Kopul Rosen and The Eichmann Trial

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Adolph Eichmann
Adolph Eichmann

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Netflix film “The Trial of Adolph Eichmann” and a brief clip of my late father Kopul Rosen speaking in a BBC panel that appeared in it. The clip was of a short response my father gave to the question of whether the trial might increase anti-Semitism, to which he reacted with characteristic scorn.

The interview took place in 1961 when my father was 47 years old and within the year he had died of leukemia. I had not seen the program because at the time I was studying in Israel. But I knew it was controversial because in the full interview my father had said that he was against hanging Eichmann because this might be seen as closing the case of the unspeakable evil of Naziism and settling scores. But I never got the chance to discuss it with him.

When I saw this clip on Netflix, I contacted the BBC to try to locate it. I was rebuffed and told that nothing from before 1966 could be located. So, I mentioned in my blog that I’d be grateful if anyone could help me find the recording. A friend put me in touch with Laurie Margolis of the BBC who found it and sent me a copy.

Seeing my father was one of my most overwhelming moments. I was eighteen when he died and his influence on me was so profound that I have lived in the shadow of his charismatic, powerful persona every single day since. But images were much rarer then, and apart from a few poor-quality minor speeches, there was no live, visual recording of him other than a scene or two in two films made of Carmel College in the 1950s. So that although I had experienced his magnetism, of course, there was no way I could describe it to my children and grandchildren or anyone else who had not met him themselves.

So, if nothing else I felt that at last, I could now convey to those who cared, why he was so exceptional and why I never met anyone else in the Jewish world or beyond to compare, who had his charisma, power, charm, and oratorial gifts (even if they now sound dated).

And this is the main reason why I am now circulating this BBC program and why it is now up on YouTube.

But more than this I think the arguments put forward in this program, not just my father’s, are so important and relevant even if they are expressed in a very dated, English, detached and unimpassioned way. And their styles of speaking ideas are all products of different eras and cultures. Only my father speaks with the passion and emotion of someone involved.

There are three issues he deals with. One was whether the trial might increase antisemitism.

To which he scornfully replied that the disease of antisemitism exists and always had without a reason or excuse. No appeal to logic would make any difference. The second issue is whether Eichmann should be put to death ( the discussion took place while the trial was still in process). My father thought not, for two reasons. No punishment could possibly equate to the unspeakable horrors this revolting homunculus unleashed on his innocent victims. Some might see his death as the closing of the book and bring an end to the debate about what he did and other Nazis still alive might seek to see his death as exoneration.

This was also when Israel itself was torn apart over whether it should accept reparations from Germany. Ben Gurion was or and Begin against. And the debate over Capital Punishment, in general, was uppermost in British minds. My father was vehemently opposed to Capital Punishment. And so was I then and am today. Yet even if I agreed in theory with my father I was not persuaded emotionally. And in fact, I was pleased when this evil man was removed from soiling this earth.

And finally, my father responded to the issue of forgiveness and morality. In Judaism, there is no such idea of someone forgiving on another’s behalf. Except when the offender asks forgiveness personally from the victim. But the real issue is one of humanity. Christians believe that “ Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” was a Christin innovation. Whereas it was first stated in Leviticus (19:18) in the Old Testament. My father pointed out that the whole phrase reads “ And love your neighbor as yourself because I am God.” Love and goodness are not simply utilitarian principles, like “Do unto others as you would be done by” but they must be ethical imperatives from a superior authority beyond humans. That is the religious position. We cannot only rely on human standards.

These issues of crimes against humanity are all the more important now, as we witness such immoral disregard for human life imposed by inhuman dictators and the world seems incapable of agreeing on any universal code of morality that everyone can agree on.

So here it is in two formats

Click to download

The people who appear on it in addition to my father are Patrick O’Donovan talked to Dr. Heinrich Gruber (Provost of Berlin), a consultant psychiatrist (not allowed to be named according to BBC protocols). Sir James Edmund Fawcett DSC QC was a British barrister, a member of the European Commission for Human Rights from 1962 to 1984, and its president from 1972 to 1981, and was knighted in 1984. And grandfather of troubled UK Premier Boris Johnson.

PS. MP4 files take a few minutes to get going and include two other programs at the end


Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.