Eichmann on trial, 1961; Eichmann in Jerusalem court.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Otto Adolf Eichmann (March 19, 1906 – May 31, 1962), sometimes
referred to as "the architect of the Holocaust", was a Nazi and SS-Obersturmbannführer
(equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel). Because of his organizational
talents and ideological reliability, he was charged by Obergruppenführer
Reinhard Heydrich with the task of facilitating and managing the
logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps
in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.
After the war, he travelled to Argentina using a fraudulently
obtained laissez-passer issued by the International Red Cross and lived
there under a false identity working for Mercedes-Benz until 1960. He
was captured by Israeli Mossad operatives in Argentina and tried in an
Israeli court on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity
and war crimes. He was convicted and hanged in 1962.
Born in Solingen, Germany, Adolf Eichmann was the son of a businessman
and industrialist, Adolf Karl Eichmann, and Maria née Schefferling. In
1914, his family moved to Linz, Austria, after his mother died. During
the First World War, Eichmann's father served in the Austro-Hungarian
Army. At the war's conclusion, Eichmann's father returned to the family
and had a business in Linz. Eichmann left high school—Realschule—without
having graduated and began training to become a mechanic, which he also
discontinued. In 1923 he started working in the mining company of his
father, from 1925 to 1927 he worked as a salesclerk for the
Oberösterreichische Elektrobau AG and then until spring 1933 Eichmann
worked as district agent for the Vacuum Oil Company AG, a subsidiary of
Standard Oil. In July 1933 he moved back to Germany.
Eichmann married Veronica Liebl (1909–1997) on March 21, 1935. The
couple had four sons: Klaus Eichmann (b. 1936 in Berlin), Horst Adolf
Eichmann (b. 1940 in Vienna), Dieter Helmut Eichmann (b. 1942 in
Prague), and Ricardo Francisco Eichmann (b. 1955 in Buenos Aires).
Work with the Nazi Party and the SS
On the advice of family friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Eichmann joined the
Austrian branch of the NSDAP—member number 889 895—and of the
Schutzstaffel (SS). He enlisted on April 1, 1932, as an SS-Anwärter
(Candidate). He was accepted as a full SS member that November,
appointed an SS-Mann (Man), and assigned the SS number 45326.
For the next year, Eichmann was a member of the Allgemeine SS and
served in a mustering formation operating from Salzburg. In 1933 when
the Nazis came to power, Eichmann returned to Germany and submitted an
application to join the active duty SS regiments. He was accepted, and
in November 1933, was promoted to Scharführer (Squad Leader) and
assigned to the administrative staff of the Dachau concentration camp.
By 1934, Eichmann requested transfer into the Sicherheitspolizei
(Security Police) which had, by that time, become a very powerful and
feared organization. Eichmann's transfer was granted in November 1934,
and he was assigned to the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in
Berlin. In 1935, Eichmann was promoted to Hauptscharführer (Head Squad
Leader) and later commissioned as an SS-Untersturmführer in 1937.
In 1937, Eichmann was sent to the British Mandate of Palestine with
his superior Herbert Hagen to assess the possibilities of massive Jewish
emigration from Germany to Palestine. They landed in Haifa but could
obtain only a transit visa so they went on to Cairo. There, they met
Feival Polkes, an agent of the Haganah, who discussed with them the
plans of the Zionists and tried to enlist their assistance in
facilitating Jewish emigration from Europe. According to an answer
Eichmann gave at his trial, he had also planned to meet Arab leaders in
Palestine, but this never happened because entry to Palestine was
refused by the British authorities. The British objected against a
Jewish state in Palestine, so the idea of deporting all the European
Jews to Palestine was abandoned.
In 1938, Eichmann was assigned to Austria to help organize SS
Security Forces in Vienna after the Anschluss of Austria moved into
Germany. Through this effort, Eichmann was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer
(1st Lieutenant) and, by the end of 1938, Eichmann had been selected by
the SS leadership to form the Central Office for Jewish Emigration,
charged with forcibly deporting and expelling Jews from Austria.
World War II
At the start of World War II, Eichmann had been promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer
(captain) and had made a name for himself with his Office for Jewish
Emigration. Through this work Eichmann made several contacts in the
Zionist movement, which he worked with to speed up Jewish emigration
from the Third Reich.
