ABC News and PBS Present The Trial of Adolf Eichmann




Return to
Classroom
Activities


Background & History

WWII, the Holocaust, and Eichmann

From Capture to Trial

Trial Info

Vocabulary

Discussion Questions

Evaluation

Teacher's Guide
 

Eichmann: Trial Info


Charges Against Eichmann

  Eichmann was charged under a 1950 Israeli law enacted to punish Nazis and theircollaborators. He was charged on 15 counts:

Charge 1: He was ultimately responsible for the murder of millions of Jews.

Charge 2: He placed these Jews, before they were murdered, in living conditionsdesigned to kill them.

Charge 3: He caused them grave physical and mental harm.

Charge 4: He took actions which resulted in the sterilization of Jews andotherwise prevented childbirth.

Charge 5: He caused the enslavement, starvation, and deportation of millions ofJews.

Charge 6: He caused general persecution of Jews based on national, racial,religious and political grounds.

Charge 7: He spoiled Jewish property by inhuman measures involving compulsion,robbery, terrorism and violence.

Charge 8: That all of the above were punishable war crimes.

Charge 9: He deported a half-million Poles.

Charge 10: He deported 14,000 Slovenes.

Charge 11: He deported tens of thousands of gypsies.

Charge 12: He deported and murdered 100 Czech children from the village ofLidice.

  The final three charges involved membership in organizations which were judged tobe criminal by the Nuremberg Trials: the S.D., Gestapo, and S.S.

  The first 12 counts of the indictment each carried the death penalty as themaximum punishment.

The court

  The three-judge panel trying the case consisted of Justice Moshe Landau, Dr.Benjamin Halevy, and Dr. Yitzhak Raveh. Justice Landau was a member of theIsraeli Supreme Court. He was born in Poland and educated in London, Dr. Halevywas the president of the Jerusalem District Court and a graduate of BerlinUniversity. Dr. Raveh was a member of the Tel Aviv District Court and hademigrated from Germany in 1933, when Jews there first began to feel threats totheir physical security from the government. All of the judges were fluent inGerman.

The Prosecution team

  The team charged with handling the prosecution of the case was headed by IsraelAttorney General Gideon Hausner. Hausner came to Israel from his native Polandin 1927. He had served as a military prosecutor during Israel's War ofIndependence, and later was President of the military Court. He had beenappointed Attorney General just a few weeks. Assisting him was a team ofattorneys which included Dr. Jacob Robinson, who was an assistant to the Chiefprosecutor at the Nuremburg Tribunal, Gabriel Bach, a native of Germany who waseducated in Britain, and Jacob Baror, the German-born District Attorney of TelAviv whose decendents were Orthodox rabbis. Zvi Terlo, an Assistant StateAttorney, also assisted the effort.

The Eichmann defense

  Although several prominent U.S. law firms volunteered to represent Eichmann, HEASKED DR. ROBERT SERVATIUS TO REPRESENT HIM. SERVATIUS WAS A WELL-KNOWN GERMANLAWYER FROM COLOGNE WHO HAD BEEN A DEFENSE COUNSELOR AT THE NUREMBERG TRIALS. BUT EICHMANN COULD NOT AFFORD HIM, SO ISRAEL AGREED TO PAY HIS FEE (of $30,000)AND THE SIXTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD LAWYER ARRIVED IN OCTOBER OF 1960 TO TALK WITH HISCLIENT FOR THE FIRST TIME. HE HAD TO HAVE A STRATEGY THAT WOULD COUNTER THEWELL-LAID PLANS OF THE ISRAELI PROSECUTORS.

  Dr. Servatius was assisted by Dieter Wechtenbruch, a young attorney from Munich.

Prosecution strategy

  The basic strategy of the prosecution was to--

    1. argue that under the doctrine advanced by the defense, Hitler alone would besolely responsible for these crimes, and Hitler would be immune as a head ofstate.

    2. give a human side to the horror by having survivor testimony.

    3. use Eichmann's own words to belie the fact that he was a disinterestedbureaucrat only carrying out orders, but rather was passionate in his obsessionwith killing Jews.

    4. use incriminating testimony from his colleagues at the Nuremberg Trials, thecontents of thousands of documents, many of which were signed by Eichmann, andthe Sassen interviews.

Defense Strategy

  FOR TWO MONTHS, HE SAT WATCHING AND LISTENING. NOW AS THE PROSECUTION RESTED ITSCASE, EICHMANN HAD TO PREPARE FOR HIS ONE CHANCE FOR SURVIVAL, TAKING THE STANDTO DEFEND HIMSELF.

  IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR EICHMANN TO DENY HIS ROLE IN KILLING EUROPE'S JEWS. EICHMANN AND SERVATIUS ADOPTED THE DEFENSE STRATEGY THAT HAD BEEN USED ATNUREMBERG. SINCE HE COULD NOT DISAVOW THE CRIMES, HE DISAVOWED THERESPONSIBILITY FOR THEM. HE WAS JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS.EICHMANN'S DEFENSE WAS DESIGNED TO LET THE S.S. OFFICER FADE FROM THE STAND ANDREPLACE HIM WITH THE BENEVOLENT BUREAUCRAT, A MAN WHOSE ACTIONS HAD BEENMISREPRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION. HE EVEN WENT SO FAR AS TO CLAIM THAT HISEARLY ACTIONS DURING THE PERIOD OF FORCED EMIGRATION HAD BEEN FOR THE BENEFIT OFTHE JEWS.

