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US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
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Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
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Hitler, Germany's Worst General
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Japan's Monster Sub
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Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
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The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
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Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
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How Hitler Could Have Won
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Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
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Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
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Pearl Harbor and Midway
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Early Texas Military History
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Book Reviews
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Books by Bruce L. Brager 


The Texas 36th Division


John Paul Jones America's Sailor


There He Stands: The Story Of Stonewall Jackson


The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe


Recommended Reading


Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil


The House on Garibaldi Street

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Adolf Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann
by Bruce L. Brager
"Earth conceal not the blood shed on thee"
Inscription on Memorial stone
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp[1]

Adolf Eichmann was tried in Israel in 1961 for crimes committed during World War Two. Eichmann, former Obersturmbannfuhrer (lieutenant colonel) in the Nazi German Schutzstaffen (better known as the SS) was accused of playing a major role in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6,000,000 European Jews. The Holocaust was the Third Reich's "final solution" to first rid Europe and then rid the world of what it considered the "problem" of the Jewish people.

Adolf Eichmann did not create the "final solution," (though he did coin the term) but he was the senior Nazi official concerned solely with the confinement and elimination of the Jews. Eichmann initially coordinated the deportation of Jews from Germany and its occupied territories. Then, when Nazi Germany switched to genocide Eichmann organized the transportation of Jews to confinement in Eastern Europe, and eventually to death camps.

Eichmann's Career

After joining the SS (the German paramilitary police and security organization) in 1934, Eichmann rose quickly in responsibility. He made himself an "expert" on Jewish matters, including studying Hebrew (and making a brief visit to Palestine on the way to Egypt in 1937). After the March 1938 union of Germany and Austria, Eichmann, an Austrian, was put in charge of the SS unit handling forced Jewish emigration from Austria. Eichmann's office was highly efficient both in looting Jewish possessions and throwing the Jews out of the country.

In January, 1939, inspired by Eichmann's success, the Nazi' established a similar office for all German-occupied lands. Eichmann was the logical choice to head this office, a position he held until the end of World War II. The office was reorganized after World War II broke out in September 1939.

Over the next two years, its work evolved from expelling Jews from Germany to transporting Jews to death camps in Poland. Eichmann had the resources of the German state to call on for his murderous activities. Based in Berlin, though traveling extensively, Eichmann evolved with the unit, showing his ability and enthusiasm in handling any job he was assigned. He used his often intimidating temperament, and the power of his office, to coordinate the work of mass murder. He ensured trains were available to take Jews to the East, even if this took needed transportation away from the German war effort. He ensured that Jews reported to transportation centers, persuading or browbeating Jewish leaders to cooperate. He even helped plan phases of the actual murder, choosing the method of killing and helping design the layout of Auschwitz, the largest death camp.

The Israeli Government and Capturing Eichmann

Capturing Nazi war criminals was a major concern of Jewish organizations, and survivors, after World War Two ended. After its creation in 1948, Israel was determined to hunt down Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice. As part of these efforts, Eichmann was tracked down in Argentina.

In a democracy like Israel, individuals, however horrible the crimes of which they are accused are entitled to a fair trial. However, the Israeli government would not have undertaken the long, hard process of bringing Eichmann to justice from Argentina unless they were firmly convinced, almost beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was guilty of a major role in administering the Holocaust. The prosecution would still have to prove Eichmann's guilt, the trial would still be fair, but the Israeli government always assumed the results would be a verdict of guilty.

The Eichmann Trial as Education

Had the Israelis merely wanted to punish Eichmann, however, killing him in Argentina would have been far easier than capturing him, hiding him for over a week, and then smuggling him back to Israel. The Israeli government had motives other than mere revenge.

For the government, for Holocaust survivors, and for Israelis who remembered the genocide, preserving the memory of the atrocities was of equal of greater importance. Israeli young people had little knowledge of the Holocaust, and many older Israelis wanted to forget the horrors of the past. But those Israelis who wanted to bring Nazi criminals to justice sought to ensure that the Holocaust would not be buried in history. They saw the Eichmann trial as a way to educate the Israelis and the world about the evils of totalitarian government run amok. "This trial is not necessary for this defendant," a member of the Israeli Knesset said before that body. "This trial is necessary because we need to remind the world of what happened during World War II, something many would like to consign to oblivion."[2]

Even though more documentary evidence was collected than needed to convict Eichmann, Chief Prosecutor Gideon Hausner wanted to add emotion to dry statistics when presenting his case. Hausner included the testimony of many witnesses. At least twenty five of the witnesses spoke of the fate of children during the mass killings. Twenty years after the trial, Hausner said in an interview that "I wanted testimony about the fate of young men and women, so that our own young people would hear what happened."[3] Hausner thought it would be easier for young people to identify with victims their own age. He felt that Israeli youth had failed to identify with what many of their parents and relatives experienced. Holocaust survivors in Israel had rarely spoken of their experiences. They assumed that young people brought up in a vigorous new nation would not understand, would ask only "why did you not resist?"

