Sunday, June 14, 2009

The executioner in my living room

Today, as I was out running an errand, a couple came to our home to pick up a package from their son, who works with my mother in America.

I returned home to find an elderly, diminutive Yemenite couple trying to converse with my mother, who speaks no Hebrew. Everyone was relieved to see me, the translator. I was immediately captivated by the couple, both of who were warm and communicative. We made small talk for several minutes and I was charmed.

I am trying to remember how the subject came up, but all of a sudden the wife said to me, "הוא תלה את אייכמן" [Hoo talah et Eichmann--He hung Eichmann],and pointed at her husband.

"Excuse me?" I said. And she repeated what she said: "He hung Eichmann."

I raised my eyebrows and looked at him. He nodded affirmatively.

Eichmann's executioner was sitting in my living room.

For a moment I was speechless. How could this be? The man, Rav Shalom Nagar, began to speak. He told me that after Eichmann was convicted and sentenced to death, he was brought to the prison in Ramle, where Rav Nagar was one of the guards. He brought Eichmann his daily meals. I asked him, "Did Eichmann speak to you?" Rav Nagar told me, yes, he would say "Gracias"--thank you, in Spanish. Eichmann had heard that Rav Nagar was Sefardi, and thought he spoke Spanish. Rav Nagar told me that they couldn't communicate because of the language barrier, but he preferred it that way.

He continued with his story. (I'm paraphrasing here) "There were 22 men in my unit and my commander asked me to be the one to execute him. I refused. I was the only Sefardi in the unit, how could I be the one? The Ashkenazim were the ones that truly suffered because of him, some of them even had numbers on their arms and had lost all their family, I felt one of them should do the job. But all the 21 men wanted to do it, so my commander threw a lottery and my name was chosen. I then felt it was my destiny, that G-d had picked me. The day the execution took place was a secret. I arrived at the prison and they told me it was time. When I arrived in the [designated] place, the noose was already around Eichmann's neck, and at the appointed time I pulled the lever [for the floor to open]. It was very difficult. I then was the one to take his body to the oven, where it was burned; his ashes were later dropped into the ocean."

"You know," he said, "I later became a shochet (one who ritually slaughters animals for consumption). "I have slaughtered animal and human, but this human was not really human." He went on, "The Torah has commanded us, תמחה את זכר עמלק מתחת השמים לא תשכח, [you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens--you shall not forget]. It was my priviledge to fulfill this mitzvah in its entirety..."

Since that time, Rav Nagar has become a religious man. A search on Google confirmed what he told us today in my living room. I also read an interview in which he spoke about the emotional and psychological effects of what he did.

As he spoke, chills ran up and down my spine. The infamous picture of Eichmann came to mind. Eichmann, the ultimate nazi, the "architect of the Holocaust"; murderer of millions of Jews.

On May 31, 1962, justice was served.

At the hands of this elderly, diminutive, Yemenite man sitting in my living room.

A copy of the newspaper clipping Rav Nagar gave us. The title means "The Hangman"; in quotes, near a photo of Nagar in 1962 "This is how I hung and burned Eichmann".

13 comments:

Arthur said...

surreal - one of those things only possible in Israel

Mrs. S. said...

All I can say is... wow.
And yes, only in Israel.

Leora said...

Such drama. If only it weren't attached to such tragedy.

SuperRaizy said...

{mouth hanging open}
How incredible.
You've come a long way from Long Island, Baila.

Rafi G. said...

this is absolutely fascinating. thank you.

Jack said...

wow, that is quite a story. I don't really know what to say.

ilanadavita said...

Incredible story. You should submit it to HH.

Anonymous said...

WOW!!!!

nw

RaggedyMom said...

What an amazing account of a compelling experience. Thank you for sharing it.

Rahel said...

Wow, Baila. History in your living room! I'm only sorry that R. Nagar suffered as much as he did.

I've learned that here in Israel, you never know who's sitting next to you on the bus, visiting your office, and so on.

Many years ago, when I worked temporarily at a film-production office, a tall, slim older man arrived and went into my employer's office for a meeting. After he left, my employer asked me if I knew who he was. I didn't. He said: That's one of the people who captured Eichmann in Argentina.

(That was how I found out that the company I was working for at the time was doing a documentary on Eichmann's capture. Like I said, I was there only temporarily.)

Mimi said...

Thanks for posting this story, Baila. I'm in awe, seeing hashgachah pratit (G-d's personal supervision) at work again. An ordinary young man called to do such an important, terrible thing and to take his place in history...

Crawling Axe said...

Wow. Thank you so much.

Soccer Dad said...

You might be interested in this review of Eichmann Interrogated. Eichmann was interrogated by a German Jew named Avner Less whose family was killed out by the Nazis. Read the last paragraph on the first page. It's really quite shocking.