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Eichmann: From Capture to Trial


Escape and Capture

  After Germany's unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, Eichmann's dispiritedS.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. Hisattempt 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 wasrecaptured, but was never recognized as Eichmann by Allied authorities. In thecamp, he used the alias S.S. Lt. Otto Eckmann.

  During the Nuremberg Trial, Eichmann's name surfaced again and again as aprincipal in the conspiracy to kill all of the Jews of Europe. Terrified that hewould 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 forhim. 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 INARGENTINA. Argentina was a comfortable place at that time for Nazis and theirsympathizers. Within two years, he felt safe enough to send for his family. HEWORKED FIRST AS A SURVEYOR IN A SMALL MOUNTAIN VILLAGE. AFTER TWO YEARS, HE FELTSAFE ENOUGH TO BRING HIS WIFE AND THREE SONS OVER FROM GERMANY. THEY EVENTUALLYMOVED TO BUENOS AIRES. HE WORKED ON A RABBIT FARM, THEN AS A MECHANIC AT THEARGENTINE 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 invitedEichmann to co-write a book about his experiences during the war. Over 600typewritten pages of material was prepared through interviews with Eichmann, andsome of this material was condensed and published in Life Magazine. Theseinterviews 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'SDUTY TO TELL THE STORY OF THE CRIMES AGAINST THE JEWS AND TO CATCH THE WARCRIMINALS RESPONSIBLE. HE HAD ANNOUNCED THAT ADOLF EICHMANN "MUST BE BROUGHT TOJUSTICE IF HE IS STILL ALIVE." Nazi hunters, among them Simon Wiesenthal andTuvia Friedmann, augmented official Israeli government pursuers, but could notfind a trace of the infamous Eichmann.

  BUT IN THE FALL OF 1959 THE ISRAELIS GOT A TIP THAT EICHMANN WAS LIVING IN A POORSUBURB OF BUENOS AIRES, UNDER THE NAME OF RICARDO KLEMENT.

  ISRAEL SENT SPECIAL AGENTS TO ARGENTINA AND THEY KEPT EICHMANN UNDER SURVEILLANCEFOR MONTHS. THEY PHOTOGRAPHED HIS HOUSE FROM EVERY ANGLE, DREW UP DETAILED MAPS. UNDERCOVER, THEY ASKED HIM FOR DIRECTIONS, TAKING PICTURES OF HIM WITH A CAMERAHIDDEN IN A BRIEFCASE. FINALLY, ON MAY 11, 1960, THEY STRUCK. THEY GRABBEDEICHMANN AFTER HE GOT OFF A BUS ON HIS WAY HOME FROM WORK AND TOOK HIM TO ASAFEHOUSE FOR QUESTIONING. HE SIGNED A STATEMENT SAYING HE WAS WILLING TO STANDTRIAL:

   "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 CONTINUINGTO EVADE JUSTICE. I DECLARE MYSELF WILLING TO PROCEED TO ISRAEL AND TO STANDTRIAL 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 Eichmann Capture

  World reaction to the capture of Eichmann was fiercely opinionated, both pro andcon. The Washington Post editorialized that "anything connected with theindictment of Eichmann is tainted with lawlessness" (May 27, 1960) and protestedthe trial. The New York Times wrote that "No immoral or illegal act justifiesanother...the rule of law must protect the most depraved criminals." (June 18,1960).

  Yet other editorials argued that the end justified the means. There wasunanimity of rejoicing and pride for the capture in the Israeli press.

  The government of Argentina expressed its outrage, and the capture provoked aninternational firestorm. Argentina declared the incident in violation of itsinternational sovereignty. On June 15, it filed an official complaint with theUN and asked for a meeting to consider "the violation of its sovereign rightscreating an atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust incompatible with thepreservation of international peace."

  The UN convened a special session to discuss the incident. Argentina called onIsrael to punish the perpetrators and make reparations for violations ofterritorial sovereignty committed by its nationals. At that time, it was notclear whether the brazen capture had been carried out by official governmentsanction or by Holocaust survivors seeking justice.

  However, Argentina never did demand that Eichmann be returned. The IsraelForeign 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 thatin this case, a violation of law was justified.

  The United States representative to the U.N., Henry Cabot Lodge, acknowledgedthat Argentina's complaint was legitimate, but suggested that the resolution ofthis complaint by Argentina be amended to express the concern that Eichmannshould be brought to justice. Ambassador Lodge brokered an agreement whichresulted in Israel's apology for the action, with the understanding thatArgentina 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. OnAugust 5, diplomatic contacts between representatives of the two nations resultedin a joint communiquÚ which stated that the matter which "infringed fundamentalrights 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 SIDEBY SIDE WITH THE INVESTIGATORS WHO WERE BUILDING THE CASE AGAINST HIM. InIsrael, criminal investigations are the responsibility of the Police. A specialinvestigative bureau was established, called Bureau 06 (before the capture,Israel had five police bureaus). It was staffed chiefly by German-speakingofficers. Extraordinary security precautions were taken to thwart escape or arescue commando raid. Even anti-aircraft weapons were installed at the compound.

  EVERY DAY, THE INVESTIGATORS RECORDED THEIR INTERROGATION OF EICHMANN. THE TAPESWERE TRANSCRIBED EVERY NIGHT AND THE NEXT MORNING, THE PRISONER WAS GIVEN HISCHANCE 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
copyright © 1997 Gary M. Grobman

Note: Material in all capital letters is copyrighted by otherindividuals/organizations.


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