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Severed Voice: The Radiophonic Effect of the Eichmann Trial

Abstract of the presentation by Tamar Liebes-Plesner and Amit Pinchevski, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at the conference on "Filming the Eichmann Trial," February 22-23, 2009

The Eichmann trial, which took place in Jerusalem in 1961, was a transformative event in Holocaust history in Israel. While recent studies have often noted the role of radio during the trial (radio was the only broadcasting medium operating in Israel at the time; television became available only in 1968), none have offered an extensive study of radio's impact. This paper ventures such an investigation, focusing on the audible register through which the trial came to public consciousness in Israel. If the Eichmann trial brought together the discourse of law and the discourse of trauma, as critics like Shoshana Felman argue, then radio was the technology by which these two speech-oriented practices coalesced. Drawing on popular texts, archival material and personal interviews, she proposes that radio facilitated a fundamental shift in the way Holocaust survivors were viewed in Israel. Prior to the trial, survivors were typically seen as eccentric figures, often on the verge of lunacy. She argues that radio broadcasting of trial testimonies occasioned a profound shift: no longer deemed marginal, survivors were now given a public stage to recount their experiences. Thus the radiophonic effect of this trial was in transforming survivors from bodies without speech to speech without bodies. Only as voices severed from corporeality did victims become accusers; only as disembodied speech could they be heard.

Center for Near Eastern Studies