  The basic strategy of the defense was to--

    1. not cross-examine survivors of the concentration camps who testified.

    2. concentrate on the issues of the trial.

    3. avoid engaging in purposefully delaying tactics.

    4. contest the trial's legality.

    5. contest the judges' ability to be impartial.

    6. assert that the Nazi Punishment Law was invalid because it wasextraterritorial and ex post facto (i.e. enacted after an action was committedwhich may have been perfectly legal at the time it occurred).

    7. advance that Eichmann was not a part of the leadership which made decisions,but that he only carried them out.

    8. contend that he was unable to resist carrying out these orders.

    9. declare that on occasion, he took actions which stopped persecution andextermination of Jews.

    10. assert that he was present at key meetings not because he was part of theleadership conspiring to commit war crimes, but because it was his department'sduty to take the minutes of these meetings.

    11. declare that the court did not have jurisdiction because Eichmann had beenabducted from Argentina, and that only Argentina (or, perhaps, Germany sinceEichmann claimed citizenship status as a German) had jurisdiction to bringcharges against Eichmann.

    12. contend that Israel did not even exist when the alleged crimes occurred, sothe Israeli Court had no jurisdiction.

The Trial as a Media Event

  AN AMERICAN TELEVISION COMPANY (Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation) MADE THEUNPRECEDENTED REQUEST TO VIDEOTAPE THE ENTIRE TRIAL. Its request was granted bythe court a month prior to the start of the trial. Over the objections ofEichmann's attorney, THE TRIAL OF ADOLF EICHMANN WOULD BE THE FIRST TRIAL EVERTELEVISED.

  Most TV networks covered the trial in detail. Tapes were flown daily fromJerusalem to the United States. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC)presented one-hour weekly summaries on 60 of its stations, and half-hoursummaries were presented on its NY affiliate five days each week. Hundreds ofjournalists from all over the world arrived in Israel to cover the trial.

The Trial Begins

  A COMMUNITY THEATER IN JERUSALEM WAS CONVERTED INTO A 750-SEAT COURTROOM BIGENOUGH TO ACCOMMODATE THE LARGE NUMBERS OF SPECTATORS AND JOURNALISTS EXPECTED TOATTEND.

  THE ISRAELIS BUILT A BULLETPROOF GLASS BOOTH TO PROTECT EICHMANN. THE BOOTHWOULD BECOME THE TRIAL'S MOST ENDURING SYMBOL. THE AUTHORITIES WANTED TO TAKE NOCHANCES WITH THE SAFETY OF THEIR NOTORIOUS SUSPECT.

  WHEN THE DAY OF THE TRIAL ARRIVED, MONDAY, APRIL 11, 1961, SECURITY INSIDE ANDOUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE WAS VERY TIGHT.

  UNDER ISRAELI LAW, THE CASE WOULD BE DECIDED NOT BY A JURY BUT BY THREE JUDGES--PRESIDING JUDGE MOSHE LANDAU OF THE ISRAELI SUPREME COURT, JUDGE BENJAMIN HALEVYOF THE JERUSALEM DISTRICT COURT, AND JUDGE YITZHAK RAVEH OF THE TEL-AVIV DISTRICTCOURT. ALL THREE WERE EDUCATED IN GERMANY AND HAD EMIGRATED TO PALESTINE ASYOUNG MEN BEFORE THE WAR. THEY WOULD HEAR THE ACCUSED IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE. THERE WOULD BE NO CHANCE OF A TRANSLATOR MAKING A CRITICAL MISTAKE.

  BEFORE EICHMANN ENTERED HIS PLEA, HIS ATTORNEY ROSE TO PRESENT THEIR FIRST LINEOF DEFENSE. SERVATIUS ASKED THE COURT TO DISMISS THE CASE IMMEDIATELY. HE ARGUEDTHAT JEWISH JUDGES COULD NOT BE FAIR TO EICHMANN.

  ATTORNEY GENERAL HAUSNER RESPONDED THAT NO JUDGE, JEWISH OR OTHERWISE, COULD ORSHOULD BE OBJECTIVE ABOUT GENOCIDE.THE PRELIMINARY ARGUMENTS CONCLUDED ON A FRIDAY. THE JUDGES ADJOURNED THE COURTFOR THE WEEKEND PROMISING A RULING ON MONDAY.

  MONDAY, APRIL 18, 1961, THE COURTROOM FILLED TO CAPACITY WITH NEARLY EVERYONESPECULATING ON THE JUDGES' DECISION.

  AFTER A THOROUGH EVALUATION OF EICHMANN'S OBJECTIONS, THE COURT RULED THAT THEYDID NOT CONSTITUTE SUFFICIENT REASON TO DISMISS THE CASE. AS IN ANY TRIAL, THEJUDGES WOULD HAVE TO DIVORCE THEMSELVES FROM THEIR EMOTIONS.

