"Eli Rosenbaum Speaks" Review - Renowned Nazi Hunter at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie

On Thursday, May 11, 2017,  exactly 57 years to the day after the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education  Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, sponsored a talk by Eli Rosenbaum, former Director, US Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, (OSI). OSI was the branch of the Justice Department that had been primarily responsible for identifying, denaturalizing and Nazi War criminals from 1994 to 2010, when it merged into the new Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section (HRSPS). Rosenbaum, the current Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy for the DOJ’s Criminal Division/HRSPS,  has been called “The world’s most  successful Nazi hunter”.

At the exhibit "Operation Finale"; photo by Ron Gould Studios

The speech at this venue was made even more poignant due to the Museum’s current feature exhibit, “Operation Finale”, The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann”, closing June 18th. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Adolf Eichmann was one of the most pivotal actors in the deportation of European Jewry during the Holocaust”. Eichmann had found refuge in Argentina and lived under the assumed name Ricardo Klement. However, at least one of his sons still retained  and sometimes used the name Eichmann, enabling the Mossad to observe, plan and execute a daring capture resulting in a forced removal to Israel, where he was ultimately tried in 1961 and executed by hanging in 1962. Among the fascinating items in the exhibit is the actual bulletproof booth from which Eichmann testified.

Portrait of Eichmann taken in his cell at the Ramla prison, Jerusalem, 1961; photo courtesy of Government Press Office

Rosenbaum is a passionate and skilled speaker, very generous in extending praise to his colleagues, and his talk was laced with anecdotes and enlivened with slides, but the gist of his speech was eye opening. Despite his 111 “successful” prosecutions, many of those he prosecutes don’t really come to justice- as if any form of retribution could ever be enough- for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the U.S. has no criminal jurisdiction over individuals who were citizens of another country (mainly, of course, Germany), and who committed crimes against persons who were citizens of other countries. Next, many of the former perpetrators hired lawyers skilled in delaying tactics. Finally, the countries of origin resist accepting these individuals, some of whom die before they can be deported. That being said, however, cases investigated and prosecuted under Rosenbaum’s direction- intriguingly, more than a few involving persons living in Illinois-have resulted in deportations to Europe of Nazi perpetrators subsequently convicted there of participation in “tens of thousands of Holocaust murders”.

Eichmann's bulletproof testifying booth; photo by Ron Gould Studios

One striking example of Rosenbaum’s exemplary prowess was his direction of the World Jewish Congress investigation that resulted in 1986 in the exposure of former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past. Subsequently, Rosenbaum was the main author of the much praised book “Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up”. Parenthetically, and sadly, even after Waldheim’s exposure, Austria elected him its President in 1987!


Rosenbaum was most effective in explaining the signal importance of the prosecution of Eichmann, both in terms of the status of such events at the time in question, and in paving the way for the further efforts in this field. By 1960, 15 years after the Nuremberg trials, there was very little worldwide interest in dealing with the perpetrators of this darkest of chapters in the long history of mans inhumanity to man. The sensationally skilled and effective capture and trial of Eichmann focused attention on pursuing justice, attention that Rosenbaum and his colleagues still bring to bear on this issue today.

The Crowd at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Jerusalem, 1961; photo courtesy of Government Press Office, Israel

The trial, widely followed in the world’s media, was later the subject of a number of books, including political theorist Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, 1963. In this work, Arendt coined a phrase with which Rosenbaum took direct and distinct issue, “the banality of evil”. Arendt theorized that “Under conditions of terror most people will comply”. Eichmann had emphasized at trial that he was not simply following orders, he himself was a victim!


Like the goal of the Museum itself, the vision of Rosenbaum’s unit is not simply to redress the Shoa, but to act as a guiding light toward the prevention of genocidal atrocities wherever they exist.

Trial Installation at "Operation Finale" exhibit; photo by Ron Gould Studios

For information and tickets to "Operation Finale" and all the fine programs and exhibits of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Information Center, go to the Illinoisholocaustmuseum website.





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