ArrestUp until 1960, Eichmann and his family lived safely and undisturbed in Argentina. Eichmann was employed for quite some time as head of a sub department of the German car manufacturer Daimler-Benz. His carefree life came to a sudden end when the German attorney general Fritz Bauer was informed about the location of Eichmann by a former concentration camp inmate who lived in Argentina and contacted the Mossad in secret.
On May 11th, 1960 when he returned home from work by bus, Eichmann was arrested by Israeli agents of the Mossad (Israeli secret service). Eichmann offered no resistance during his arrest, was rendered unconscious by the agents and subsequently smuggled out of the country. Israël had not applied for extradition to the Argentinian government so his arrest was in fact illegal. Argentina filed a complaint with the United Nations but this body did not take action and backed Eichmann’s trial in Israël. After 15 years, one of the most important desk assassins of Hitler’s Reich had finally been arrested. He could now be punished for the crimes he had committed.
The Eichmann trialThe trial against Eichmann began on April 10th, 1961. It took place in the district courthouse of Jeruzalem. The sessions were chaired by three judges, namely Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landau (chief judge during the trial), the president of the district court of Jerualem Benjamin Halevi and finally the judge of the district court of Tel Aviv Yitschak Raveh. Chief prosecutor was Israël’s Attorney General, Gideon Hausner. Dr. Robert Servatius, a German lawyer who had defended Nazis before during the Nuremberg trial, defended Eichmann. Eichmann stood trial pursuant to the 1950 Law on Punishment of Nazis and Nazi collaborators. He was indicted on 15 counts, including:
- Crimes against the Jewish population,
crimes against humanity,
membership of the SS, SD and Gestapo (organisations that had been declared criminal during the Nuremberg Trial) and
crimes against Poles, Slovenians, Gypsies and Czechs
The chief prosecutor opened the proceedings with a summary of the Holocaust. He called 112 witnesses and in addition presented 1.600 documents. The documents contained much incriminating material and various papers had been signed by Eichmann. Thanks to these witnesses and the documents, it could be proved that Eichmann had been head of the Jewish Section of the Gestapo office for Jewish affairs within the RSHA. It was already known that the goal of this office had been the extermination of European Jewry. The facts were therefore of great disadvantage to the defendant.
Eichmann’s defense did not contest the facts of the prosecutor, nor the documents. Eichmann’s lawyer, Dr. Robert Servatius, decided to focus mainly on the legality of the trial. According to the defense, the trial was not legal for various reasons. First, Servatius wanted to show that the Jewish Israeli judges were prejudiced and therefore the trial against Eichmann could not be fair. Furthermore, in his view the trial was not legal as the defendant had been kidnapped and taken to Israël illegally. Servatius also questioned the legality of the trial taking place in Israel, because Eichmann had committed his crimes elsewhere and moreover, the country did not even exist at the time of the Second World War. Finally, according to the defense, the trial was held pursuant to an illegal law (ex post facto) because it had been introduced right after the end of the Holocaust.
The judges overruled all objections and Eichmann pleaded: "Ich erkläre mich im Sinne der Anklage unschuldig" (not guilty on all counts of the indictment). According to the defense, Eichmann had not acted on his own free will but only obeyed Hitler’s orders. This argument was also rejected by the judges. Eichmann was found guilty on all counts and was considered the key figure in the Endlösung. On December 15th, 1961, he was sentenced to death. Eichmann appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court but the verdict was maintained. He made a last attempt to evade the death penalty by lodging an appeal for clemency with the president of Israel, Itschak-Ben-Zvi but his appeal was rejected. There was no way Eichmann could evade the death penalty.
In the night of May 31st, - June 1st, 1962, Eichmann was hanged in Ramleh prison. His corpse was cremated and the ashes dispersed at sea, outside Israeli territorial waters.
Looking back on the Eichmann trial, the conclusion can be drawn that this sensational and questionable trial has led to an increased awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust. Thanks to this trial, people in Israel as well as in the rest of the world, paid more attention to the Holocaust. Many historians began delving deeper into this black page in history. In addition, the Eichmann trial led to persecution of other Nazi war criminals, especially in Western Germany so they too could be punished for their horrendous crimes against humanity.