Tracking and Capturing Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann sought power and influence but not wide publicity. He vanished from view when World War II ended in 1945 and Nazi atrocities were fully revealed. The Allies had a difficult time finding the details of Eichmann's role in World War II because he was such a shadowy figure. Eichmann's relatively low rank hid the nature and importance of his work. It helped to conceal his job from his victims and from the world at large. Those who searched soon learned that he was the senior Nazi official devoting almost all of his time first to exiling and then to killing the Jews.

Eichmann possessed an arrogance and bravado that remained to the end of the war. He told subordinates that "he would leap laughing into his grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction."[4] Eichmann was being too modest. He underestimated the number of Jewish dead by one million victims.

While deciding what to do after Germany's defeat and the Allies arrived, Eichmann and his subordinates first planned to escape to the Austrian Alps to fight as guerrillas. This collection of desk officers, who spent the war organizing mass murder but not actually doing any killing, would have made poor soldiers. Eichmann and his men were probably relieved, just before the war ended, when a message arrived from Eichmann's superior Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA (Reich Security Head Office, part of the SS). Kaltenbrunner ordered resistance to stop.

Eichmann and one of his aides headed out on their own to try and escape Allied forces. They disguised themselves as Luftwaffe enlisted men. Soon captured by American forces, they escaped, but were later recaptured. Eichmann had no problems in the American prisoner of war camp, since the Americans did not know his real identity. However, on January 3, 1946, Eichmann's name was mentioned at the Nuremburg war crimes trials as the man who ran the "final solution," the Nazi term for the Holocaust. Eichmann learned he had been mentioned at Nuremberg, and knew the Allies would eventually learn who he was. Two days later he escaped, due to lax security, and headed to a hideout not far from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. For the next four year Eichmann stayed in Germany, though he was not in contact with his family. His name was mentioned again and again at war crimes trials, but authorities could not locate him. By 1950 Eichmann saw it was time to leave Germany. He made his way to Argentina. His family joined him there two years later.

By 1956, Eichmann believed that people had lost interest in bringing him to justice. In many ways Eichmann was correct in feeling safe. Nazi hunting was less of a concern to Western governments at the height of the Cold War. Some Jewish survivors, most notably Simon Weisenthal and his staff, kept up the hunt. However, most Jewish concern was directed to a more immediate problem -- the survival of the new state of Israel. Then, in 1957, the phone rang in the office of Isser Harel, chief of the Mossad, the soon to become legendary Israeli secret service.

A senior official at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was on the phone. Harel was struck by the excitement in the voice of the normally restrained official. The two men arranged to meet in a cafe in a suburb of Tel Aviv. The official had startling news for Harel. Adolf Eichmann may have been located. Information passed on by Dr. Fritz Bauer, the public prosecutor of the West German state of Hesse, indicated that Eichmann, then missing for twelve years, was living in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Some instinct told Harel that this report, unlike so many false reports in the past, was worth checking out.

The Mossad sent an agent to Germany to talk with Dr. Bauer, a German Jew. Bauer had spent part of the Nazi era in exile, part in prison in Germany. Bauer explained that he was relaying the report of an informant who lived in Argentina. Bauer claimed that he was giving the information to the Israelis because he was afraid that someone in his own government might warn Eichmann. Bauer kept the original informant's name secret, to protect the man from possible harm from any of Eichmann's supporters or associates.

At the end of the conversation, the Mossad agent asked Bauer who else knew about their meeting. "Bauer replied that he had told only one man about his appeal to the Israelis, a man of standing and of high integrity."[5] Harel later learned that this person was Georg-August Zinn, the prime minister of Hesse, a position roughly equivalent to governor of an American state. Zinn had approved the initial contact with the Israelis, and was kept informed of progress in the operation.

