Forgiveness in 60 Minutes

Back in 1983, Mike Wallace did a very memorable interview for the Sunday evening CBS news magazine television show, 60 Minutes. He interviewed Yehiel De-Nur, a Jewish holocaust survivor who was at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Adolf Eichmann was one of the principal architects/organizers of the genocidal apparatus commonly known as the Holocaust. By mid-1941, Eichmann had ascended to the Nazi SS military rank of lieutenant colonel when he and other high-ranking officers, such as Heinrich Himmler and others, were tasked by Hermann Göring (on orders from Hitler) to plan, implement and carry out the Holocaust, which they did, beginning in early 1942. The Nazis tagged the plan as the “Final Solution” (to real and imaginary political and economic problems they created and then projected onto the Bolshevik communists and “the Jews”) but came to be code-named Operation Reinhard in honor of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the intelligence agency of the SS who was assassinated in Prague in June 19. The logistics Eichmann and others implemented were responsible for the systematic murder of over six million civilians which primarily took place in tens of thousands of death camps, a/k/a Killing Centers, located throughout German-occupied Eastern Europe during the last three years of WW II. These are mind-boggling figures. The vast majority of the non-combatants murdered by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945 were men, women, and children killed for no other reason than their Jewish ancestry.

Adolf Otto Eichmann was a German Nazi a Lieutenant Colonel in the German army. He was one of the major architects of the Holocaust, including being given the responsibility of directing the logistics of the mass deportation of Jews to the ghettos and to the extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe. After the war, he fled to Argentina where he assumed a false identity.

Eichmann worked for Mercedes-Benz in Argentina until 1960 when he was captured by Israeli operatives and extradited to Israel.

In 1961 he was tried in an Israeli court on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 1962, Adolf Eichmann, the facilitator and manager of the extermination of millions of people was found guilty and executed by hanging.

At the trial, Eichman sat in a bulletproof glass booth. In the proceedings, the prosecution presented over 1,500 war documents and called 90 witnesses that survived the Nazi death camps.  Yehiel De-Nur was one of those witnesses.

Knowing he’d be a witness at the Eichmann trial, in the many nights preceding the trial, De-Nur had nightmares about this moment; the moment he’d finally see this Aryan monster in person.

Finally, the moment came. De-Nur was escorted into the courtroom and directed to sit in the witness chair. Before answering questions, he delivered an emotional opening statement in which he described Auschwitz as “Planet of the Ashes.” [It has been estimated that 4.1 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz alone.]

After his statement, the prosecution began to ask their questions. This is where De-Nur’s short time on the witness stand got even more dramatic. He couldn’t answer any questions. He couldn’t finish his testimony.

“When I saw Eichmann, I realized that he was just a man.”

Here’s why…

Until he completed the statement he had prepared, De-Nur had not yet looked around the courtroom. But then he did so just as he was being asked the first question. He finally looked up. And at that instant, he looked directly at Eichmann. Cameras captured the moment. [In fact, his entire testimony can be seen by clicking the link provided HERE.] De-Nur nervously rose from his chair, mumbled something, and then just fainted.

So then, over 20 years later, Mike Wallace was doing a story on 60-Minutes about Adolf Eichmann. Obviously, the story wouldn’t be complete without talking about the trial. And no retelling the story of the trial would be complete without looking at that dramatic moment in the trial when Yehiel De-Nur fainted only moments after taking his seat in the witness chair.

Naturally, Wallace had to know what overcame Mr. De-Nur at the Adolf Eichmann trial. They watched the clip of his reaction and then De-Nur was asked what he was thinking at that moment. Wallace assumed it was either traumatic memories or anger.

De-Nur responded: “No. When I saw Eichmann, I realized that he was just a man. He was just like me. There was really no difference between us. That meant I was capable of the very thing that he did, and I collapsed because I saw my reflection in him.”

In other interviews, he spoke about how that realization made it impossible for him to not forgive Eichmann and the Nazi “machine” for what it did to him and his family.

Many people who commented on the story after having seen it said that they were, at last, able to forgive others who they’d been having a difficult time forgiving. One person wrote, “If he could forgive, I no longer had any excuse to hold on to old grievances.”

So, here’s the question: if former Holocaust death camp survivor Yehiel De-Nur could forgive the man who unapologetically facilitated the Nazi death machine that imprisoned him, killed members of his family and millions of other innocents, what’s your excuse?

It took many people a 60-Minutes episode to realize that there really isn’t any good excuse for refusing to forgive. How about you? Does it take more than 60 Minutes for you to forgive?

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