The Eichmann trial is considered an historic event and an important milestone in the history of the State of Israel. In May 1960 Israeli agents succeeded in capturing Adolf Eichmann, who had played a central role in the execution of the Nazi plan to annihilate six million European Jews, in Argentina, and brought him to Israel to stand trial. On May 23 1960 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced in the Knesset (the parliament of Israel) that Eichmann had been captured, and immediately afterwards the police began his interrogation. The evidence collected was presented to the prosecution in order to draw up the indictment. At the same time, Israel's diplomatic network prepared to cope with the reactions throughout the world to Eichmann's abduction and the political issues involved.
Due to the importance of the trial, the government decided to appoint Gideon Hausner, the attorney-general, to head the prosecution team. The trial of Eichmann opened on April 11 1961 before a special panel of the District Court of Jerusalem, headed by Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landau. Seven months later Eichmann was convicted and on December 15 1961 the court sentenced Eichmann to death.
Eichmann's German defence counsel, Dr. Robert Servatius, appealed the sentence. Deliberations on the appeal began in March 22 1962 and on May 29 1962 five Supreme Court judges rejected it. The request for clemency presented to the president, Itzhak Ben-Tzvi, was also denied, and on the night between May 31 and June 1 1962, Adolf Eichmann was executed.
This sequence of events is viewed by researchers as a turning point in the Israeli public's attitude towards the Holocaust. For many months the Eichmann trial was the focus of attention throughout Israeli society, served as the main topic in all the newspapers and was widely reported in Israeli radio broadcasts. Professor Yehiam Weitz, in an article he wrote, quotes Professor Israel Gutman, one of the activists of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a Holocaust scholar himself, who testified at the trial and later wrote that the Eichmann trial brought about a change in the narrow and one-dimensional attitude of the Israeli public to the Holocaust and its victims. For the first time, "it (the public) was exposed to the full suffering of the victims, their distress, helplessness and their efforts to survive and retain some human dignity".
Following the trial the attitude of Israeli society to the Holocaust and its victims altered: if, in the nineteen fifties, the victims were perceived, for the most part, as people who "were led like sheep to the slaughter", and the Holocaust was a focus of polemics, which culminated in the trial involving Rudolph Kasztner (1954), the Eichmann trial provided a catharsis, after which the destruction of European Jewry became a topic that united Israeli society.
On the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Eichmann trial, the Israel State Archives presents a selection of documents related to the Eichmann affair in all its varied aspects. We focus on aspects that are not related to the conduct of the trial itself, starting with Eichmann's transfer to Israel and ending with reactions to the verdict. All the documents in this publication, except for one, are taken from the collections of the Israel State Archives. All the documents are in Hebrew unless otherwise specified. The publication is divided into 12 chapters:
A. The transfer of Adolf Eichmann to Israel and the preparations for his detention and interrogation.
B. The effect of the Eichmann affair on Israel-Argentina relations.
C. World reactions to Eichmann's capture and the proposal to bring him to trial in Israel, and the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this issue.
D. The reaction of the government, the press and the public in Germany to Eichmann's capture and trial in Israel.
E. Collecting the evidence and preparations for the trial.
F. The appointment of defence counsel.
G. The Ben-Gurion government and the Eichmann affair.
H. Press coverage and the media.
I. Repercussions of the Eichmann trial – the possibility of reopening the Kasztner trial, and bringing more Nazi criminals to justice.
J. Issues that arose during the trial.
K. Conviction and verdict: public opinion on the death penalty and the execution of Eichmann.
A. The Transfer of Adolf Eichmann to Israel and the Preparations for His Detention and Interrogation
At a meeting of the government of Israel on 23 May 1960, Ben-Gurion announced that the Israeli security forces had captured Adolf Eichmann. Ben-Gurion did not specify in which country he had been captured, and refused to do so even when asked directly. In his statement he emphasized that Eichmann had given his captors a letter in which he declared that he was ready to stand trial in Israel. During the meeting the ministers expressed their feelings, and also discussed the necessity of appointing a defence attorney for the accused (Document No. 1).
On Eichmann's arrival in Israel the agents of the Mossad, the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, handed him over to the Israel Police. After being legally remanded by a magistrate, the police prepared for his long-term detention. In an internal police document from 25 May 1960, Yosef Nahmias, the Inspector-General of the Israel Police, determined the conditions of Eichmann's detainment at the detention camp in Yagur, which was now renamed 'Camp Iyyar', emptied of all its inhabitants and prepared especially for this task. Nahmias also gave orders to prepare the facility for Eichmann's interrogation and collect the documents required for his trial (Document No. 2).
The police established a special unit, Bureau 06, to interrogate Eichmann and collect the evidence against him, for which they recruited their best investigators. In an additional document from the same day, Nahmias informed Commander Avraham Selinger of his appointment to head the team of interrogators, and detailed his duties and Bureau 06's subjects of investigation. He defined the boundaries of the interrogation, so that they would not impinge on the General Security Services' fields of investigation (Document No. 3).