The Mossad Begins to Look for Eichmann

Field work to locate Eichmann began with the seemingly simple measure of sending an agent to Buenos Aires to investigate the address Bauer supplied. The agent was asked to find out if Eichmann was living at the address, a house in a suburb just north of Buenos Aires. The agent had to be very secretive, as any carelessness on his part might alert Eichmann and cause him to flee.

The agent soon discovered the house, on an unpaved street, in a poor neighborhood. When he saw the house, the Mossad investigator questioned the lead because the area did not seem affluent enough for a fugitive senior Nazi. Rumors had been circulating for years that when the leaders of the Third Reich, including Eichmann, saw the war was lost they hid valuables and large sums of money around the world. This treasure was supposedly being used to support them in exile. Even professional intelligence agents tended to share the public view that senior Nazis would not be living in poor neighborhoods. Initial checks found no evidence to contradict this view. The agent concluded that Eichmann was not living at the house. Additional inquiries among the German community in Argentina yielded no further clues as to Eichmann's location.

Harel, however, was not sure the initial lead was false. He wanted to have someone from the Mossad talk directly to Bauer's source. A Mossad representative met with Bauer on January 21, 1958. At this meeting, Bauer was convinced of the Mossad's need to meet the source personally as the best way to evaluate the source's honesty and accuracy. Bauer revealed the name. He also wrote a letter of introduction for the Mossad to use in contacting the source.

The Blind Man's Daughter

Harel decided to send another agent to Argentina. An Israeli police detective was going to Argentina on police business. He agreed to undertake the additional mission of contacting Bauer's source. The detective arrived in Buenos Aires in late January 1958, with only winter clothing. No one had warned him, and he had not realized, that January occurs in mid-summer.

The police detective was told that Bauer's informant lived in a small town several hundred miles from Buenos Aires. The detective realized a stranger might attract attention, so he sent the informant a telegram asking him to come to the capital. The informant refused, saying that since he did not know the detective, the detective would have to come to him. The detective agreed, and headed out of the capital.

On meeting the informant and presenting Bauer's letter, the detective learned some facts about the informant and his family. The man was a blind German Jew, who was sympathetic to Israel. As a young man during World War Two he had been confined in a German concentration camp. His parents had been among Eichmann's victims. Surviving the war, the man moved to Argentina. His wife was not Jewish, and his daughter, though half-Jewish, was the type of blonde the Nazis considered the "ideal" physical type.

His daughter had dated a young man calling himself Nicholas Eichmann. Nicholas had talked openly with the family, whose surname did not sound Jewish. He expressed such views as thinking that the Germans should have finished the job of killing all European Jewry during in World War II. Nicholas also explained that he lacked a regional German accent because his father served in different locations during the war. One day the blind man's wife or daughter, he did not recall which, read a story about a war crimes trial in Germany mentioning a man named Adolf Eichmann. The informant thought that "Nicholas Eichmann, who's so sorry that the Nazis didn't manage to wipe out all the Jews, must be the son of Adolf Eichmann."[6]

The informant checked further. He and his daughter made two trips into Buenos Aires, trying to find where the Eichmanns lived and to meet the head of the family. The informant went on to say that, "It was then that we recalled an episode to which we had not attributed any importance at the beginning: my daughter and Nicolas had been writing to each other since we moved here, but he never told her where he lived; he asked her to send her letters to the address of a mutual friend."[7]

The daughter added further details,

"When we sent to Buenos Aires I asked a friend to help me find his house. I knocked at the door and it was opened by a women. I asked her in German if this was the house of the Eichmann family. Her reply did not come immediately, and during the pause a middle-aged man wearing glasses came and stood beside her. I asked him if Nick was home. He said no, Nick was working overtime. I asked if he was Mr. Eichmann. . . He said he was but only after some hesitation."[8]


The detective never found out why the man would have willingly confirmed he was Mr. Eichmann, since he was using another name. And, it was never mentioned whether the blind man's daughter ever saw Nicholas Eichmann again.

Bauer's Second Lead to Eichmann

Dr. Bauer visited Israel in 1959 and met Isser Harel. At this meeting, Bauer passed on new information, from a different informant, which again supported the notion of Eichmann being in Argentina. According to this source, Eichmann appeared to be using the name Ricardo Klement. With this lead, Harel tried to get Bauer to divulge more information about his source. As Harel later recalled, this question was not very fruitful.

