Avner Less , Frodo Baggins | Standing Witness to the Story of Evil

By Limor Shiponi

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Last night, channel 2 aired ‘Lishka 06’. From IMDb:

“This is the dramatic story of Bureau 06, the team of police investigators formed for the sole purpose of investigating and preparing the grave charges brought by the Jewish people against Adolf Eichmann, during the trial that took place in Jerusalem, 1961…”

They saw their mission with clear focus – everything they would bring to trial had to be solid, legally acceptable evidence. Combine the huge amount of documents they had to go through delving in a horrible narrative, the testimonials they heard from survivors, the people wanting their stories to be heard, the professional demand, the emotional overload – it is hard to imagine how they managed to go through nine months of feverish work and stay sharp and human.

IMDb adds:

“Of special note is the story of Avner Less, Eichmann’s personal interrogator, who spent more than 275 hours with Eichmann, left Israel after the trial, and reclaimed his German identity card.”

In the film, Yoram Kaniuk is interviewed saying that in his eyes, Avner Less became somewhat like Eichmann. That giving Eichmann all these hours in the presence of an Israeli police officer was totally unnecessary and nothing Eichmann should have received for what he did and was involved with. That it did not influence the trial results and should not have happened.

Not the wisest thing Kaniuk said, to my opinion. His words stayed with Less as a deep wound, I’m sure.

When I heard Kaniuk on the film, a memory flashed. A memory about a person I heard in high school. He was talking about why all this happened in Germany – of all places. While listening to him I noticed that all his manners and behaviors seemed to me “German”. The next thought was almost obvious, “he himself behaves like a Nazi”. But a second later I  thought, “this is too easy and dangerous a conclusion to reach”. That early lesson stayed with me and Kaniuk’s words just helped surface it while watching yesterday’s film and the story of Avner Less.

275 hours of witnessing someone else’s story – that’s the amount of time Less sat in front of Eichmann. Can we imagine what was going on inside Less’s mind, heart, body? He wrote a diary about his experience, but I don’t think I need to read it to know. I know from my experience as a storyteller: Less stood witness to a horrible story. He gave it space and accommodated the possibility of this story being told. Being there, present, through all those hours, listening to a human tell in his human voice what he did, what he was involved with – isn’t there that famous saying about not being able to fight a man after you’ve heard his story? In his diary Less wrote, “I didn’t feel hatred. Only deep sadness.”

Eichmann was telling Less about his work and that work was exterminating Jews – Less’s people. Less was born in Germany – his people too. The story was told in German, in a small police facility in the Jewish state. Tell me your mind isn’t going Zig-Zag and inside out right now.

Comparing to the storytelling model, Eichmann was the messenger (storyteller), Less was the witness (listener) and the text that moved between them wasn’t a story. It was an interrogation or more of a questioning – to get the details, names, dates, events, facts. But there was a story and it lived in Less’s mind and imagination. Witnessing the talk of evil and storying in your mind for 275 hours – that will do something profound to any person. It will make you realize – this cannot be the entire story, there needs to be more. That’s why, I think, Less returned to Germany. To find the rest of the story and maybe manage to push parts of it into light.

And then I remembered Frodo Baggins who undertook the quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Being for so long in the presence of pulsating evil didn’t change his core – it just changed his life.

I can only assume Avner Less was a unique human being who undertook a terrible quest we owe him, and all the other investigators in Bureau 06, much for.

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