  Judge Landau read over the indictment and asked the accused how he pleaded onthese charges.

  "In the sense of the indictment-not guilty."

  AND SO IT WENT FOR EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE 15 COUNTS AGAINST HIM. FOR EACHCHARGE, EICHMANN'S REPLY WAS THE SAME.

  It was the same response made by the accused at Nuremberg.

  IT WAS TIME FOR ISRAELI ATTORNEY GENERAL GIDEON HAUSNER TO MAKE HIS OPENINGSTATEMENT. HE HAD BEEN TROUBLED. HE FELT THAT SINCE HE WAS NOT A SURVIVOR, SINCEHE HAD NOT SUFFERED IN THE HOLOCAUST, PERHAPS HE WAS NOT QUALIFIED TO LEADEICHMANN'S PROSECUTION. BEFORE THE TRIAL STARTED, HE VISITED THE GHETTO FIGHTERSKIBBUTZ TO DISCUSS HIS DOUBTS WITH YITZHAK ZUCKERMAN AND HIS WIFE, AND OTHERLEADERS OF THE WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING.

  USING WITNESS TESTIMONY AND NAZI DOCUMENTS, HAUSNER BEGAN HIS TWO PART MISSION-TOCONVICT EICHMANN AND AT THE SAME TIME TO BRING A NEW GENERATION IN ISRAEL, ANDTHE WORLD, THE FULL STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST.

The effect of the trial on survivors

  During the trial, nearly 10,000 letters were sent to the Attorney General'soffice. The contents of most were wracked with pent-up emotion. Over 5,000 ofthese letters came from Israelis, many of them children who could not understandwhy millions of Jews of the Holocaust let themselves be victimized withoutfighting back. Many letters came from survivors, providing encouragement, tellingtheir stories, often for the first time. Hate letters and letters which madephysical threats also arrived. Eichmann also received hundreds ofcommunications.

  The trial and the accounts of the crimes against the Jews shocked the civilizedworld. For the first time, thousands of survivors became able to share theirstories with their families and the public. For 15 years, telling their storieswas often considered impolite, and many survivors could not put into words whathad happened to them, particularly when they feared that they would not bebelieved.

The verdict and sentence

  FOR FOUR MONTHS, THE TRIAL OF ADOLF EICHMANN HAD DOMINATED ISRAELI LIFE. FORMOST PEOPLE, EICHMANN'S GUILT WAS NEVER IN DOUBT. THE REAL QUESTION WAS, HOW TOPUNISH ONE MAN WHO HAD CAUSED THE DEATHS OF MILLIONS.

  ALTHOUGH THE WORLD HAD KNOWN ABOUT NAZI WAR CRIMES, IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE EICHMANNTRIAL THAT MOST PEOPLE BECAME AWARE OF THE HOLOCAUST. FOR A LARGE SECTION OF THEISRAELI PUBLIC, ALMOST NOTHING WAS KNOWN ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST PREVIOUSLY.

  ON DECEMBER 11, 1961, AFTER A FOUR-MONTH RECESS, THE THREE JUDGES RETURNED TOTHEIR BENCH WITH A VERDICT. IT HAD BEEN A YEAR AND A HALF SINCE EICHMANN'SCAPTURE. AND 16 YEARS SINCE THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH CAMPS. AND, FINALLY ITWAS TIME FOR EICHMANN TO BE JUDGED.

  EICHMANN WAS found GUILTY OF ALL 15 COUNTS AGAINST HIM, RESPONSIBLE, THE COURTSAID, FOR MILLIONS OF DEATHS. THE PARTICULARS OF HIS RANK AND HIS JOB DID NOTEXCUSE HIS ACTIONS. AND, FOR THE LAST TIME, HE SPOKE TO THE COURT.

  AND SO ENDED THE TRIAL OF THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH.

  The appeals filed by his attorney were not successful.

  ON JUNE 1, 1962, ADOLF EICHMANN WAS HANGED FOR CRIMES AGAINST THE JEWISH PEOPLE. STANDING UNDER THE GALLOWS BEFORE WITNESSES TO THE EXECUTION, HE SPOKE HIS FINAL WORDS:

"LONG LIVE GERMANY. LONG LIVE AUSTRIA. LONG LIVE ARGENTINA. I OWE A LOTTO THESE COUNTRIES AND I SHALL NOT FORGET THEM. I HAD TO OBEY THE RULES OF WARAND MY FLAG."

  IT WAS DECIDED THAT NO GRAVE WOULD MARK HIS LIFE, AND MORE IMPORTANT, FORSOME, HE WOULD HAVE NO RESTING PLACE IN ISRAEL. INSTEAD, HIS ASHES WOULD BEDISPERSED INTO THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA in international waters.

by Gary Grobman
copyright © 1997 Gary M. Grobman

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


Go to the top of the page


[ Home | Classroom | "In His Own Words" | Resources

Documentary Info | The Trial ]

PBS Online