"It was absolutely impossible to make Bauer reveal any details whatsoever about the new source. But I realized immediately that this was the turning point and we were now steering toward the open road. Only one question bothered me, and I asked for clarification: How can I be sure there is no connection, either direct or indirect, between the new source and [the first informant]? Bauer's reply was unequivocal: There is not, and there never could be, any connection between the two."


The Mossad's Plan

The Mossad obtained photos of Ricardo Klement, and determined that he was the right size and age as Eichmann. His appearance reflected the physical changes likely to have occurred in Eichmann in the 15 years since World War II ended, and efforts to change his appearance, including growing a mustache. When Klement was brought to Israel, the Mossad planned to have several Israelis who had met Eichmann view him to confirm his identity. The Mossad strongly believed that Klement was Eichmann. However, they knew, in the words of one agent involved in the capture, that "We can't be one hundred percent sure until we've got him."[10]

Harel felt he had enough evidence to authorize the capture of Ricardo Klement, but he wanted to make sure the Israelis had legal justification to remove Klement from foreign soil and try him in Israel. Israeli judicial experts confirmed that trying the suspect in Israel would be legal. The Israelis always understood that taking Eichmamn from Argentina would violate that nation's sovereignty. With Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's approval, the plan went into action.

A team of Israeli agents was sent to Argentina. Harel would not be present for the actual capture, but he was in Argentina personally supervising the mission. The Israeli agents began to study Klement's habits, to make specific plans for his capture and transportation to Israel. They selected "safe houses," alternative places to hold the suspect until he could be moved from Argentina. The agents had to be careful when renting these houses, so that landlords would not become suspicious. They needed to minimize the number of people seen coming and going from these houses, to avoid having to explain things to neighbors. The Israelis even had a doctor with them, to take care of Klement and to sedate him for the trip to the airport.

The Mossad also planned what to do in case the Argentine police discovered the kidnapping. Harel ordered one of his men to handcuff himself to Eichmann and throw away the key if the police became involved. One or two other men would stay in the area to report on what happened. The designated agent was ordered, over his protests, to tell the police he was part of a volunteer effort led by Isser Harel to capture Adolf Eichmann and turn him over to Argentine authorities.

Harel and his men even helped plan a special El Al airlines flight from Israel to Buenos Aires, and back. The flight would bring an Israeli delegation to help Argentina celebrate the May 1960 150th anniversary of Argentine independence. The plane would carry Eichmann back to Israel.

Klement's Capture

The Klement family was living in another working class Buenos Aires suburb, than the one first investigated. Klement held a job in Buenos Aires, taking a train and a bus home every evening. He usually arrived about 7:00 pm, walking the final few hundred yards to his house. The house was somewhat isolated, near a railroad embankment. There were, however, neighbors. Fortunately May is late fall below the Equator. Klement would be walking home in the dark.

The evening of May 11, 1960, the capture car was sitting some distance from Klement's house, facing west, the opposite direction from where the suspect would approach. A second car faced south, under a nearby railroad bridge. Its lights would be in Klement's eyes as he walked from the bus stop. He would not see the second car until it was too late.

Klement, normally a man of regular habits, was late getting off the bus the evening of May 11. This caused the agents some concern. One of the agents got out of the second car to scout the street when he saw a man walking in the darkness. The agent had to run back to the second car to get his comrades to turn on the lights. The agents in the first car had also seen the target. They noticed the suspect had a hand in his pocket, and they assumed he might be carrying a gun. The agent designated to perform the capture walked towards Klement.

"Un momentito, senor," the agent called. Klement froze, taking a step backwards. When the agent reached for him, they both ended up falling into the mud. The suspect briefly screamed, until he was silenced. A second agent helped get him into the car which quickly drove off. He was gagged, tied up, and blindfolded in the car. Klement was told, by an agent who "spoke one sentence to him in German, using terms which were undoubtedly familiar to the captive: 'If you don't keep still, you'll be shot.'"[11]