Eichmann returned to Berlin in 1939 after the formation of the
Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office). In December
1939, he was assigned to head RSHA Referat IV B4, the RSHA department
which dealt with Jewish affairs and evacuation. He was Heinrich
"Gestapo" Müller's subordinate. In August 1940, he released his
Reichssicherheitshauptamt: Madagaskar Projekt (Reich Main Security
Office: Madagascar Project), a plan for forced Jewish deportation that
never materialized. He was promoted to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer
(Major) in late 1940, and less than a year later to Obersturmbannführer
Heydrich disclosed to Eichmann in autumn 1941 that all the Jews in
German-controlled Europe were to be exterminated. In 1942, Heydrich
ordered Eichmann to attend the Wannsee Conference as recording
secretary, where Germany's anti-Semitic measures were set down into an
official policy of genocide. Eichmann was given the position of
Transportation Administrator of the "Final Solution to the Jewish
Question", which put him in charge of all the trains which would carry
Jews to the death camps in the territory of occupied Poland.
In 1944, he was sent to Hungary after Germany had occupied that
country in fear of a Soviet invasion. Eichmann at once went to work
deporting Jews, sending 430,000 Hungarians to their deaths in the gas
By 1945, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had ordered Jewish
extermination to be halted and evidence of the Final Solution to be
destroyed. Eichmann was appalled by Himmler's turnabout, and continued
his work in Hungary against official orders. Eichmann was also working
to avoid being called up in the last ditch German military effort, since
a year before he had been commissioned as a Reserve Untersturmführer in
the Waffen-SS and was now being ordered to active combat duty.
Eichmann fled Hungary in 1945 as the Soviets entered, and he returned
to Austria, where he met up with his old friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
Kaltenbrunner, however, refused to associate with Eichmann since
Eichmann's duties as an extermination administrator had left him a
marked man by the Allies.
After World War II
At the end of World War II, Eichmann was captured by the U.S. Army, who
did not know that this man who presented himself as Otto Eckmann was in
fact a much bigger catch. Early in 1946, he escaped from U.S. custody
and hid in various parts of Germany for a few years. In 1948 he obtained
a landing permit for Argentina, but did not use it immediately.
At the beginning of 1950, Eichmann went to Italy, where he posed as a
refugee named Riccardo Klement. With the help of a Franciscan friar who
had connections with Bishop Alois Hudal, who organized one of the first
postwar escape routes for Axis personnel, Eichmann obtained an
International Committee of the Red Cross humanitarian passport in Geneva
and an Argentine visa. Both of these issued to "Riccardo Klement,
technician." In early May 2007, this fake passport was discovered in
court archives in Argentina by a student doing research on Eichmann's
abduction. The passport has been handed to the Argentina Holocaust
Museum in Buenos Aires. He boarded a ship heading for Argentina on July
14, 1950. For the next 10 years, he worked in several odd jobs in the
Buenos Aires area—from factory foreman, to junior water engineer and
professional rabbit farmer. Eichmann also brought his family to
In June 2006, old CIA documents about Nazis and stay-behind networks
dedicated to anti-communism were released. Among the 27,000 documents
was a March 1958 memo from the German BND agency to the CIA, which
stated that Eichmann was reported to have lived in Argentina since 1952
using the alias "Clemens". However, the CIA took no action on this
information, because Eichmann's arrest could embarrass the US and
Germany by turning public attention to the former Nazis they had
recruited after World War II. For example, the West German government,
headed by Konrad Adenauer, was worried about what Eichmann might say,
especially about the past of Hans Globke, Adenauer's national security
adviser, who had worked with Eichmann in the Jewish Affairs department
and helped draft the 1935 Nuremberg Laws.
At the request of Bonn (the capital of West Germany from 1949 to
1990) the CIA persuaded Life magazine to delete any reference to Globke
from Eichmann's memoirs, which it had bought from his family. By the
time the CIA and the BND had this information, Israel had temporarily
given up looking for Eichmann in Argentina because they could not
discover his alias. Neither the CIA nor the US government as a whole at
that time had a policy of pursuing Nazi war criminals. In addition to
protecting Eichmann and Globke, the CIA also protected Reinhard Gehlen,
who recruited hundreds of former Nazi spies for the CIA. The low key
attitude toward Nazi war criminals, and more concentration on the Soviet
Union even possibly allowed Eichmann to be a member of a private
American golf club and travel freely without being discovered.
Throughout the 1950s, many Jews and other victims of the Holocaust
dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann and other notorious Nazis.
Among them was the Jewish Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. In 1954,
Wiesenthal received a postcard from an associate living in Buenos Aires,
saying Eichmann was in Argentina. The message read in part:
Ich sah jenes schmutzige Schwein Eichmann. ("I saw that dirty pig
Eichmann.") Er wohnt in der Nähe von Buenos Aires und arbeitet für ein
Wassergeschäft. ("He lives near Buenos Aires and works for a water
With this and other information collected by Wiesenthal, Israel had
solid leads about Eichmann's whereabouts. However, Isser Harel, the head
of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, later claimed in an
unpublished manuscript that Wiesenthal "'had no role whatsoever' in
Eichmann's apprehension but in fact had endangered the entire Eichmann
operation and aborted the planned capture of Auschwitz doctor Josef
Also instrumental in exposing Eichmann's identity was Lothar Hermann.
