Millions of people first learned about the horrors of the Holocaust by tuning into the historic 1961 trial in Jerusalem of escaped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The story of his capture has all the elements of popular spy thrillers.
For a few hours this past winter, local Girl and Boy Scouts were able to step into that world during a tour of
Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann
, an exhibit currently showing at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie.
More than 200 people-including Boy and Girl Scouts from diverse cultures as well as their parents and Scout leaders-participated in two different museum tours as part of the first "Scouting Out Intolerance" program held at the museum. Younger children took the "Stand Up, Speak Out" tour and participated in interactive, age-appropriate activities.
Through this program-sponsored by the Jewish Committee on Scouting of the Northeast Illinois Council (NEIC), with support from the Jewish War Veterans-scouts from different faiths and backgrounds can develop a better understanding of how hatred and intolerance shape mass opinion and be more aware of injustice.
"Many of the ideas discussed, especially around cyber-bullying and being an upstander rather than a bystander, affect all people," said Michele Bauman, chairman of Scouting Out Intolerance.
Curated by Avner Avraham, a former Mossad agent, the exhibit chronologically tells the story of the legendary 1960 operation that brought the top Nazi officer to justice. Eichmann, a key architect of the mass deportation of Jews to extermination camps, was a prisoner of the Allied Forces after the war. But he managed to escape and flee to Argentina in 1950 under the alias "Ricardo Klement" with a passport issued by the Red Cross. By the time Israeli operatives seized him in a Buenos Aires suburb, he had been living in Argentina for 10 years.
"There are so many layers to this story-from what did the world think about Israel kidnapping Eichmann to what is the legacy of the trial," said docent Sharon Kohn. "This trial brought the Holocaust into people's living rooms around the world."
Girl Scout Samantha Kaminsky, who took the tour, said her great-grandfather, Zelig Kalmanovich, survived the Holocaust but lost his wife and 5-year-old daughter. "I was amazed [during the exhibit] by how many survivors and witnesses were speaking. It's interesting and disturbing. Eichmann was very powerful-but in an evil way. He'd go home at night and think about how to kill Jews. That's hard to take in," she said.
"Hearing people talk at the trial and seeing someone break down about his experience-this was really intense and impactful," said Life Scout Reid Wilson of Northbrook.
Scouts in third through sixth grades toured the
Make A Difference! The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition
with docent Dina Krause
The tour begins at a gallery of lockers, the kind you'd find in a school hallway. But, inside these lockers are upstanders' stories.
Among them are Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks and Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara who risked his life and his position issuing visas to Lithuanian Jews. Both took a stand against hatred and intolerance.
Krause gives everyone time to pick a locker and read about that bystander. Tomas Krupa, who opened Canadian Ryan Hreljac's locker, said, "I learned not everyone had clean water."
Ryan's African pen pal Jimmy had to walk an hour each way before school just to provide water to his family. "Ryan decided to do something about it," said Krause. "He started the Ryan Wells Foundation and has wells all over Africa-all because of his pen pal Jimmy."
Junior Girl Scout Anna Guest's favorite part was learning about how the survivors escaped Germany, while fifth-grader Jesse Goldberg said he enjoyed learning about the upstanders.
"[Mine was a] wrestler who spoke against hatred toward gay people," said Goldberg. "That was the best part-finding out what everyone did to help."
Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann runs now through June 18, at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie. For more information, visit
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is a special grantee of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
Jennifer Brody is a former associate editor at JUF News and a freelance writer living in Chicago.