“On Friday, December 15, Judge Landau asked Eichmann to rise and delivered the sentence:
‘ For the dispatch of each train by the Accused to Auschwitz, or to any other extermination site, carrying one thousand human beings, meant the accused was a direct accomplice in one thousand premeditated acts of murder… Even if we had found that the Accused acted out of blind obedience, as he argued, we would still have said that a man who took part in crimes of such magnitude as these over years must pay the maximum penalty known to the law… But we have found that the Accused acted out of an inner identification with the orders that he was given and out of a fierce will to achieve the criminal objective … This Court sentences Adolf Eichmann to death.’
It was the first — and to this day only — sentence of death by an Israeli court.
Eichmann was motionless, his lips drawn together as if he was forcing himself to suppress even the slightest reaction. His throat and the collar of his shirt were soaked with sweat. Eight minutes after the session began, the bailiff called , ‘All rise!’ and the judges filed out. The trial was over.”
This was the scene in the Israeli courtroom on today’s date. December 15, in 1962. The court sentenced Adolf Eichmann (pictured above, circa 1942), one of the primary architects of “The Final Solution”, as “the Holocaust” — the systematic attempt to exterminate Europe’s entire Jewish population — came to be known, to death by hanging. It was, as noted by the author of the above excerpt, David Bascomb the only such sentence ever issued by an Israeli court. either then or since.
So much for “I was only following orders.”
Adolf Eichmann and the Wansee Conference
By early 1942 with the German Army bogged down in the snow outside Moscow, and with America having entered the war against Hitler’s Germany, it had become clear that the war against the Allies just might not be won. Immediately the criminal regime which by then ruled most of Europe – Adolf Hitler and his band of Nazi cutthroats – turned to what to do with the millions of Jews,
the focus of Hitler’s hate, under their control. They had been “evacuated” from as many areas as the Nazis could reach them, and herded into ghettos in Eastern Europe, and a good many had been forced to emigrate to countries outside of German control. But this was not enough… Hitler wanted to exterminate as many of the Jews of Europe as he could, while he could. So he set the best minds in his government to setting up a process through which this genocide could be accomplished.
Hence, on January 20, 1942, fifteen of Germany’s top governmental and military officials met at a plush home in the Berlin suburb of Wansee (above). This meeting was arranged and run by Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lt. Colonel) Adolf Eichmann of the S.S., which was
essentially the Nazi’s official military arm for terror against anyone in German-occupied territory. At this conference (held in the room pictured above) which was chaired by S.S. General Reinhard Heydrich (who was nick-named “the Butcher of Prague”) it was formally decided, and a process was set in motion whereby the Jews of Europe would be murdered on a mass scale utilizing gas chambers to kill as many as possible, and crematoriums to dispose of the bodies as efficiently as could be managed. The various participants were ordered by Heydrich to report to Eichmann and to coordinate all of their plans through him. And the entire system of genocidal camps… Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka… all of them, were set up with railroads linking them together on Eichmann’s authority, and in some cases with his direct involvement.
“Un Momentito , Senor.”
Flash forward to a bus station near Buenos Aires in the South American nation of Argentina on the night of May 11, in the year 1960. Eichmann, having fallen from the “glory” of his Nazi years was forced to flee Europe one step ahead of the authorities, both Allied and German which sought to prosecute him for war crimes. Many ex-Nazis have come to Argentina wherein a dictatorial regime has sheltered them from the justice of the war crimes tribunals of Nuremburg. A group of Israeli agents have, operating under the strictest secrecy, managed to track Eichmann to a small home which he shares with his wife and sons on Garibaldi Street (below) under the alias of “Ricardo Klement”. The night is full of thunder and lightening, but no rain. The agents wait in a car near
the bus stop where Eichmann is expected to get off a bus, to return home. Agent Peter Z. Malkin describes the capture:
“We were fifteen yards apart. I could hear his footfalls, regular as ticks on a clock. Would he pause at the sight of the car? No. He didn’t even hesitate. Twenty-five feet between us. Fifteen.
“Un momentito senor.’ The simple sentence I had practiced for weeks.
He stopped. Behind black-rimmed glasses, his eyes met mine. He took a step backward. I leapt at him, grabbing for his right hand.
We fell hard to the ground and tumbled into the shallow ditch alongside the walkway…. As I struggled to my feet, hoisting him with me, I eased the pressure on his throat. Suddenly, shockingly, he let out a piercing scream. It was the primal cry of a cornered animal. Tightening my grip, I abruptly cut it off.
Momentarily shaken, I quickly recovered. ‘It will do you no good, you bastard,’ I told myself as I dragged him toward the car. ‘This is the end for you!'”
Eichmann is Tried in Israel.
Eichmann’s capture set off a world-wide sensation when it was announced by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in a special session of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament on May 23, 1960. The government of Argentina claimed that it’s sovereignty had been violated, and demanded Eichmann’s return, which of course it did not get. A special courtroom was set up to accommodate
750 spectators and Television cameras carried the trial to audiences around the world. Throughout, Eichmann – who was kept behind bulletproof glass appeared basically composed, but clearly nervous. Nevertheless he appeared to be an inoffensive, frightened old man. And he never looked at the spectators, instead keeping his gaze firmly on the prosecutor. As Bascomb recalled:
“Throughout the prosecution, Eichmann remained composed and alert…. Usually he would keep his eyes focused on the prosecutor. Occasionally, though, his head would jerk to the left, seemingly involuntarily, or he would draw his cheeks to the point where the skin was tight across the bones of his face. ‘In moments like these,’ one witness recounted, ‘he is somewhat like the Eichmann we would like to see: an inexplicably merciless face, sending a shiver up my spine.'”
Despite his outward appearance as the slight old man, and his attorney’s attempts to paint Eichmann as simply doing what he was told, “following orders” was the constant refrain, and trying to say that in some instances, Eichmann had even saved some of the Jews who were in his charge, the weight of the documentary evidence as well as eyewitness testimony made it clear that Eichmann was guilty as charged. He conducted appeals after his guilty verdict, but they were denied. He was hanged on May 31, 1962 at a prison in Ramla, Israel. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered at sea outside of Israeli territorial waters.
“Hunting For Eichmann” by Neal Bascomb, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publ. Co. New York, 2009.
“Eichmann In My Hands” by Peter Z. Malkin and Harry Stein, Warner Books, New York, 1990.
Directed by Frank Pierson, HBO Films, 2001.