewers? Do you feel it is unfairly biased? Why or why not? Even if the recording is biased, in what ways is it still a useful source of history?

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 clip 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.