On arrival at the designed safe house where he would be held, the suspect was examined, questioned, and found to meet the description the Israelis had of Eichmann. Though he first gave his name as Ricardo Klement, the man knew almost automatically Eichmann's Nazi party membership number. When intentionally misread Eichmann's SS identification number, the suspect corrected the number. Finally, in response to yet another question about his name, he admitted, "I am Adolf Eichmann."[12] A few days later, Eichmann signed a statement that he was voluntarily agreeing to stand trial in Israel. By May 23, 1960, Eichmann was safely in Israel and convincingly identified by witnesses who had known Eichmann. On that date, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made a startling announcement to the Knesset, the Israel parliament. “I have to announce in the Knesset that a short time ago one of the greatest of Nazi criminals was found by the Israeli Security Services: Adolf Eichmann. . . Adolf Eichmann is already under arrest in Israel, and he will shortly be brought to trial in Israel."[13]

Israel has always been a law-abiding democracy. Under its judicial system, Eichmann was afforded the rights of any accused criminal. He would be tried in a court of law with legal representation. The Israeli prosecutors would have to prove Eichmann’s guilt, his willing complicity in the murder of six million Jews. With the eyes of the world upon them, the prosecutors would have to prepare their case well.

Trying Adolf Eichmann

The Israeli government now had to prepare for Eichmann's trial. Israeli authorities had determined that Israeli law allowed Eichmann to be tried in Israel. International law and practice also allowed Israel to try Eichmann. In the words of a United Nations document,

"According to generally recognized doctrine. . . the right to punish war crimes is not confined to the State whose nationals have suffered or on whose territory the offence took place, but is possessed by any independent State whatsoever, just as is the right to punish the offence of piracy. This doctrine. . . has received the support of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and is generally accepted as sound."[14]


However, Israel still had to gauge the attitudes of the world regarding the means of Eichmann's capture. Would other nations object to the Israeli methods?

Israel paid particular attention to the attitudes of the three countries -- Argentina, West Germany and East Germany -- which may have had a case for demanding that the Eichmann trial be conducted in their courts.

At least one Argentine newspaper seemed to support the Israelis:

"How can we not admire a group of brave men who have during the years endangered their lives in searching throughout the world for these criminals and yet had the honesty to deliver him up for trial by judicial tribunals instead of being impelled by an impulse of revenge and finishing him off on the spot."[15]


Argentina did not request Eichmann's extradition, but filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council. Israel admitted the violation, and apologized to Argentina. With Argentina satisfied, the Security Council took no action. The method of Eichmann's capture soon faded as a topic of discussion. Most people seemed to find it unnecessary to examine the legal case for Israeli jurisdiction, and accepted the view expressed in an American newspaper editorial that a "Sense of proportion counsels that the human aspect of the Eichmann case takes precedence over protocol."[16]

Germany

Germany was still divided into two countries when Eichmann was captured. Neither Germany, however, requested Eichmann's extradition. East Germany made no public comment on the case. West Germany was supportive, and responded favorably to Israel's requests for assistance -- primarily to validate documents and to locate witnesses. The West German press supported this position. A major German newspaper summarized the views of the West German media in writing that,

"Adolf Eichmann has found his hunters and, above all, his judges. . . it is not for us to question the Israel authorities, who were able to put their hands on Eichmann, as to the methods of the arrest. We have no right to cite legalistic aspects of the question. In the last analysis, this would only serve to quieten [sic] our conscience. One who has brutally placed himself above the law and unscrupulously transgressed every cannon of nature has, it seems to us, foregone any right to any kind of solidarity. We in this country, who were unable to bring Eichmann to trial in our courts, should now have confidence in Israel jurisdiction: justice, not vengeance, will rule the day."[17]


Most of the world seemed to support Israel's actions, and agreed that Israel was legally allowed to try Eichmann. Under international legal principles and statutes, states have a legal right and responsibility to punish war crimes and crimes against humanity. No other state with a possible claim on Eichmann chose to exercise this claim.

Fair Trial

Eichmann would receive an appropriate trial. However, would Eichmann receive a fair trial? Gideon Hausner, the newly appointed Israeli Attorney-General (the chief prosecuting attorney for the government of Israel, not the equivalent to the United States Federal Attorney-General) and Eichmann's prosecutor, stated that:

". . . we faced a formidable task; we were bound to present an overwhelming legal argument to sweep away all juridical doubts, and we had to offer an immaculate factual case to establish beyond a shadow of doubt the truth of our allegations. Only after clearing the ground of all skeptical objections and lingering doubts could we aspire to establish the complete structure of our accusation."[18]