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B. The Effect of the Eichmann Affair on Israel-Argentina Relations
It was Prime Minister Ben-Gurion who decided that moral and historical considerations outweighed everything else, and gave permission to Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad, to carry out Eichmann's abduction in Argentina and bring him secretly to Israel, despite the diplomatic risk involved in violating the sovereignty of a friendly country. After the abduction was revealed Argentina recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and even appealed to the UN Security Council and demanded it censure Israel and order it to return Eichmann to Argentinian territory. In an effort to alleviate the tension, the Israel government sent a letter to the Argentinian government in which it claimed that the Israeli authorities were not involved in Eichmann's abduction and had not known that he had been brought to Israel from Argentina. According to this statement, a group of Jewish volunteers, among them several Israelis, had been following Eichmann since the end of the Second World War, and they were the ones who brought him to Israel. Eichmann, the letter said, had given his agreement to come to trial in Israel of his own free will (Document No. 4). This version, which contained some internal contradictions, was not accepted by the Argentinian authorities, despite the fact that it contained an apology for any possible breach of Argentinian law. In the light of Argentina's persistence, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs weighed several proposals for putting international pressure on the Argentinian government, including the idea of using information about the presence of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele in Argentina as proof that Argentina would not have cooperated if Israel had asked for the extradition of Eichmann (Document No. 7).
The Security Council condemned Israel and directed it to give 'appropriate compensation' to Argentina. The Israel government received a message that the Argentinian government had reached the conclusion that the tension between the two countries should be ended, and relations revert to a normal state. Shabtai Rosenne, the legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with Argentinian officials, drafted a joint statement that included Israel's official apology and an announcement that the crisis was over.
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For more details on the Eichmann affair and Israel-Argentina relations, see Chapter 21, Capture of War Criminal Adolf Eichmann and his Abduction to Israel, in "Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel", Vol. 14, 1960, Israel State Archives, 1997 (English companion velume).
See also documents in English, German and Spanish in Vol. 14, main volume
C. World Reactions to Eichmann's Capture and the Proposal to Bring him to Trial in Israel, and the Activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on This Issue
After Ben-Gurion's announcement in the Knesset regarding Eichmann's capture, the press was full of descriptions of the emotional public reactions in Israel. The announcement also had considerable impact throughout the world, and received wide coverage in the media. Many letters were received by the Prime Minister's Office from people in Israel and abroad. A survey of letters which reached the Prime Minister's Office regarding the Eichmann affair during June – August 1960, reflects the widespread support they expressed for Israel's position, but also concern over a possible conflict between Argentina and Israel. Among them there were also writers who addressed the issue of how to deal with Eichmann, and whether to punish him in Israel, transfer him for trial in another location, or have him judged by an international court (Document No. 10).
A slightly different picture arose from the many reports by Israel's representatives abroad on the reactions in their countries of service. Eichmann's abduction from a sovereign country and his transfer to Israel raised a series of questions regarding the legality of the process, and the issue of Israel's right to try Eichmann on its soil. These issues obliged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare a comprehensive information campaign. Yohanan Cohen, the deputy director of the Information Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote a memorandum on Israel's policy on this issue, in which he presented an analysis of world press reactions, including both support and reservations. He presented the problematic issues inherent in the situation, and proposed a method of dealing with them (Document No. 15).
In Poland, where the majority of the Nazi death camps had been situated, there was particular sensitivity towards the trial of Eichmann. The Israeli legation in Warsaw reported that the Polish government had given instructions not to cooperate with the prosecution in Israel and was apprehensive about the way the Poles would be presented at the trial. (Document No. 13). With the opening of the trial the Polish representatives did, indeed, express great anger regarding the way their country was portrayed in the Israeli press, and the accusation that they had collaborated with the Nazis in the murder of Jews. The reports, however, spoke of a different attitude among the Polish public. The prosecution was provided with a great deal of documentation from Poland by private individuals. Rehavam Amir, the Israel minister in Warsaw, even reported that Polish public opinion mostly supported Israel's actions. This was expressed in letters, articles in the press and meetings of Israeli representatives with officials from the Polish Foreign Ministry, who recognized Israel's right to put Eichmann on trial (Document No. 11).
For further information about the Eichmann trial and its influence on Israel-Poland relations, see "Documents on Israeli-Polish Relations 1945-1967" (in Hebrew and Polish), Israel State Archives, Head Office of the State Archives in Poland. The Polish-language volume (Stosunki polsko-izraelskie [1945-1967] Wybor dokumentow) was published in Warsaw by the Head Office of the State Archives.
See their website http://www.archiwa.gov.pl
The first reactions in the United States to the Eichmann affair were outlined by Michael Arnon, counsellor for press and information at the Israeli embassy in Washington. He discribed the reservations of American public opinion about the Eichmann affair, and expressed the recommendations of embassy personnel to avoid a 'show trial' like those conducted by the Communist regimes at all costs, and even to consider not imposing the death sentence on Eichmann (Document No. 14).
