Smith of The Star: Chronicler of the 20th Century

Former Reuters foreign correspondant Lional Walsh who covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann 50 years ago
Former Reuters foreign correspondant Lional Walsh who covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann 50 years ago
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FROM the open first-floor window of a Sheffield nursing home an elderly man gazes into the sunlit garden below.

Lionel Walsh passes his days as comfortably as he can from his wheelchair, often lost in thought, reflecting on the 81 years of his life.

And what a life.

Debilitated by a stroke seven years ago, Lionel may not have his former physical capabilities but his mind is sharp.

Sharp enough to recall some of the 20th Century’s most memorable events, events he witnessed first hand as a reporter for Reuters News Agency.

The man who now looks out into the spring sunshine once stared into the eyes of one of history’s most infamous mass murderers, Adolf Eichmann.

Fifty years ago Lionel covered Eichmann’s trial for crimes against humanity after the former Nazi SS commander, the man who transported millions of Jews to concentration camps during the second world war, was brought to justice by an Israeli kidnap squad in 1961.

“It was quite a wonderful assignment,” said Lionel at his Chapeltown nursing home.

“I’d done a lot of court reporting in Yorkshire and covered a few cases in Germany quite successful so they decided to send me to Jerusalem. It was a big job at the time – I never looked back after that.

“Eichmann looked like a little bank clerk. That this unremarkable little man could be responsible for such things was scarcely believable.

“He showed no sign of remorse but there was never any doubt of his guilt. He was completely ordinary-looking. The sheer banality of evil. He was a nasty piece of work.

“The Israeli secret service tracked him down in Argentina, shadowed him for a while and then snatched him off the street.

“They had history on their side and everyone was pleased when the story broke that they had got him.”

Lionel married Veronika, an East German and they had three children, Brendan, Therese and Terry. Sadly Lionel lost eldest son Brendan, and his beloved wife to brain tumours.

He became bureau chief shortly after the Eichmann trial and covered major events in Europe, including President John F Kennedy’s ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ speech in 1963.

“That speech exposed the President to mocking coverage in the mass-circulation Bild Zeitung newspaper. He had unwittingly said: ‘I am a doughnut.’ Kennedy should have said: ‘Ich bin Berliner’.”

Lionel then went on a run of covering amazing world events. He was present at:

The invasion of Czechlosovakia by the Russians in 1967

The return of Juan Peron to Argentina in 1973

The fall of Chilean President Allende to the CIA-inspired military coup in 1973

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

“I covered Juan Peron’s return to Argentina from Spain when he became president again,” said Lionel.

“I was there for the fall of Allende in Chile. He was holed up in his presidential palace when he was killed – I was watching from outside the palace when it happened.

“When Peron came back to Argentina he landed at Buenos Aires airport and there was a crowd of around three million people. The National Symphony Orchestra was playing. Fighting broke out in the crowd and 23 people were killed.

“The orchestra was swept of the dais and people were moving frantically everywhere to get out of the firing line – it was a terrible experience.

“I was in East Germany with my in-laws when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. We got in the car straight away.

“On the way to Prague we came across a convoy of Russian tanks and I remember trying to overtake them. They moved over to let us pass – it was an incredible experience.

“I also covered the troubles in Ireland and after Bloody Sunday there were some quite hairy times. Looking back, if I was covering the story again I would have a lot more sympathy for the Catholics.”

“I’m in Sheffield now because my son, Terry, lives here – he’s a computer engineer with Hewlett Packard.

“I like it here and the people here are very nice but it’s not quite as exciting as life used to be.

“I was working in France up to when I had a stroke. I don’t see a lot of newspapers now but I do see the BBC and I think they cover the news very well – but they all seem so very young.

“I would do it all again if I had my time. I can’t think what else I would have done. I’m glad I chose journalism – it was a fantastic career.

“I have no regrets, I have had a marvellous life.”

‘Spur Of The Moment Decision Launched My Career’

IT ALL began with the chance sighting of a card in a shop window.

Lionel Walsh was heading for a job in his dad’s photographic business in Harrogate when he saw an ad in the Advertiser’s window for a trainee reporter’s position.

He went in, had an interview and went home to tell his parents he wouldn’t be joining the family business.

Thus began a remarkable career.

“I started at the Harrogate Advertiser when I was about 21. I saw the advert and applied on the spur of the moment. I’m glad I did, I’ve had a wonderful career.

“I worked on the Ripon Gazette and the Nidd Herald and then the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds.

“I was there for several years but always wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

“I applied to Reuters in London, had an interview and they accepted me. I did a few years on Fleet Street.

“After a while, I applied for a job at the BBC. They offered me a post and the editor of Reuters called me into his office and asked why I was leaving. I said it was because I had not been given a foreign assignment.

“Within a month I was in Bonn, West Germany, working for Reuters. This would have been around 1959.

“It was all I hoped it would be.

“I went out on assignments when there was something really big. I was sent to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel.

“In terms of jobs I would have liked to have done, I would have liked to have been in Russia in the Kruschev years. He was a fascinating fellow.

“Two of the most interesting men I ever met were former German Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt – who I invited to dinner once, and he came.”

Eichmann - The Nazis’ Chief Executioner

SS OFFICER ADOLF Eichmann - ‘Chief Executioner of the Third Reich’ - masterminded the organisation of the Holocaust, sending millions of Jews and other groups to death camps.

1932: Aged 26, Eichmann joined SS Division of the Austrian Nazi Party.

1933: Appointed administrator at Dachau Concentration Camp by new chancellor Adolf Hitler.

1938: Created Central Office for Jewish Administration in Austria to expel/deport Jews after claiming their wealth for the Third Reich.

1941: Appointed commander of Gestapo Jewish Division of the Religions Department.

1942: Attended the infamous Wannsee Conference where the ‘Final Solution’ was decided. Appointed “Transportation Administrator” and later boasted he had sent five million Jews to their deaths.

1944: Sent to Nazi-occupied Hungary and transported 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

1945: Fled to Austria, arrested by the Americans, gave false name and was released as a demobilised German soldier.

1947: Escaped to Buenos Aires as ‘Ricardo Clement’. Spent years as a water engineer and rabbit farmer.

1960: Israeli Secret Service (Mossad) kidnapped Eichmann, and took him to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

1961: 10-month trial was broadcast around the world. His defence was that he had ‘only been following orders.’ Found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death.

1962: Eichmann hanged then cremated.