Concerns about fairness ended when people saw how the defendant was treated. Eichmann had the right to legal counsel of his own choosing -- he selected Dr. Robert Servatius, a German lawyer with experience defending accused war criminals. Israel not only paid for part of the defense, but the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a special law enabling Dr. Servatius, a non-Israeli, to appear before an Israel court. German newspapers praised Eichmann's treatment: " . . . since his capture, Eichmann has been subjected to orderly proceedings and all the legal means have been made available to him for an adequate defense."[19]

The Focus of the Eichmann Trial

Establishing Eichmann's guilt was only one goal of the trial, perhaps not even the primary goal. During the trial, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion would write that "It is not the punishment that is the main thing here but the fact that the trial is taking place, and is taking place in Jerusalem."[20] Ben-Gurion saw two goals for the trial, outside of its customary judicial purposes. One goal was to remind the world of the Holocaust and what Ben-Gurion considered the world's obligations to support the only Jewish state on Earth. The second was to impress the lessons of the Holocaust on the Israelis, especially on the younger generation. Thus, the three judge panel that would, according to Israeli law, decide Eichmann's guilt or innocence, was only one of several audiences for the prosection's case.

There was a clear need, in 1960 and 1961, to educate many Israelis about the Holocaust, especially the younger Israelis born in Israel. They had grown up in a vibrant, developing country. Life was not easy, however. Israel was surrounded by enemies intent on its destruction. The country's survival was never assured.

There was one key difference, however, between the crises faced by the Jews in Israel and those faced by the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Israelis always felt that they could defend themselves, that they could strike back at their enemies. They had a difficult time understanding how the European Jews could have accepted their treatment without resisting. These feelings caused resentment, and the Holocaust became a troubling subject to discuss.

The Holocaust was almost ignored in Israel. Teachers did not know how to teach it in school. Many of these teachers, in fact, were Holocaust survivors, and the memory was too painful. Survivors did not want to talk about what they had gone through, not being ready to relive the horror. Guilt feelings over surviving, when so many others had died, plagued survivors. The young, in particular, were not willing to listen. They could not understand a world so foreign to their own. The contemptuous nickname "pieces of soap" was applied to survivors, the term stemming from reports that Nazis had made soap from the bodies of Holocaust victims. The question in the minds of the Sabras (native born Israelies) remained "Why did they not resist?" This attitude towards the Holocaust was still prevalent in Israel when Isser Harel and his Mossad agents captured Eichmann.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was determined to educate Israel and the world about the Holocaust. The one exception to Israeli democratic procedures noted in reports of the trial was that from time to time Ben-Gurion issued instructions to Gideon Hausner to stress educational aspects. Prosecutors are supposed to be independent of political considerations. Hausner, however, shared the Prime Minister's desire to inform and educate as well as determine Eichmann's judicial guilt. They both wanted the trial to be more than just a dry presentation of documents. The way to achieve this, the way to put flesh and soul to the dry statistics, was through the testimony of witnesses.

The Nazis had been careful to document all their activities, including the murder of the Jews. Many of these documents survived despite belated German attempts to destroy the records as the war came to a close. The Israelis accumulated a vast amount of those documents, from their own government and private archives and from investigations in Europe and the rest of the world. Near the end of the investigation, Hausner asked Dr. Robert M. W. Kempner, the assistant United States Chief Counsel at the 1945 Nuremberg war crimes trials, and an expert on Nazi documentation, to take a look at what the Israelis had. Kempner replied that Israel's material "surpassed by far that which was known to the prosecution authorities at Nuremberg."[21] These documents alone could have convicted Eichmann. As Hausner put it, "a fraction of [the documents] would have sufficed to get Eichmann sentenced ten times over."[22]

However, Hausner and Ben-Gurion wanted the world to hear the testimonies of those who had survived the horror in which Eichmann played such a pivotal role. Hausner asserted that, "We needed more than a conviction; we needed a living record of a gigantic human and national disaster, though it could never been more than a feeble record of the real events. . . I decided that the case would rest on two main pillars instead of one: both documents and oral evidence."[23]

Each witness would be asked to tell his or her own small portion of the Holocaust story. Together they would present a human picture of the Holocaust to accompany the overwhelming documentary evidence.