There was a reserved attitude towards the Eichmann trial in all the countries of the Soviet Bloc, orchestrated by the U.S.S.R. The director of the East European Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported to Commander Avraham Selinger that the Soviet Bloc countries were presenting major obstacles to Israeli attempts to obtain assistance from their institutions in preparing the indictment (Document No. 12). In some of the reports submitted by Israeli representatives in East European countries, they reported that Israel was being accused of deliberately refraining from presenting the full picture of the Holocaust in the trial. It was claimed that Israel's leaders were interested in cementing relations with West Germany, and were therefore being considerate of Germany's concerns regarding the implications of the Eichmann trial for German firms and individuals. For example, Aviezer Chelouche, the Israel minister in Belgrade, reported to the East European Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on his talks with ambassadors of East European countries in Belgrade. The U.S.S.R. ambassador made a bitter attack on Israel about the conduct of the Eichmann trial, and Israel's alleged deliberate ignoring of people with a Nazi past in West Germany (Document No. 20).
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D. The Reaction of the Government, the Press and the Public in Germany to Eichmann's Capture and Trial in Israel
Eichmann's capture, his transfer to Israel, the preparations for his trial, the trial itself and the sentence, naturally received wide coverage in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and a strong reaction from the public, which found itself confronted with the German nation's past. Israel had not yet established diplomatic relations with West Germany, and the Israel mission in Cologne that dealt with carrying out the reparations agreement and trade relations, headed by (Felix) Eliezer Shinnar, served as an unofficial representation. It constantly reported on these aspects of public opinion to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prime minister, who were concerned with the effect of the Eichmann trial on Israel-Germany relations (Chapter G, below). Following the announcement of Eichmann's capture, a survey of reactions in the West German press revealed that 'everyone is showing restraint and describing Eichmann's terrible crimes', and hoping that their government would provide all the assistance necessary to bring him to trial, maybe even in Germany (Document No. 21). However, in various circles in Germany there was concern that the Eichmann trial would raise many questions regarding Germany's past, which had previously been suppressed. For example, an exchange of letters between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cologne mission reveals the claim in articles in the news magazine 'Der Spiegel' that the Eichmann trial was a 'show trial', intended to extort additional German financial aid after the ending of the reparations agreement; and the possibility is raised that these articles were written in order to appease groups that might be harmed by renewed investigations following Eichmann's arrest (Document No. 22). These fears were heightened after the trial began. Zvi Brosh, head of the Information Section at the Israel mission in Cologne, reviewed public opinion in West Germany during the trial, and noted that there was a palpable concern that the trial would link present-day Germany with the former Nazi Germany, and that the public was avoiding discussion of the trial, for fear of being confronted with awkward questions by the younger generation (Document No. 33).
Most of the reports reveal that West German officials at the highest levels were following the Eichmann affair. The reports also reveal that official circles were gratified at the very fact of putting Eichmann on trial. At the same time, there were many fears and apprehensions that the trial would ignite a wave of hatred towards Adenauer's Germany, but there was hope that the government of Israel would not lend itself to exploiting the trial in this manner, "after the Prime Minister has expressed his opinion on many occasions regarding the 'New Germany'; and after the Bonn government has proved its desire to compensate the Jewish People, as much as it is possible to compensate, for its material losses" (Document No. 24). Reports on meetings with officials of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly reveal the concern that East Germany and the Soviet bloc would exploit the trial in order to incite against West Germany and present it as the heir to Nazi Germany (Documents No. 26, 29). East Germany even sent a lawyer, Dr. Friedrich Kaul, to Israel, and he conducted propaganda along these lines during the trial, as reported by the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chaim Yahil (Document No. 32). Yahil noted that the main part of this propaganda relied on the fact that Hans Globke, who was one of those who drafted the Nuremberg Laws, was serving at that time as the bureau chief and closest adviser of Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany. The chancellor himself, on several occasions, dealt with this and other issues related to the Eichmann trial. He held press conferences in which he presented his position regarding Germany's past, the German nation's suffering, Israel-Germany relations in light of the trial, and even defended Globke (Documents No. 28, 30).
This chapter concludes with reports on the reactions in Germany to the death sentence imposed on Eichmann and its execution. The German press, in general, justified the sentence and the execution. Most of the newspapers warned against the conclusion that with Eichmann's death the German people can shake off their responsibility for the Holocaust, and noted that his death should not be seen as expiation for the sins of the rest of the guilty, and that the German nation must continue to struggle with its conscience (Documents Nos. 35, 36).
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E. Collecting the Evidence and Preparations for the Trial
Preparations for the trial lasted approximately one year and focused on the police and administrative aspects. The police aspect was dealt with by the staff of Bureau 06. The Bureau 06 investigators worked for approximately nine months, collecting evidence against Eichmann around the world. Chaim Yahil, the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instructed the Israel delegations in the relevant countries to request the governments to assist the investigation (Document No. 37).
