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Hillel Foundations Report on Reaction of U.S. Students to Eichmann Trial

The Eichmann trial drew the highest audience response of any college campus topic of the past year, the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations reported today.

Reports from Hillel directors on 75 major American campuses show that, with few exceptions, attendance was “unusually heavy” at college forums, film programs, lectures and discussions of the trial, and students had an “intense and vocal interest” in its legal and ethical aspects. Rabbi Oscar Groner, Hillel’s assistant national director, said that for many young students the trial was a “first personal awareness of the real horrors of the holocaust and of the Nazi era in history as symbolized by Eichmann.”

As the trial unfolded, he said, a large majority of both Jewish and non-Jewish students “were profoundly shocked by the testimony of Nazi mass murders, revealing their unfamiliarity with the Hitler period.” One effect was a “marked increase” in the number of non-Jewish students and faculty members seeking information on Judaism and on the causes of anti-Semitism.

The 75 Hillel directors reported that campus opinion was strongly in favor of Israel’s judicial handling of the trial and the “calm objectivity” of the proceedings. This was a sharp shift from pre-trial sentiment when many students questioned the legal basis for the trial being held in Israel. In the early weeks after Eichmann’s capture, before the trial convened, a considerable number of Jewish students were found to be “uneasy” about the possibility of a negative reaction in the non-Jewish community, Rabbi Groner said. The character of the trial dissipated this feeling too, he said.

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