Many of the witnesses, however, were reluctant to talk in open court. Some wanted to forget. Others were afraid they would not be believed. Some had actually been disbelieved when they emerged from hiding after the war. Yet Hausner successfully appealed to their sense of duty, and to their deep-seated desire to tell their story to the world. Hausner eventually called 112 witnesses, mostly Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Hausner Decides on the Charges

Gideon Hausner, as chief prosecutor, had the responsibility of deciding how Eichmann would be charged. He had to decide whether the charge sheet would limited, specifying particular acts about which Israeli evidence was stronger. This would have simplified the legal arguments. "But then," Hausner later wrote," I would have had to limit my evidence to [the specified] incidents alone and thus miss the point of the trial: the covering of the whole Jewish disaster."[24]

The alternative was to go with broader charges "imputing to Eichmann responsibility for all his widely ranging criminal activities and using particular instances as proof of his exception malice. . . ."[25] This had problems, as it would require broad, comprehensive proof to substantiate prosecution claims. It ran the danger that, during the trial, some of Hausner's evidence would seem irrelevant to Eichmann's guilt or innocence. It also ran the political danger that if Eichmann were acquitted on some of the major charges, even if it did not affect the final result, the public image would be that his guilt and responsibility was overstated.

Hausner selected the broader approach, charging Eichmann with guilt for the Holocaust in all the occupied territories. Hausner cited two legal reasons, in addition to wanting the clear opportunity to cover the entire Jewish disaster. Eichmann was head of the RSHA (German security service within the SS) charged with carrying out the Final Solution. If Eichmann's position was as central as the prosecution charged, than he shared responsibility for all of the Holocaust. This is a common principle of law, including in the American legal system, that every active participant in a crime is responsible for the results of the crime. The driver of the getaway car is as responsible for the shooting death of the bank teller as the man or woman who actually pulled the trigger.

The general approach to charging Eichmann was selected. The specific charges would be drafted, and read at the start of the trial.

Conclusions from the Investigation

Eichmann had been given a task to perform. He was given this task because of the initiative and creativity he had shown in earlier assignments, particularly the deportation of Jews from Austria. Eichmann tried to present himself as just an ordinary bureaucrat. Admittedly he was doing extraordinary work, but he claimed to be so locked into an inflexible structure that he could do nothing either to change the murderous work or his role in the work. In reality, the prosecution already knew that Eichmann was anything but a rubber stamp bureaucrat. Hausner's team knew that Eichmann was inflexible only as to his goal, killing as many Jews as possible. They knew that he did what was necessary to reach his goal. The prosecutors knew that Eichmann showed characteristic initiative and creativity in pursuit of cold blooded murder. The prosecution now had to prove this in court.

The Trial Opens

Adolf Eichmann walked to his bullet-proof glass cubicle a little before 9AM, April 11, 1961, eleven months, to the day, after his capture in Argentina. "The man in the glass booth," he would come to be known. "As [Eichmann] silently entered the packed courtroom there was an audible gasp,"[26] chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner later noted. Eichmann had been seen by only a few people since his arrival in Israel. Even Hausner had not seen Eichmann before trial began. In his book on the trial, Hausner wrote that "externally there was little to indicate his nature."[27] Eichmann's eyes would flash intently, almost angrily, at times, especially when later in the trial his testimony was contradicted during cross examination, but otherwise he appeared gray and colorless.

The bullet-proof glass behind which Eichmann sat protected him from potential dangers, however unlikely, from anyone in the audience. Eichmann had been kept in secure facilities during interrogation and while awaiting trial. He was guarded to prevent rescue, and to ensure his safety from misguided vengeance, or from Nazis who might be seeking to silence him. A guard had been in his cell at all times, to prevent suicide. Several letters had arrived, directly or indirectly urging this action. Authorities even confiscated one that contained half a razor blade under the stamps. Eichmann may have been in no danger, but the Israelis were not going to take chances.

Jerusalem's nearly completed cultural center was borrowed for the trial. High metal fences surrounded the building during its use as a court. It was heavily guarded, with all visitors being frisked and their bags searched.

During the trial, a courtroom was located in a temporarily converted auditorium. There were also judges' chambers, offices for the defense and prosecution staffs, court archives and a secure holding area to keep Eichmann when the court was not in session. A large hall beneath the courtroom, which later became a municipal library, was set aside for the press.

At one end of the courtroom the highest tier of a raised platform was reserved for the three judges, who sat behind a table with wood panels in front. Court stenographers, keeping the official records of the trial, sat at the sides of the judges' area. Translators sat in front and on a lower level. The official court language was Hebrew, Israel's national language. Many witnesses, including Eichmann himself, spoke in German. All proceedings were available in both these languages, as well English, French, and Yiddish (a German dialect spoken by Jews from Eastern Europe). Despite the best intentions of the Israelis, however, the translations varied in quality. At times the judges, who spoke German as well as Hebrew, had to step in and directly supervise the translation to and from German.