One of the interesting issues arising during the collection of evidence related to the 'Sassen Document', an interview conducted by Willem Sassen, a Dutch journalist with a Nazi past, with Eichmann in Argentina in 1956. In December 1960 'Life' magazine published excerpts from the interview, and it was revealed that there was more damaging material there than in the statements by Eichmann in his interrogation. A copy of the full interview reached the Israel Police from Poland and Bureau 06 wanted to use evidence from the document, but the attorney-general decided to reject the idea, because he thought that it was inappropriate to use material prepared by Nazis. In a letter to the Inspector-General of the Israel Police Commander Selinger attempted to appeal the decision and allow the Bureau 06 investigators to use the document after all (Document No. 41). During the trial the prosecution received permission to use only part of it – the part that was handwritten and contained comments in Eichmann's own handwriting.
The preparations also included choosing the witnesses, and for that purpose police and prosecution personnel met with representatives of Yad Va'Shem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Authority, and discussed issues that should be raised with the witnesses during the trial (Document No. 40). Some people also proposed themselves as witnesses, for example, Judge Michael Musmanno, of the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania, who had served on the bench at some of the Nuremberg trials, offered to testify regarding the actions taken by Eichmann and some of his subordinates, based on the evidence he heard at the Nuremberg trials (Document No. 42, in English). His offer was willingly accepted, and Musmanno did, indeed, testify at the trial. On the conclusion of Bureau 06's work, its commander, Avraham Selinger, wrote a detailed report on the work of the Bureau and sent it to Inspector-General Nahmias (Document No. 45).
The administrative preparations included discussions related to preparing the venue chosen for the trial, the 'Beit Ha'Am' building in the centre of Jerusalem, and inviting representatives of foreign countries to serve as observers. In a letter to Golda Meir, the minister of foreign affairs, Gideon Hausner, the attorney-general and the special prosecutor in the trial, proposed inviting representatives of the Four Powers that conducted the Nuremberg trials, in order to emphasize that "we are continuing in Israel the Nuremberg enterprise" (Document No. 43).
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F. The Appointment of Defence Counsel
The appointment of a lawyer who would undertake Eichmann's defence in the trial was a sensitive issue, which preoccupied the legal authorities as well as the government from the first moment. The government of Israel found itself deeply involved in this issue (see Chapter G). After many misgivings and deliberations, the government approved allowing a German lawyer to represent Eichmann, on condition that he did not have a Nazi past; and even passed a special law that would enable a foreign lawyer to represent a defendant in an Israeli court under special circumstances.
On 27 June 1960 Adv. Dr. Robert Servatius of Cologne, Germany presented a request to the minister of justice, Pinhas Rosen, to allow him to serve as Eichmann's defence counsel, in accordance with the Eichmann family's request, and after having served in the past as a defence counsel at the Nuremberg trials (Document No. 49, in German/ and Rsen's reply in English). After receiving the Cologne mission's, with an evaluation of Servatius's political opinions and abilities as a lawyer, Gideon Hausner sent the prime minister a written statement that he received from Servatius. The lawyer declared that he had never been a member of the Nazi party, and attached a confirmation to that effect from the president of the Bar Association in Cologne (Document No. 51, in Hebrew, with an appendix in German). In their discussions regarding Servatius, as in other issues related to the trial, the authorities were assisted by information from Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi-hunter who lived in Vienna and was involved in collecting information on Nazi criminals around the world. Assistant Commander Ephraim Hofstadter, the deputy commander of Bureau 06, reported on a meeting he had with him (Document No. 53). Wiesenthal himself wrote to Hofstadter and gave him additional information relating to Eichmann's defence, and to the attempts of Adolf Eichmann's brother, Robert, to obtain testimony that played down his brother's guilt and made serious accusations against Hans Globke (Document No. 54a, in German).
The information Wiesenthal provided, and reports that were received on the links between the Eichmann family and Adv. Servatius and neo-Nazi elements, posed a serious dilemma for the trial authorities. On the one hand, there was their determination to conduct a fair trial according to all legal procedures; on the other hand, there was great suspicion regarding Servatius, and a fear of provocations that would disrupt the trial that was so important to the authorities. In a lengthy meeting the government discussed the proposal presented by Justice Minister Rosen, to allow Servatius to meet privately with his client, without the presence of a policeman who listened to their conversations by means of loudspeakers installed in the room, which contradicted common practice in lawyer-client relations. Despite the ministers' wishes to ensure a fair trial, at the conclusion of the meeting the government accepted the opinion of Isser Harel, head of the Mossad, that it was impossible to allow this request, for fear that the lawyer would pass on to Eichmann messages from neo-Nazi organizations, and this would impede the possibility of uncovering additional Nazi criminals from their conversations, or that he would instruct him to commit suicide (Document No. 61a). Servatius continued in his attempts to reverse this decision, and in a meeting with Attorney-General Hausner, reported by a police officer to the inspector-general, he requested to be allowed to meet with Eichmann "not as they say, eye to eye, but ear to ear", but his request was again denied (Document No. 59). However, several days later, the orders were changed, and earphones were installed that enabled Eichmann and his lawyer to converse "ear to ear", as requested by Servatius (Document No. 59a) .
