Classroom Activities – Eichmann: From Capture to Trial
Escape and Capture
After Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, Eichmann’s dispirited S.S. unit awaited capture. An S.S. friend suggested that he would be better offescaping to the mountains because of his certain status as a war criminal. Hi sattempt to evade capture failed; he was taken prisoner by an American unit andwhisked off to a prisoner-of-war camp. After one successful escape, he was recaptured, but was never recognized as Eichmann by Allied authorities. In the camp, he used the alias S.S. Lt. Otto Eckmann.
During the Nuremberg Trial, Eichmann’s name surfaced again and again as a principal in the conspiracy to kill all of the Jews of Europe. Terrified that he would soon be discovered, HE SLIPPED AWAY FROM AN AMERICAN PRISONER-OF-WAR CAMP,35 MILES FROM NUREMBERG, AND DISAPPEARED INTO THE MOUNTAINS OF CENTRAL GERMANY. HE ADOPTED THE NAME OTTO HENNINGER AND BECAME A CHICKEN FARMER.
When the International Nuremberg Tribunal unanimously identified Eichmann to bethe Nazi bureaucrat in charge of mass murder of the Jews, many people fanned out,including survivors seeking to avenge the murder of their families, searching for him. He found refuge for a time in a monastery in Italy where he was given arefugee passport with the name Ricardo Klement.
IN 1950, WITH THE HELP OF THE NAZI UNDERGROUND, EICHMANN FLED GERMANY TO HIDE IN ARGENTINA. Argentina was a comfortable place at that time for Nazis and their sympathizers. Within two years, he felt safe enough to send for his family. HE WORKED FIRST AS A SURVEYOR IN A SMALL MOUNTAIN VILLAGE. AFTER TWO YEARS, HE FELTS AFE ENOUGH TO BRING HIS WIFE AND THREE SONS OVER FROM GERMANY. THEY EVENTUALLY MOVED TO BUENOS AIRES. HE WORKED ON A RABBIT FARM, THEN AS A MECHANIC AT THE ARGENTINE MERCEDES BENZ PLANT. AND HE SOON BECAME A FOREMAN AND WAS BUILDING ANEW LIFE.
In 1956, he was approached by a Dutch ex-Nazi, Wilhelm Sassen, who invited Eichmann to co-write a book about his experiences during the war. Over 600 typewritten pages of material was prepared through interviews with Eichmann, and some of this material was condensed and published in Life Magazine. These interviews provided a profusion of information useful to prosecutors before andduring his trial.
DAVID BEN-GURION, ISRAEL’S FIRST PRIME MINISTER, said that IT WAS HIS NATION’S DUTY TO TELL THE STORY OF THE CRIMES AGAINST THE JEWS AND TO CATCH THE WAR CRIMINALS RESPONSIBLE. HE HAD ANNOUNCED THAT ADOLF EICHMANN “MUST BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE IF HE IS STILL ALIVE.” Nazi hunters, among them Simon Wiesenthal and Tuvia Friedmann, augmented official Israeli government pursuers, but could not find a trace of the infamous Eichmann.
BUT IN THE FALL OF 1959 THE ISRAELIS GOT A TIP THAT EICHMANN WAS LIVING IN A POOR SUBURB OF BUENOS AIRES, UNDER THE NAME OF RICARDO KLEMENT.
ISRAEL SENT SPECIAL AGENTS TO ARGENTINA AND THEY KEPT EICHMANN UNDER SURVEILLANCE FOR MONTHS. THEY PHOTOGRAPHED HIS HOUSE FROM EVERY ANGLE, DREW UP DETAILED MAPS. UNDERCOVER, THEY ASKED HIM FOR DIRECTIONS, TAKING PICTURES OF HIM WITH A CAMERA HIDDEN IN A BRIEFCASE. FINALLY, ON MAY 11, 1960, THEY STRUCK. THEY GRABBED EICHMANN AFTER HE GOT OFF A BUS ON HIS WAY HOME FROM WORK AND TOOK HIM TO A SAFEHOUSE FOR QUESTIONING. HE SIGNED A STATEMENT SAYING HE WAS WILLING TO STAND TRIAL:
“I, THE UNDERSIGNED, ADOLF EICHMANN, STATE HEREWITH OF MY OWN FREE WILL,SINCE MY TRUE IDENTITY HAS BEEN REVEALED, THAT THERE IS NO POINT IN MY CONTINUING TO EVADE JUSTICE. I DECLARE MYSELF WILLING TO PROCEED TO ISRAEL AND TO STAND TRIAL THERE BEFORE A COMPETENT COURT.”