He was a worker of Jewish descent who fled from Germany to Argentina
following his incarceration in the Dachau concentration camp, where
Eichmann had served as an administrator. By the 1950s, Hermann had
settled into life in Buenos Aires with his family. His daughter Sylvia
became acquainted with Eichmann's family and romantically involved with
Klaus, the eldest Eichmann son. Klaus made boastful remarks about his
father's life as a Nazi and direct responsibility for the Holocaust.
Hermann knew he had struck gold in 1957 after reading a newspaper report
about German war criminals—of whom Eichmann was one.
Soon after, he sent Sylvia to the Eichmanns' home on a fact-finding
mission. She was met at the door by Eichmann himself. She asked for
Klaus, and, after learning that he was not home, asked whether she was
speaking to his father. Eichmann confirmed this fact. Hermann soon began
a correspondence with Fritz Bauer, chief prosecutor for the West German
state of Hesse, and provided details about Eichmann's person and life.
He contacted Israeli officials, who worked closely with Hermann over the
next several years to learn about Eichmann and to formulate a plan to
In 1959, Mossad was informed that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires under
the name Ricardo Klement (Clement) and began an effort to locate his
exact whereabouts. Through relentless surveillance, it was concluded
that Ricardo Klement was, in fact, Adolf Eichmann. The Israeli
government then approved an operation to capture Eichmann and bring him
to Jerusalem for trial as a war criminal. The Mossad agents continued
their surveillance of Eichmann through the first months of 1960 until it
was judged safe to take him down, even watching as he delivered flowers
to his wife on their 25th wedding anniversary on March 21.
Eichmann was captured by a team of Mossad and Shabak agents in a
suburb of Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960, as part of a covert operation.
The Mossad agents had arrived in Buenos Aires in April 1960 after
Eichmann's identity was confirmed. After observing Eichmann for an
extensive period of time, a team of Mossad agents waited for him as he
arrived home from his work as foreman at a Mercedes Benz factory. One
kept lookout waiting for his bus to arrive, while two agents pretended
to be fixing a broken down car. An unconfirmed fourth would ride on the
bus to make sure he would leave. Once Eichmann alighted and began
walking the short distance to his home, he was asked by the agent at the
car, Zvi Aharoni, for a cigarette. When Eichmann reached in his pocket
he was set upon by the two by the car. Eichmann fought but team member
Peter Malkin, a Polish Jew and a black belt in karate, knocked Eichmann
unconscious with a strike to the back of his neck and bundled him into
the car and took him to the safe house.
There a preliminary interrogation was conducted and it was proved
that Klement (Clement) was undoubtedly the Nazi Eichmann. The agents
kept him in a safe house until they judged that he could be taken to
Israel without being detected by Argentine authorities; then smuggled
him out of Argentina on board an El Al Bristol Britannia air flight from
Argentina to Dakar and then to Israel on May 21, 1960, heavily sedated
and disguised, like the agents, in the uniform of the El Al crew.
There was a backup plan in case the apprehension did not go as
planned. If the police happened to intervene, one of the agents was to
handcuff himself to Eichmann and make full explanations and disclosure.
For some time the Israeli government denied involvement in Eichmann's
capture, claiming that he had been taken by Jewish volunteers who
eagerly turned him over to Israeli government authorities. Negotiations
followed between Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Argentine president
Arturo Frondizi, while the abduction was met from radical right sectors
with a violent wave of anti-Semitism, carried on the streets by the
Tacuara Nationalist Movement—including assaults, torture and bombings.
Ben-Gurion then announced Eichmann's capture to the Knesset—Israel's
parliament—on May 23, receiving a standing ovation in return. Isser
Harel, head of the Mossad at the time of the operation, wrote a book
about Eichmann's capture entitled The House on Garibaldi Street. The
book has since been made into a movie of the same name. Some years
later, Peter Malkin, a member of the kidnapping team, wrote Eichmann in
My Hands, which explores Eichmann's character and motivations, but its
veracity has been attacked.
Isser Harel, Chief Executive of the Secret Services of Israel
(1952–1963), who headed the successful capture of Eichmann in Buenos
Aires in 1960 feels they almost apprehended Josef Mengele, too. As he
claims to have told the co-pilot that transported Eichmann at the time:
"had it been possible to start the operation several weeks earlier
Mengele might also have been on the plane." When they checked on the
last known location for the "murderous doctor" in Argentina, he had
apparently moved on just two weeks prior.