We have a record of three conversations Servatius had with Eichmann, in which they discussed subjects such as the defence strategy they would use at the trial, Eichmann's visits to Auschwitz and his viewing of the gas chambers, Eichmann's world view at the present compared with that he held when he was a Nazi officer, his opinion of Hitler, the admiration Eichmann expressed for his captors and their work, etc. (Document No. 56).
Another issue the government dealt with was Servatius' request that the State of Israel bear the costs of the defence (Document No. 57 in German). The mission in Cologne reported that the West German government also preferred that the Israel government bear the costs, in order to avoid the need to pay Servatius itself and thus find itself in a politically embarrassing situation. The government decided that the State of Israel would pay the defence costs (Chapter G, below).
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G. The Ben-Gurion Government and the Eichmann Affair
The Eichmann trial was not 'just another trial', but rather, an event whose great national and educational value was doubted by none. The Eichmann affair therefore greatly engaged the government of Israel, which found itself involved in several issues connected with the trial.
The approach taken by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and his government to the Eichmann trial was based on several principles: conducting the trial at all costs; presenting its great educational and informational importance; achieving the greatest political benefit possible from it, and neutralizing the dangers inherent in it, especially to Israel-West German relations; an effort to conduct – as much as possible - a fair trial, while adhering as much as possible to the principle of separation of powers. The attempt to uphold all these principles at the same time was often problematic, and led to many contradictions in the government's behaviour.
Ben-Gurion set out the guiding principles of the government's approach to the trial several days after his first announcement of Eichmann's capture. At the government meeting on 29 May 1960, after Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad, reviewed details about Eichmann's capture, the Prime Minister vehemently declared: "The main point is not the punishment, because I do not see any appropriate punishment for these deeds; so what if they hang a man who murdered millions of children, women and old people. I find the trial itself important. (…) It should not be a trial against him alone, but a trial that will encompass the entire story of the Holocaust (…) It is not about Eichmann alone, we must reveal in the trial all that was done to the Jews by the Nazis; all this must be fully described during the trial. This is necessary for us; there is a new generation that has heard something about it, but does not live it. (…) It is necessary not only for us, but for the whole world. The world wants to forget it, and it is tired of it all". He added: "The trial must be conducted according to all accepted procedures", and other ministers also repeated this (Document No. 60a). In their desire to ensure an appropriate atmosphere, the prime minister and other leading figures in Israel were deeply involved in the writing of the book by Moshe Pearlman, previously the IDF Spokesman and a former Mossad agent, "The Capture of Adolf Eichmann", which was published before the trial began. Although the book was presented as the author's own work, and was published by the Histadrut publishing house "Am Oved"; in fact, it presented the official version of Eichmann's capture, and omitted the government's involvement, as well as that of the intelligence services.
Ben-Gurion met with Pearlman, read the manuscript and made corrections in it, and so did the head of Mossad, Isser Harel, and other leading figures. In a letter written by Teddy Kollek, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office to Isser Harel, he set out Ben-Gurion's involvement in the preparation of the book, and added: "The book should appear and be distributed before the trial, so that it will help to shape public opinion before the event" (Document No. 60). Pearlman's reaction to this involvement can be seen in Document No. 60 (English).
The minister of foreign affairs, Golda Meir, also contributed to the efforts to emphasize the political aspects of the trial. In a report on a meeting with Attorney-General Hausner, Commander Selinger tells of Hausner's description of his meeting with the minister of justice and Meir, in which she wanted to discuss several points of the trial that could serve Israel's foreign policy, such as emphasizing the Nazi racist ideology for Israel's information campaigns in Africa, minimizing the Allies' role, giving a prominent place to Eichmann's ties with the mufti of Jerusalem, etc. (Document No. 61). Policy makers, together with the attorney-general, also decided to invite the historian Salo Baron from New York to present historical evidence at the trial, which would describe European Jewry before and after the Holocaust, and reveal the dimensions of the catastrophe, as Minister of Justice Rosen wrote to Binyamin Eliav, the consul-general in New York (Document No. 62).
A central issue in the political aspects of the Eichmann trial was its effect on Israel's relations with West Germany. The two countries were at the time in the process of becoming closer, a process which was initiated by Ben-Gurion, who viewed relations with Germany and economic and defence assistance from it to Israel as vital to the state's existence. He feared, as did German policy makers, that the trial would ignite a wave of hatred of Germany among the Israeli public, which would stand in the way of continuing the process, and even be an obstacle to receiving economic aid from Germany. Therefore, the Prime Minister tried to focus the accusations in the trial on Nazi Germany, and not on the entire German nation or Adenauer's present-day Germany. As noted, Chancellor Adenauer several times emphasized Ben-Gurion's statements on the 'new Germany', and Teddy Kollek, in a letter to Felix Eliezer Shinnar, head of the Israel mission in Cologne, reviewed the discussions about the sensitivity of the Germans to the repercussions of the Eichmann trial. Kollek referred to the possibility raised during these discussions, that the government of Israel would publish a statement emphasizing the difference between Adenauer's Germany and that which Eichmann represented (Document No. 66). A further indication of Ben-Gurion's intentions can be found in a letter he sent to Hausner, who served as the chief prosecutor in the trial, in which he set out his comments on the draft of the opening address that Hausner had sent him. Ben-Gurion demanded changes in the speech, and the use of the term 'Nazi Germany' rather than 'Germany' alone, with the intention of clearly differentiating between the two 'Germanies'. In addition, he suggested omitting from the speech the claim that Nazism was historically inevitable (Document No. 87).
