Adolf Eichmann Trial Begins in Jerusalem

On May 23, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces to the Knesset, “I would like to inform the Knesset that some time ago Israel’s Security Service ascertained the whereabouts of one of the greatest Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders for what they called ‘The Final Solution of the Jewish problem,’ that is the murder of six million European Jews.  Adolf Eichmann is now under arrest in Israel and will soon stand trial here, in accordance with the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Law of 1950.”

The news of Eichmann’s capture spreads rapidly to the Israeli public.  Eichmann’s arrest and extradition to Israel are the culmination of a fifteen year hunt for Nazi war criminals and the most successful and high profile capture that had been made.  Despite rumors that Eichmann is living in Kuwait, which surface in the fall of 1959, he is in fact living in Argentina with his family under an assumed name, Ricardo Klement, when he is captured by Israeli Secret Service agents on May 1, 1960.  On February 25, 1961, Binyamin Halevi, President of the Jerusalem District Court informs Attorney General Gideon Hausner as well as Eichmann’s assistant counsel Dieter Wechtenbruch that the trial will commence on April 11.

The Beit Ha’am community center, an unfinished ten year old building project on Bezalel Street in Jerusalem, is chosen as the venue for the trial with new construction plans drawn up to accommodate the large number of journalists and foreign observers who will attend as well as to provide adequate security measures.  A special panel of three judges is appointed to preside consisting of Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landau, President of the Tel Aviv District Court Yitzhak Raveh and Halevi.  Hausner leads the prosecution team.

On April 11, according the Jerusalem Post, “At 8:57 AM, the concealed door in the wall behind the bullet-proof glass dock opened quietly and Eichmann was ushered into the dock…A ripple ran through the courtroom as the spectators realized that Eichmann had appeared.  Everyone turned to look at him.” (Jerusalem Post, April 12, 1961)  The first day of the trial on April 11th focuses on reading the charges, arguments for and against the impartiality of the judges and whether or not Israel had jurisdiction in this case.

The trial lasts for fourteen weeks and features over a hundred witness testimonies.  On December 11, the three judge panel delivers the first of fifteen guilty verdicts for murder and crimes against the Jewish People, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Two days later,  Hausner requests the death penalty for Eichmann.  The death penalty is handed down by the court on December 15.  Eichmann is hanged on May 31, 1962.  The impact of the trial on Israeli society is significant because it creates a new openness in the country towards Holocaust survivors and their experiences.  In 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of the trial, the Israel State Archives releases a number of previously classified documents relating to Eichmann’s capture and the trial.

The photo shows the first day of the trial on April 11, 1961.  Source: Government Press Office of Israel.