THE ISRAELIS DRUGGED HIM AND SMUGGGLED HIM OUT OF THE COUNTRY TO ISRAEL, AND,ONCE THERE, HE WAS BOOKED AND PROCESSED LIKE ANY CRIMINAL SUSPECT.
World reaction to the capture of Eichmann was fiercely opinionated, both pro and con. The Washington Post editorialized that “anything connected with the indictment of Eichmann is tainted with lawlessness” (May 27, 1960) and protested the trial. The New York Times wrote that “No immoral or illegal act justifies another…the rule of law must protect the most depraved criminals.” (June 18,1960).
Yet other editorials argued that the end justified the means. There was unanimity of rejoicing and pride for the capture in the Israeli press.
The government of Argentina expressed its outrage, and the capture provoked an international firestorm. Argentina declared the incident in violation of its international sovereignty. On June 15, it filed an official complaint with theUN and asked for a meeting to consider “the violation of its sovereign rights creating an atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust incompatible with the preservation of international peace.”
The UN convened a special session to discuss the incident. Argentina called on Israel to punish the perpetrators and make reparations for violations of territorial sovereignty committed by its nationals. At that time, it was not clear whether the brazen capture had been carried out by official government sanction or by Holocaust survivors seeking justice.
However, Argentina never did demand that Eichmann be returned. The Israel Foreign Minister at the time and future Prime Minister, American-born Golda Meir,apologized on behalf of her adopted country for the breech of law, but said that in this case, a violation of law was justified.
The United States representative to the U.N., Henry Cabot Lodge, acknowledged that Argentina’s complaint was legitimate, but suggested that the resolution of this complaint by Argentina be amended to express the concern that Eichmann should be brought to justice. Ambassador Lodge brokered an agreement which resulted in Israel’s apology for the action, with the understanding that Argentina would not request that Eichman be returned.
Argentina did not find the form of Israel’s apology acceptable and sent Israel’sambassador packing for home. But diplomatic relations were never severed. On August 5, diplomatic contacts between representatives of the two nations resulted in a joint communiquÚ which stated that the matter which “infringed fundamental rights of the State of Argentina” was now considered closed.
Treatment of Eichmann before the Trial
HE WAS TAKEN TO A REMOTE TOP-SECURITY PRISON WHERE HE SPENT 11 MONTHS LIVING SIDE BY SIDE WITH THE INVESTIGATORS WHO WERE BUILDING THE CASE AGAINST HIM. InIsrael, criminal investigations are the responsibility of the Police. A special investigative bureau was established, called Bureau 06 (before the capture,Israel had five police bureaus). It was staffed chiefly by German-speaking officers. Extraordinary security precautions were taken to thwart escape or a rescue commando raid. Even anti-aircraft weapons were installed at the compound.
EVERY DAY, THE INVESTIGATORS RECORDED THEIR INTERROGATION OF EICHMANN. THE TAPES WERE TRANSCRIBED EVERY NIGHT AND THE NEXT MORNING, THE PRISONER WAS GIVEN HIS CHANCE TO CORRECT THEM.IN THE END, EICHMANN’S DESCRIPTION OF HIS LIFE WOULD FILL MORE THAN 3,500 PAGES. Every page was submitted to him for his initialed corrections. A PICTURE OF A MANWAS EMERGING.
by Gary Grobman
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