International dispute over capture
In June 1960, after unsuccessful secret negotiations with Israel,
Argentina requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security
Council, to protest what Argentina regarded as the "violation of the
sovereign rights of the Argentine Republic". In the ensuing debate, the
Israeli representative Golda Meir argued that the incident was only an
"isolated violation of Argentine law" since the abductors were not
Israeli agents but private individuals. Eventually the Council passed a
resolution which requested Israel "to make appropriate reparation",
while stating that "Eichmann should be brought to appropriate justice
for the crimes of which he is accused" and that "this resolution should
in no way be interpreted as condoning the odious crimes of which
Eichmann is accused."
After further negotiations, on August 3, Israel and Argentina agreed
to end their dispute with a joint statement that "the Governments of
Israel and the Republic of the Argentine, imbued with the wish to give
effect to the resolution of the Security Council of June 23, 1960, in
which the hope was expressed that the traditionally friendly relations
between the two countries will be advanced, have decided to regard as
closed the incident that arose out of the action taken by Israel
nationals which infringed fundamental rights of the State of Argentina."
In the subsequent trial and appeal, the Israeli courts avoided the
issue of the legality of Eichmann's capture, relying instead on legal
precedents that the circumstances of his capture had no bearing on the
legality of his trial. The Israeli Court also determined that because
"Argentina has condoned the violation of her sovereignty and has waived
her claims, including that for the return of the Appellant, any
violation of international law that may have been involved in this
incident has thus been remedied."
Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem during his trial in 1961.
Eichmann's trial before an Israeli court in Jerusalem began on April 11,
1961. He was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against
humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed
organization. In accordance with Israeli criminal procedure, the trial
was presided over by three judges: Moshe Landau, Benjamin Halevi and
Yitzhak Raveh. The chief prosecutor was Gideon Hausner, the Israeli
attorney general. The three judges sat high atop a plain dais. The trial
was held at the Beit Ha'am—nowadays known as the Gerard Behar Center—a
new auditorium in downtown Jerusalem. Eichmann sat inside a bulletproof
glass booth to protect him from victims' families. This image inspired
the novel, stage play and film, The Man in the Glass Booth, although the
plot of the drama has nothing to do with the actual events of the
The legal basis of the charges against Eichmann was the 1950 "Nazi
and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law".
The trial caused huge international controversy as well as an
international sensation. The Israeli government allowed news programs
all over the world to broadcast the trial live with few restrictions.
The trial began with various witnesses, including many Holocaust
survivors, who testified against Eichmann and his role in transporting
victims to the extermination camps. One key witness for the prosecution
was an American judge named Michael A. Musmanno, who was a U.S. naval
officer in 1945 who questioned the Nuremberg defendants. He testified
that the late Hermann Göring "made it very clear that Eichmann was the
man to determine, in what order, in what countries, the Jews were to
When the prosecution rested, Eichmann's defense lawyers, Robert
Servatius and Dieter Wechtenbruch, opened up the defense by explaining
why they did not cross-examine any of the prosecution witnesses.
Eichmann, speaking in his own defense, said that he did not dispute the
facts of what happened during the Holocaust. During the whole trial,
Eichmann insisted that he was only "following orders"—the same Nuremberg
Defense used by some of the Nazi war criminals during the 1945–1946
Nuremberg Trials. He explicitly declared that he had abdicated his
conscience in order to follow the Führerprinzip. Eichmann claimed that
he was merely a "transmitter" with very little power. He testified that:
"I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance
express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors."
During cross-examination, prosecutor Hausner asked Eichmann if he
considered himself guilty of the murder of millions of Jews. Eichmann
replied: "Legally not, but in the human sense ... yes, for I am guilty
of having deported them". When Hausner produced as evidence a quote by
Eichmann in 1945 who stated: "I will leap into my grave laughing because
the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is
for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction." Eichmann countered the
claim saying that he was referring only to "enemies of the Reich".
Witnesses for the defense, all of them former high-ranking Nazis,
were promised immunity and safe conduct from their German and Austrian
homes to testify in Jerusalem on Eichmann's behalf. All of them refused
to travel to Israel, but they sent court depositions. None of the
depositions supported Eichmann's "following orders" defense. One
deposition was from Otto Winkelmann, a former senior SS police leader in
Budapest in 1944. His memo stated that "(Eichmann) had the nature of a
subaltern, which means a fellow who uses his power recklessly, without
moral restraints. He would certainly overstep his authority if he
thought he was acting in the spirit of his commander [Adolf Hitler]".
