The man who got justice for the girl in the red coat

A child's red coat fading from her father's view is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, is a CNN legal analyst and a Rutgers University scholar. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)Fifty-seven years later, Gabriel Bach still pauses to compose himself when he tells the story of the girl in the red coat. Bach took time to speak with me last week about his experience as one of three Israeli prosecutors who tried the notorious Nazi logistics director Adolf Eichmann for war crimes in Jerusalem in 1961.

Bach, now 91, still remembers the testimony of one particular Holocaust survivor. Responding to Bach's questioning, the survivor, Dr. Martin Foldi, described how he was transported in a cattle car from Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944 with his wife, son and daughter. Upon arrival, two lines formed. A Nazi guard signaled for Foldi to go right and Foldi's wife, son and daughter to go left.
Foldi had recently bought a red coat for his daughter, who was 2½ years old. When Foldi looked up a few moments after being separated from his family, he could no longer see his wife or son in the distance. But, Bach recalls, Foldi testified he could see "that little red dot getting smaller and smaller -- this is how my family disappeared from my life."
CNN legal analyst Elie Honig interviews retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach in  Jerusalem.
Like any good prosecutor, Bach tried to maintain an unflappable demeanor. However, even in a trial recounting countless colossal horrors, Bach said the testimony about the red coat was the "only minute of the trial ... I suddenly couldn't utter a sound." Aware that the judges were waiting for him to continue and that television cameras were rolling, Bach pretended to shuffle papers on his desk to allow himself a moment to recover.
    Bach's life story is particularly relevant today given the rising tide of ethnic and racial intolerance -- and extremist attacks borne of such hatred -- in the United States and across the globe. More than five decades ago, as the whole world watched, Bach faced down Eichmann, an infamous Nazi officer who perpetrated genocide on a nearly unthinkable scale, in a courtroom in Israel. The lessons from the Eichmann trial -- about the rule of law, the quest for justice and the dangers posed by ethnic hatred -- still resonate today.
    Eichmann was known as the "architect" of the Holocaust because he was responsible for identifying, gathering and transporting millions of Jews and others to concentration camps across Europe. Bach refers to Eichmann as the "director of the Holocaust" because of his central role in planning and carrying out the execution of millions of innocents.

    Prosecuting the architect of the Holocaust

    American forces captured Eichmann at the end of World War II, but he escaped from a prison camp in 1946. He remained in hiding while an international manhunt ensued. Fourteen years after Eichmann's escape, Israeli intelligence agents captured him in Argentina in 1960 (as depicted in several books and movies, including 2018's "Operation Finale") and then transported him to Jerusalem for trial.
    The trial began in April 1961. Bach led the prosecution team's investigation, gathering witnesses, documents, film and other evidence from around the globe. He presented testimony from numerous witnesses, including survivors with remarkable stories; one had been a young child who was let out of a locked gas chamber just before execution to help unload a delivery of potatoes that had arrived at the camp. Bach felt it was important that the court hear from at least one survivor from every Nazi-occupied country.