At the same time, Ben-Gurion and his government tried to uphold the 'sub judice' principle, and did their best to follow the principle of separation of powers. In reply to a letter from the author Pearl S. Buck (not included here), Ben-Gurion wrote: "In any case, the trial is continuing, and we believe that it is wrong for the government to interfere in it. As you know, it is expected that an appeal will be made to the Supreme Court, and the principle of separation of powers is shared by all democratic governments". Regarding the legal principle of 'sub judice', he wrote in another letter: "For now, I will not write anything about Eichmann's sentence, because his trial has not yet been finally concluded".
The government thus made every effort to conduct a fair trial. In his letter to the prosecutor Gideon Hausner, several days after the opening of the trial, Teddy Kollek praised him for his opening address, and was at pains to mention that the conduct of the trial was leaving no room for accusations of a 'show trial' (Document No. 68). As part of its efforts to conduct a fair trial, and prevent any malicious lies on this issue, the government held several discussions about the defence in the Eichmann trial, and made every effort to ensure Eichmann a fair trial, according to all the accepted procedures. The government agreed, as noted, to allow a German lawyer to come to Israel, and even passed a law that, under special circumstances, would allow a foreign lawyer to defend a person accused in an Israeli court. The government even decided that the State would bear the defence costs in the sum of 20,000 dollars (Document No. 63), and after a long and searching debate decided by a majority of only one vote (6:5), to allow two Germans with a Nazi past to come and testify for the defence, and granted them immunity from prosecution in Israel (Document No. 69,). In the end, the two witnesses did not come to Israel, and all the defence testimony was obtained abroad, in 16 courts in 3 countries, and reached Jerusalem within several weeks of being recorded. However, despite its desire to ensure Eichmann an appropriate defence, it did not at first allow Adv. Servatius to meet privately with his client, contrary to the laws of privilege that apply to lawyer-client relations (see Chapter F, above).
The last issue related to the Eichmann trial that the government was required to deal with, was its approach to a pardon: should it recommend to the president of the state to accept Eichmann's request for a pardon, which was presented to the president after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal? During the discussion, Minister of Finance Levi Eshkol and Minister of Welfare Yosef Burg expressed their objections to carrying out the death sentence at that point, but in the end, the government rejected a proposal by the finance minister to reduce the death sentence to life imprisonment, and finally decided unanimously "not to recommend the President of the State to grant Adolf Eichmann a pardon" (Document No. 71).
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H. Press Coverage and the Media
The media had a most significant part in bringing the Eichmann trial to the public in Israel, and in shaping the consciousness of the generation that grew up after the trial. It is difficult to understand the history of Israel after the trial, without considering the impact that it created in the media. The trial did an enormous service to Israel and the Jewish people, and the great importance of the press and radio in an era not yet dominated by television is plainly evident.
At the beginning the government of Israel did not grasp the potential inherent in presenting the entire trial, and permission was granted to only one company – the American company "Capital Cities" – to film in the courtroom. David Landor, head of the Government Press Office, wanted only one film crew to photograph in the courtroom, in order to preserve the court's security and dignity (Document No. 71), and in order not to create the impression of a 'show trial'. Part of the Israeli media protested against this decision. The heads of the Geva Film company protested to Teddy Kollek against the exclusive rights granted to 'Capital Cities', and emphasized the importance of the filming for the local industry (Document 73). At the same time, the Government Press Office was preparing to deal with hundreds of journalists from around the world, who planned to come to Israel to cover the trial. In the minutes of a meeting of the "Council for Distribution of Tickets to the Eichmann Trial", the large share given to journalists attending the trial can clearly be seen (Document 75). It was decided that 474 places in the courtroom would be reserved for journalists. David Landor raised the need to give special attention to the German journalists, and to enable them to take advantage of their trip to tour the country (Document 74).
However, the focus of the journalistic coverage of the trial in Israel was the radio broadcasts of "Kol Yisrael", the public broadcasting station, and we have chosen to describe them by an article on that topic. See: Amit Pinchevski, Tamar Liebes and Ora Herman,Eichmann on the Air: Radio and the Making of a Historic Trial (Link to the file: Eichmann on Air).
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I. Repercussions of the Eichmann Trial – the Possibility of Reopening the Kastner Trial, and Bringing Additional Nazi Criminals to Justice
During the suit for defamation that Israel (Rudolf) Kasztner brought against Malchiel Gruenwald in 1954 and shocked the Israeli public, Adolf Eichmann's name came up more than once (see the article on the Kasztner trial on the website). Adv. Shmuel Tamir, who defended Gruenwald during the trial, saw Eichmann's presence in Israel as an opportunity to obtain information from him about his connections with Kasztner and to use it in his demand to grant his client a retrial. Tamir conducted an exchange of correspondence on the matter with Gideon Hausner. According to Hausner in his book "Justice in Jerusalem", the demands for a retrial came from those who "did not accept the ruling by the Supreme Court, which exonerated Kastner, and continued to blame him". At first, Hausner rejected Tamir's request; however, after a further request, in which Tamir hinted that Hausner's response might hide an intention to prevent him at all costs from hearing Eichmann's version of the facts, Hausner expressed his agreement to allow him to meet with Eichmann after the conclusion of the trial (Document No. 76).