Franz Six, a former SS brigadier general in the German secret service,
said in his deposition that Eichmann was an absolute believer in
National Socialism and would act to the most extreme of the party
doctrine, and that Eichmann had greater power than other department
After 14 weeks of testimony with more than 1,500 documents, 100
prosecution witnesses (90 of whom were Nazi concentration camp
survivors) and dozens of defense depositions delivered by diplomatic
couriers from 16 different countries, the Eichmann trial ended on August
14. At that point, the judges began deliberations in seclusion. On
December 11, the three judges announced their verdict: Eichmann was
convicted on all counts. Eichmann had said to the court that he expected
the death penalty. On December 15, the court imposed a death sentence.
Eichmann appealed the verdict, mostly relying on legal arguments about
Israel's jurisdiction and the legality of the laws under which he was
charged. He also claimed that he was protected by the principle of "Acts
of State" and repeated his "following orders" defense.
On May 29, 1962 Israel's Supreme Court, sitting as a Court of
Criminal Appeal, rejected the appeal and upheld the District Court's
judgment on all counts. In rejecting his appeal again claiming that he
was only "following orders", the court stated that, "Eichmann received
no superior orders at all. He was his own superior and he gave all
orders in matters that concerned Jewish affairs ... the so-called Final
Solution would never have assumed the infernal forms of the flayed skin
and tortured flesh of millions of Jews without the fanatical zeal and
the unquenchable blood thirst of the appellant and his associates." On
May 31, Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi turned down Eichmann's
petition for mercy. A large number of prominent persons sent requests
Eichmann was hanged a few minutes before midnight on May 31, 1962, at a
prison in Ramla, Israel. This remains the only civil execution ever
carried out in Israel, which has a general policy of not using the death
penalty. Eichmann allegedly refused a last meal, preferring instead a
bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine. He consumed about half of the
bottle. He also refused to don the traditional black hood for his
According to an official account, there were two people who would
pull the lever simultaneously, so neither would know for sure by whose
hand Eichmann died.
There is some dispute over Eichmann's last words. One account states
that these were, "Long live Germany. Long live Austria. Long live
Argentina. These are the countries with which I have been most closely
associated and I shall not forget them. I had to obey the rules of war
and my flag. I am ready." However, according to David Cesarani, a
leading Holocaust historian and Research Professor in History of the
Royal Holloway, University of London, the order of countries (Austria
and Argentina) was inverted and he also spoke of his wife, friends and
family, as well as his belief in God. Any mention of obedience to the
rules of war or flag is omitted in Cesarani's account in which Eichmann
is quoted thus:
Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are
the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I
will not forget. I greet my wife, my family, and my friends. I am ready.
We'll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in
Shortly after the execution, Eichmann's body was cremated in a
specially designed furnace. The furnace was so hot that no one dared to
go near it, but a stretcher on tracks was used to put the body in. The
next morning, on June 1, his ashes were scattered at sea over the
Mediterranean, in international waters. This was to ensure that there
could be no future memorial and that no nation would serve as his final
Political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew who fled Germany before Hitler's
rise to power, and who reported on Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker.
In Eichmann in Jerusalem, a book formed by this reporting, Arendt
concluded that, aside from a desire for improving his career, Eichmann
showed no trace of an antisemitic personality or of any psychological
damage to his character. She called him the embodiment of the "Banality
of Evil", as he appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common
personality, displaying neither guilt nor hatred. She suggested that
this most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi criminals were
manifestly psychopathic and different from ordinary people. Eichmann
himself said he joined the SS not because he agreed or disagreed with
its ethos, but because he needed to build a career.
Stanley Milgram interpreted Arendt's work as stating that even the
most ordinary of people can commit horrendous crimes if placed in
certain situations and given certain incentives. He wrote: "I must
conclude that Arendt's conception of the banality of evil comes closer
to the truth than one might dare imagine." However, Arendt did not
suggest that Eichmann was normal or that any person placed in his
situation would have done as he did. According to her account, Eichmann
had abdicated his will to make moral choices, and thus his autonomy.
Eichmann claimed he was just following orders, and that he was therefore
respecting the duties of a "bureaucrat". Arendt thus argued that he had
essentially forsaken the conditions of morality, autonomy and the
ability to question orders .
In Becoming Eichmann, David Cesarani claimed that Eichmann was in
fact extremely anti-Semitic, and that these feelings were important
motivators of his genocidal actions.
Eichmann's son, Ricardo, who was born after the War, has condemned
his father's actions and claims to harbour no resentment toward Israel
for executing his father.