Art & History
Etching His Way into History
Looking far younger than his 78 years, it is hard to imagine that artist Edward Eichel, was in the courtroom 50 years ago during the notorious trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. When I first interviewed Mr. Eichel a few months ago, he told me that he was a press artist for this trial, but it wasn't until he called recently to inform me about the trial's 50th Anniversary that I visualized the young and budding artist sketching the infamous man in the courtroom.
It is a unique situation, for an artist, when your most well known art works are intertwined which such a well documented and emotionally charged period in time. I sat down with Mr. Eichel to discuss how, with pen and pad in hand, he etched his way into history.
ART Punctuate: How did you become a courtroom press artist for this trial?
Eichel: A Jewish literary magazine L'Arche in Paris had published an article on my art titled "Israel on the Line of a Pen." At the time the Eichmann trial was near the verdict, I acquired a letter from the editor commissioning me to cover the trial. Although none of my immediate family were Holocaust victims, I felt compelled to return to Israel and do whatever I could as an artist. But once there, the police at the court house were reluctant to permit me to enter the courtroom. The prominent Israeli architect Dov Carmi, a close friend who happened to be in the room, walked up to me and asked "Edward, what do you need?" The police were stunned. They responded to Carmi, "Do you know him?" Mr. Carmi said, "He's my relative!" They processed me in about five seconds [and allowed him into the courtroom].
Why did you feel so compelled to contribute your artistic talents this way?
I was in Paris at the time of the trial and I remember sitting in a Paris theater and hearing about the Eichmann trial. I kept thinking, you know, you have to see Eichman to see what he really is. You can put together words [in an article], but I knew that the way that I draw would capture the character of this man. There was only one film company that was allowed to capture the trial at the time, but I felt that something more could be done. The man's character was very evident in-person. I felt I could do something different, something powerful.
Where are the original drawings?
My original drawings, which were published in Haim Gouri's The Glass Cage: The Jerusalem Trial (1962) have been on loan to the Dallas Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies in Dallas, Texas since 1994.
"Group watching" drawing by Edward Eichel
How long did you draw at the trial?
I was there for two weeks and I went everyday to draw. I got tense that none of the drawings were good and I began to do a form of gesture drawing (Eichel waves his hands back and forth to demonstrate the technique)...and some ink blots fell onto the paper. It came out very unique. I think it made the drawing better. But I was able to break the tension of that moment.
How many other artists where at the trial?
I don't know how many artist there were. I remember the artist Ronald Searle being there. He is a cartoon artist. I read he had to memorize the image and then make notes because he wasn't allowed to do drawings in the courtroom. I have seen other artists' work regarding the trial on the internet and some galleries have showcased the work. I am glad that I got to the trial and did what I did.
Did you know you wanted to be a courtroom artist?
No. I didn't even know it was a career at that point.
Where do you see your drawings as they relate to history?
Considering my first motivation was that I wasn't satisfied [with the documentation of the trial] I felt that it was possible to capture something that you couldn't see in a photograph. Something that was really unique and important. I called myself a press artist. I accomplished that.
"The Cage" drawing by Edward Eichel