Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Noemi Engel Ebenstein - July 22, 1996

Reaction to the Eichmann Trial

Did you ever confront any of your contemporaries with a different view?

Well, uh, not in high school. But the day arrived when I served in the Israeli Army. Now this is connected to my father. Uh, my father, we, I come from a modern Orthodox background. And in those days, and even today, a religious girl is not, uh, does not have to go, uh, and serve in the Army. All the others do, the secular ones. So my father said to me--this was 1959--um, "Since you are religious you don't have to go and serve in the Army." Well, you know. I, I was my mother's daughter in many ways and I had my own ideology and my own convictions and I said, "No way! I am going to go. We are not that religious. And I want to serve my country." And I went, and, uh, the first year I was just like, most girls in those days worked in offices, uh, doing various jobs. But I wanted to do more, so I volunteered. Um, I even changed my medical, uh, I don't know if they had like a profile of, uh, health, how healthy you were, you had to be in perfect health to be even asked to got to, um, uh, officer's training or to be tested for officer's training. So I did, I went throughout the whole thing to change that. Make a long story short, I went to officer's training. Um, and in officer's training it was interesting. Most of the girls there were native Israelis. A lot of them from kibbutzim. And that was the time when Eichmann was captured. Now the way a girl served in the Army, they did, as I said, mostly office jobs or like social work type or education. Uh, in the training, we had the basic training, with guns and stuff. But that was really not the, the, the most important. Most important was the academic part, and also we had to be well versed in, in current events. So we had to read the paper everyday and we had discussions about current events. Um, and Eichmann was captured and the papers were full of details about his capture and, and some of the, of the editorials in the paper, uh, discussed whether the state of Israel had the right to try Eichmann. And that evening in our, uh, discussion in officer's training, that was discussed. Does Israel have the right to try Eichmann for his war crimes? And the debate was going on. And the more I listened, the more upset I got. Finally I couldn't take it anymore and I got up and I said, uh, how did I, I don't remember how I started, but I said something like, "I'm a survivor." That was the first time I came out publicly, in a public forum, and said, "I am a Holocaust survivor." "I'm a survivor and when we were put on the trains and deported nobody asked us whether we wanted to go or whether they had the right to do that to us." And again, I don't remember the words, but I remember how upset I was and how, it was not upset, it was like there was something in me from the, from my guts, uh, came in terms of stating my identity and my convictions and our right to try Eichmann. Not our right, our obligation, our duty to the Jewish people, to the six million who perished, and to the survivors. Anyway, I remember how quiet it was when I spoke. I mean, I gave this, this fiery speech. And it made a big impression. It really did. And that was, I think, the first time I really came out with who I was and what I went through. Um, when we finished officer's training, my, the parents were invited for the ceremony. And it was a military ceremony as all, you know, parade, etc. Um, and my father cried. Here's my father who didn't want me to even go and serve in the Army. And he said to me, when he congratulated me after the ceremony, he said, "I was the dirty Jew, I was the stinky Jew that they wanted to kill. And here is my daughter, an officer in the Israeli Army." That was a moment of triumph for him. And later on, when the trial was going on, I went to, one day to the trial, I went in my uniform, as an officer. And I remember seeing him in the glass booth. Eichmann. And I was thinking to myself, "He's being tried and they are representing me, on my behalf." So I carried this and on and off, you know, throughout my life it comes and goes. I cannot say that the Holocaust governs my life because it does not. My Jewishness does. My Israeliness does. But it translates into it. It, it is like part and parcel of being Jewish of this generation. And I think my fervor as a, as a Jew and as an Israeli is partly because of my experiences. My belief system and my wish for my people and for my children. Like my son served in the Israeli Army and now my, my baby is nagging about the same thing. And I said, "First graduate from college, then we'll talk." But I brainwashed them. I, clearly I brainwashed them because their father is American born, even though his father, um, left on just about the last boat. He came here from Vienna. And from birth he was a, a Galizianer. A Jew from Galicia who went to Vienna during World War I and then came to this country. His mother was already American born, from Duluth, Minnesota. That's where my husband was born and raised. Uh, but certainly I, I brainwashed the kids with this, um, fervor, conviction, belief. I don't know what to call it.

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