Those who spent many years in the attempt to uncover the tracks of Nazi war criminals viewed Eichmann's transfer to Israel as a one-time opportunity to extract information from him, which would help them find the Nazis and bring them to justice. Tuvia Friedman, the head of the Institute for Documentation in Haifa, wrote several letters on this matter to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion. In one of them, which was also signed by a number of Knesset members and members of the underground resistance in the ghettoes, he requested that the Israel Police be ordered to initiate investigations against Nazi criminals, based on the information collected for the Eichmann trial (Document No. 77). In another letter, he declares that information given him by Eichmann in writing brought about the arrest of a Nazi criminal in Germany, and requests that he be allowed to continue to interrogate Eichmann, in order to bring more Nazi criminals to justice (Document No. 78).
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J. Issues that Arose During the Trial
As stated, this publication does not deal with the legal aspects of the Eichmann trial; however, we have chosen to present several documents that contain reports and correspondence related to issues that arose during the trial.
On the eve of the trial, the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chaim Yahil dispatched a circular telegram to all the Israel representations around the world, in which he reviewed the issues expected to arise at the trial (Document No. 80). The opening address by the prosecutor Gideon Hausner aroused great interest, and won praise from everyone. Hausner spent a great deal of time preparing the address. Due to its sensitive nature, he consulted – as noted – with the prime minister and, as he wrote to Police Minister Bechor Shalom Shitreet, he also consulted with the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of justice (Document No. 81).However the famous phrase about the "six million accusers" who confronted Eichmann does not appear on the typewritten version of the speech, and was added by Hausner at the last minute.
As the trial proceedings began, a disagreement developed between Hausner, the prosecutor, and the president of the court, Judge Landau, based on Hausner's desire to expand the testimony to include the uprisings in the ghettoes; testimony that in Judge Landau's opinion was irrelevant to the indictment. Shabtai Rosenne, the legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reviewed this issue in a telegram to the heads of missions, and presented Hausner's position that everything that had occurred in the ghettoes, including the uprisings, was related to the decision on the Final Solution that was taken at the Wannsee Conference (Document No. 82).
In the Israel of the 1960's, political disputes also found their way into the periphery of the Eichmann trial. In an exchange of letters that he conducted with Izik Ramba, the editor of "Herut", the newspaper of the right-wing Herut movement, Hausner rejected claims and hints raised by Ramba in an article in the newspaper, that witnesses were also chosen according to political considerations of membership in the labour movement. For his part, Ramba replied that that was not what he had intended in his article. He wanted to indicate distortions in the testimony of Zvia Lubetkin and Abba Kovner, who had minimized the part played by ghetto fighters who belonged to the right-wing Betar movement (Document No. 84).
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K. Conviction and Verdict: Public Reaction to the Subject of the Death Penalty and the Execution of Eichmann
After Eichmann had been found guilty, on 15 December 1961, at the 121st sitting of the court hearing the case of the State of Israel against Adolf Eichmann, the judges imposed the death sentence. Immediately following, the defence counsel, Adv. Servatius, declared that he intended to appeal the sentence before the Supreme Court. Hearings on the appeal began on 22 March 1962, and on 29 March Eichmann's appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. That same day Eichmann sent a request for a pardon to the president of the State, Izhak Ben-Zvi, but his request was refused, and he was executed on the night between 31 May and 1 June.
The debate over imposition of the death sentence on Eichmann raged from the day his capture was announced until the day he was executed. In Israel there was almost complete agreement on the necessity of executing Eichmann, as can be seen from reactions in the press on the eve of the execution and the day after. Hanging Eichmann was perceived not only as the personification of human justice, but also as additional proof of the "victory" of the sovereignty of Israel over the fate of Diaspora Jewry; since only in its sovereign state was the Jewish people afforded the possibility of capturing Eichmann, putting him on trial in front of Israeli judges in accordance with all legal rules, and executing him after all legal procedures had been carried out.
From the very beginning of the affair, many letters from Israel and around the world had streamed into the president's bureau, the Prime Minister's Office and the office of Judge Landau, in which the writers expressed their opinions for and against Eichmann's execution. We have presented here only a small selection of these letters. Most of the letters written in Israel supported Eichmann's death sentence; many even offered to serve as his hangman (Document No. 88). However, other opinions were also heard in Israel. Hannah Bernheim-Rosenzweig, of the Israeli branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom argued that, in any case, there was no sentence that was appropriate for the severity of Eichmann's deeds, and expressed a fear that his execution would bring no benefit to the Jewish people, but would only increase antisemitism (Document No. 91).