Eichmann's glass cubicle was in front and to the left, the witness box in front and to the right. They faced each other. Literally as well as symbolically the accused could confront his accusers, and they could confront him. Defense and prosecution tables faced the judges.

Every person in the courtroom, including Adolf Eichmann, rose to their feet as the three judges entered and took their seats. The judges were dressed in black robes. On the wall behind the judges was the seal of the State of Israel, the seven-branched candelabra called a menorah, a Jewish symbol since ancient times. Eichmann, on trial for his role in a dead regime which had tried to destroy the Jewish people, was standing to honor the representatives of a democratic Jewish state.

The Israeli judicial system evolved from the English system that was in place in 1948 when Israel became independent. English legal precedents are often cited in Israeli courts, as are decisions from the similar American system. These give a relatively young country a broader range of legal precedent. The resulting system contains many elements familiar to Americans, including the need for the prosecutor to prove a case. The system is, however, Israeli, not English or American.

Juries are not used in Israeli trials. Cases are heard by a single judge or, in major cases before a district court (including cases that can result in long term imprisonment or the death penalty) a panel of three judges. When a panel of judges is used, decision is by majority vote.

The few trials in Israel that might result in the death penalty -- only acts of genocide and some war crimes -- must be presided over by a member of the Supreme Court. Justice Moshe Landau, German born, would preside over the Eichmann trial. Benjamin Halevy, President of the Jerusalem District Court, and Yitzhak Raveh, a member of the Tel Aviv District Court, were the other two judges. Both were also born and educated in Germany. They all had come to Palestine at the very beginning of the Nazi era, so none had directly experienced the Holocaust.

Conclusions

After a trial of about a year, Eichmann was convicted on all but a few minor charges. He was sentenced to death and, after an appeal, hanged.

As to the longer term results of the trial, the trial may not have expelled the ghost of Hitler and his accomplices. The more recent genocidal campaigns in places such as Bosnia, Cambodia, and Darfur make this terribly clear. However, the trial at least it made the world more aware of these ghosts. Whether Eichmann was a monster, an obsessed bureaucrat, or both, the trial provided a vivid record of how men who put their conscience aside can do as much damage as outright evil men.

The trial exposed the world to the horrors of the Holocaust. Hausner's education strategy worked. His was not a perfect case, sometimes leaning too far towards education and away from establishing guilt, but most observers felt Hausner had connected Eichmann to the Holocaust sufficiently to warrant the guilty verdict and the death sentence.

The Eichmann trial brought the Holocaust to the forefront in Israel. Hausner began receiving letters even before the trial ended. "A girl [living in Israel] wrote saying she had no uncles and aunts to visit on Saturdays and holidays, like the other children, but had never understood before why they were all dead."[28] Many other letters followed, from Israel and from other countries.

This portion of the past would never be buried as it has been in the early years of the state. As Israeli historian Tom Segev later wrote, in his study of Israel and the Holocaust,

"Never had Israel lived the horror of the Holocaust as it did in these months. . . The Eichmann trial marked the beginnings of a dramatic shift in the way Israelis related to the Holocaust. The terrifying stories that broke forth from the depths of silence brought about a process of identification with the suffering of the victims and the survivors."[29]


Finally, the Eichmann trial was about the ultimate defeat of ultimate evil, Nazi Germany. It is about the triumph of the chief victims of Nazi Germany, the Jews, over the Nazis. In his memoir of the trial, written several years later, Gideon Hausner summarized its significance.

"Now it was the Jews themselves who could decide what was best for their position. They could do so because they had their own machinery of justice, their own prosecutors and their own policemen. The trial was thus, in itself, an overwhelming manifestation of the revolution in the position of the Jewish people that has taken place in this generation."[30]


Adapted and updated from
Bruce L. Brager
The Trial of Adolf Eichmann: The Holocaust on Trial
San Diego: Lucent Books, 1999 

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2007 Bruce L. Brager 

Written by Bruce L. Brager. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Bruce L. Brager at:
bbrager@juno.com.

About the author:
Bruce Brager is a writer specializing in military history, defense and foreign policy. He is the author of ten published books and over fifty published articles.

Published online: 01/26/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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