Curator’s Personal Reflections – “Operation Finale” in Ohio
“Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann” in Cleveland – personal reflections
Transforming “Operation Finale” from an Israeli exhibition that speaks to an audience who knew how to pronounce “Eichmann” and “holocaust” from the age of kindergarten, to an exhibition for American viewers who are at times less familiar with this story – was a challenging and arduous process. It meant adapting the exhibition so that it captures the interest and emotions of visitors, including those who are not as familiarized with the details and history. The American exhibition required additions and extensions, and was designed to provide the visitors with information not only about Eichmann’s abduction and trial but also fundamental explanations on events in the context of WWII, ”The Final Solution” and the part Eichmann played in the annihilation of the Jews. The exhibition therefore also dedicated additional “chapters”, like the State of Israel in its first decade and the problems it faced; an expanded chapter dealing with the trial and the national and international ramifications on Jews and non-Jews alike; and a closing chapter which includes the testimony of holocaust survivors and the implications of the trial for them personally.
All this and the fact that the display area in Cleveland was substantially larger than the originally space allotted for the exhibition in Israel, enabled the expansion of the exhibition by dozens of images and artifacts which were collected in Israel and throughout the world by the curatorial team of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. In addition, all the texts were rewritten and the films edited so that their stories would include the historical and factual context
The Museum’s Curatorial Department achieved this by working for over two years in conjunction with the Maltz Museum in Cleveland, Gallagher & Associates – an internationally recognized museum planning and design firm located in Washington (and also designing BH new core exhibition), and Gallagher’s media company in New York. Numerous conference calls and countless emails accompanied this long and complex process which was a remarkable learning experience for all those who took part in it. In addition, it was necessary to convince the Mossad, for the first time in its history, to allow the exhibits to be sent overseas, and to get Beit Lohamei Haghetaot Museum (Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum) to agree to relinquish one of their most important exhibits – Adolf Eichmann’s bulletproof glass booth where he sat during his trial. Finally, it was necessary to preserve all the fragile paper documents from the 1960’s and provide them with adequate safeguards, to pack them in especially designed large crates suitable for the intercontinental shipment of delicate artifacts, and to coordinate all these stages with the custom authorities in Israel and the United States.
My excitement, when I attended the opening and saw the fruits of our joint efforts presented in full splendor, was therefore understandable. Placed according to our design, which until then I appreciated only from drawings and illustrations were all the exhibits which we had tirelessly worked upon secured in their display cases. The Cleveland exhibition is magnificent – Gallagher and Associates’ team of designers did outstanding work, and the films are edited accordingly and are very exciting. According to articles published in the local press, it appears that now, not only the Israeli public but the Jewish people and the entire world can experience and understand the uniqueness and importance of the capturing and trial of Eichmann. We can only hope that the exhibition will traverse to as many museums as possible throughout the United States, so that many more visitors can learn and be moved and excited by it.
Dr. Orit Shaham Gover, Chief Curator
Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People