Many of the letters that arrived from abroad, especially from the United States, expressed a wish or hope that the state of Israel would avoid executing Eichmann. For example, Prof. Theo C. Panos, of the Medical Center at the University of Arkansas, wrote to President Ben-Zvi, that if Israel would avoid executing Eichmann, the trial would provide an opportunity for the Jewish people to be a model and inspiration to the whole world, by rejecting the death penalty,(Document No. 96, in English). A similar opinion was expressed by Milton Gross, of Rochester, N.Y., and Prof. Isidore Farber, of the University of Iowa (Documents No. 94, 98, in English). Michael Arnon, of the Israel embassy in Washington, wrote to Shabtai Rosenne that he estimated that the opposition to the death sentence to Eichmann embraced very wide circles in American Jewry (Document No. 91). An especially impressive letter was sent to Ben-Gurion by the Jewish-Swedish poet of German origin, Nelly Sachs, who five years later, shared the Nobel Prize for Literature with the author S.Y. Agnon. She wrote to the prime minister that since she views herself as a victim of Nazism, she implores him to avoid executing Eichmann, in order to emphasize the good in the world against evil . Sachs even attached to the letter a poem praising the prime minister (Document No. 100, in German), courtesy of the Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin). However, other opinions were also expressed in letters that arrived from abroad, such as that of I. Kemp, of Johannesburg, who wrote to President Ben-Zvi that he objects to commuting Adolf Eichmann's punishment, because such a step would project weakness and make a mockery of the whole trial (Document No. 97, in English).
There were also people in Israel who not only opposed the death sentence for Eichmann, but also acted on their feelings. A group of intellectuals led by Martin Buber and (Shmuel) Hugo Bergman was especially prominent. Buber expressed his opinion on several occasions during the trial, and even met with the prime minister on this issue. He argued that Eichmann's crimes were so great and terrible that there was no way of punishing him; and since the death sentence was inherently wrong, it should be avoided. One day after Eichmann's appeal had been turned down, the group sent a letter to President Ben-Zvi, in which they gave their reasons for requesting that he annul the death sentence pronounced on Eichmann, for the good of the country and its moral reputation, and in order to prevent giving an opportunity to antisemites to claim that a blood ransom had now been paid for Nazi crimes (Document No. 101). The position of Buber and his friends aroused many sharp reactions from their opponents, and some of them are presented here (Document No. 95).
Even after the end of the trial, and after Eichmann's execution, the correspondence on the issue of thes sentence continued. Martha Gellhorn, a journalist and the former wife of Ernest Hemingway, wrote to Teddy Kollek that the death sentence and cremation of Eichmann's body were the right thing to do, because left alive he would have become a symbol;and if he had been buried, his grave might have become a focus for pilgrimage by those who identified with his ideas. For the same reasons, she objected to the publication of the memoirs that Eichmann wrote while incarcerated in Israel. In his reply, Kollek agreed with her opinion that Eichmann's memoirs should not be published, but assumed that one day they would be made available for historical research (Document No. 103, in English).
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The Eichmann affair had a great effect not only on the public in Israel, but also on the attitude towards the Holocaust and its perpetrators around the world. This was faithfully reflected in a survey that was presented to Minister of Foreign Affairs Golda Meir, on the number of proceedings against Nazi criminals during the period before the trial, during it and afterwards. The report reveals that in the year after Eichmann's capture and transfer to Israel, there was a dramatic increase in the number of arrests of Nazi criminals throughout the world - in Germany and in other countries. In addition, it indicates a sharp rise that year in the number of trials, carrying out of death sentences and extradition procedures of Nazi criminals, and even in the elimination of Nazi elements in West Germany (Document No. 105).
After Eichmann's execution, the question arose of what to do with the manuscripts he wrote while in prison in Israel. In December 1962 Prime Minister Ben-Gurion wrote to the minister of police, Bechor Shalom Shitreet, and informed him of his decision to transfer the manuscripts to the Israel State Archives and forbade anyone from reading it for the next five years (Document No. 106).
Among the manuscripts written by Eichmann were two items: personal memoirs ('Meine Memoiren') that he wrote in the first months after his arrest and completed in June 1960, in the hope of selling them to a publisher and assisting in the financing of his defence; this manuscript is held in the Israel State Archives (to see several pages – both handwritten and typed). The second is a kind of autobiographical report called 'Goetzen', which he composed while waiting for his sentence, and he completed in September 1961. This contains his memoirs and his reactions to the information presented at the trial regarding his part in the Holocaust of European Jewry. This, too, is held at the Israel State Archives (File A342/1) (To see a part of the manuscript). (To see a part of the typed manuscript). (To see a summary of the biographical report in Hebrew) (or in English).
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The Israel State Archives also holds a great store of additional material related to the Eichmann affair, including files of the interrogation and collection of evidence conducted by Bureau 06, court files from both judicial levels, Ministry of Foreign Affairs files on the process of collecting testimony and exhibits, and on world reactions to the affair at its various stages. Most of the material is available to the public See list of materials related to the Eichmann affair at the Israel State Archives.