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Notes from Limmud 2011

The Eichmann Trial: Its Significance and Impact

Deborah Lipstadt

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

Eichmann was not the conceiver of the Holocaust, nor its CEO, but one of the COOs. He was responsible for the trains and the organisation, and ultimately the death of about a million Jews. And, at [sc: towards] the end of the War, he was responsible (with many Hungarians) for the destruction of the community of Budapest, which had stil been intact after the rest of European Jewry was completely destroyed.

He begun his Nazi career in Austria. He had dropped out of high school. He got a job organising the building of petrol stations. He joined the Nazi party in Austria, and when the Austrias cracked down on their Nazi party, he moved to Germany and joined the Nazi party there. He joined the SS. When the Anschluss happened, Eichmann was then sent to Vienna to organise the emigration of the Austrian Jewish community, mainly Viennese. This was still before the War, when the Nazi goal was to push Jews out. This became impossible once Poland and parts of the Soviet Union were part of the Reich, meaning there were millions of Jews within i.

He got funds from the JDC in the States to send hard currency to the Jews in Austria, which the Nazis changed at highway robbery rates, and they would then emigrate. This was a great money making operation for the SS. There is often a profit motive in this story, which we often ignore. They also got the Jews' possessions.

This was the prototype for Eichmann; it works here, though it will not in other places in the future. Eichmann was not involved in the shootings on the Eastern front, or the [lacuna], though these were later attributed to him in the trial.

At the end of the war, he knew his name had come up at Nuremburg when one of his secretaries named him in the trials. He was not on the radar screen; he was not known unless you were from Hungary. He realised he has to get out of his PoV camp, and escaped with the help of other SS prisoners.

He worked for a timber company giving help to other war criminals, then with a Red Cross pass and the help of the Vatican he went to Argentina, which was heavily in favour of white settlers with an education; they didn't care if they were war criminals. He was not a success there; he ended up working for a Mercedes-Benz plant. Lots of people knew he was there: former Nazis, people in the German embassy, also Mercedes-Benz people.

But no one who knew he was there was interested in capturing him.

There was a German expat family in Argentina, the Hermanns, who came in 1938, and decided to live as non-Jews because it's too dangerous a world to live as Jews. (Only one of the couple was Jewish.) Their daughter was a teenager in the late fifties; she kept company with other German ex-pats. Her boyfriend Nick made statements about how Hitler should have killed all the Jews. He said he lived his an uncle, Ricardo Clemens, called Eichmann. Walther Hermann didn't make a connection until he reads in the Fritz Bauer is beginning to prepare West Germany's first war crimes trial and one of the people Bauer would like to indict is Adolf Eichmann.

Bauer was a German Jew, a socialist imprisoned in Dachau. He left and went to Denmark, and then when to Sweden when the Germans invaded there too. There were other socialists there. But he was convinced by other people that he had to come back to Germany afterwards to establish a fair judicial system. Another socialist was Willi Brandt, who would go on to become chancellor. When he visited Poland, and Warsaw, Brandt fell to his knees in contrition.

Germany was riddled with former Nazis, even after the denazification programme.

Bauer asked him to investigate further, so he went to Eichmann's house and realised the "uncle" is Adolf Eichmann.

Bauer does not give the information to the German authorities, because he's sure someone will warn Eichmann and Eichmann will disappear. He gives the information to the Israelis, who pass it to Isser Harel, head of the Mossad and Shin-Bet, who does nothing. He didn't have much budget, and he decided to use his resources to go after the enemies of the Jewish people today, not those of the past.

Bauer eventually goes to Jerusalem, and Harel is summoned to a meeting with him. Harel doesn't like being summoned like this. He goes to Ben-Gurion, who rather than saying send some guys to Argentina and bump him off as a message to other Nazis, says: find him, capture him, bring him here and we will put him on trial. For Ben-Gurion it's a Zionist act. Who better to try a Nazi war criminal than the heirs to the Jewish people, the Jewish state.

They go and capture him, and put him on Abba Eban's plane. The flight plan says it's going to land in [??]. They land instead on Dakar flying on fumes only, then fly direct to Tel Aviv.

When it arrives in Lod, he is taken to prison. Har-El goes to Ben-Gurion and asks him not to make any public announcements for two or three days, because he still had operatives there, breaking down the safe house, returning the rented cars, covering our tracks. The whole team was Holocaust survivors. He'd promised them nothing would be said.

Ben-Gurion asked how many people knew Eichmann was here. He replied, the El-Al staff, because they'd wondered at the presence of a passenger with a blindfold on, the people at [lacuna]: twenty or thirty people.

Ben-Gurion said: By tomorrow the whole country will know. This is naive: why would he think it would even take that long?

So he marched into the Knesset, then on King George Street, the next day, and made two sentences, "Adolf Eichmannn [...] is here. He will be tried under the 1950 law against Nazis and war criminals."

Did anyone think in 1950 that there would be Nazi war criminals tried in Israel!? It was to bring Israeli law into alignment with that of other European countries. But the impetus for the law came from another source: Survivors would be all over Israel and say: is that Kapow? That's the Kapow from my barracks, the Jew who turned me in, or the member of the Judenrat, etc.

Who should be the judge? By general Israeli legal practises, the chair of trhe Jerusalem district court, Binyamin haLevi, a native of Germany. But he was the judge in Rudolf Kasztner's libel case against Grunwald, who accused him of being responsible for the death of his Hungarian family. Kasztner said in his trial beforehand he was doing it on behalf of the Jewish Agency. Ben-Gurion never stood up for him. Grunwald is found not guilty. Halevi says, "He sold his soul to Satan", i.e. Eichmann. This ruled Halevi biased.

Many judges tried to prevail upon Halevi to step aside. He said he wouldn't, because it's only because his ruling embarrassed Ben-Gurion and the government.

The Knesset goes back into action, and said if it is a capital case, the judge has to be from the High Court, so they appoint Moshe Landau (now recently deceased) and make Halevi the secondary judge.

They appoint Giedeon Hausner as the prosecutor. He's not very experienced, and people expect him to have other people [?working with him].

This is 1960; this is just a few years after the Stalin show trials: people think this will be the same. But Hausner says no; this will be a fair trial. A number of people stepped forward to be defenders of Eichmann, not because they sympathised with him, but because they believe in a fair trial.

A show trial is where the defendant comes in and said I'm guilty, carry out justice on me. Eichmann fought Hausner tooth and nail the whole way. This was not a show trial.

Ben-Gurion wouldn't let any Israeli be a prosecutor because they believed he will be assassinated on the street afterwards like Kasztner. So they agreed to have a German, but a non-Nazi: Dr Robert Servatius.

Where to hold the trial? The courtrooms in Jerusalem were in the Russian quarter; quite decrepit and small. Ben-Gurion appointed an assistant to find a venue. He chose a community centre then being built. He negotiated with a contractor to make sure it would be finished on time, the biggest miracle of the whole story.

Everything is now in place; now must come the indictment.

Hausner says the Nuremberg trials failed to capture the imagination of the world. This was because they were in the immediate aftermath of the war; there were 22 defendants, Europe was in a shambles. But Hausner is convinced that this trial should capture the imagination of the world.

At Nuremberg crime number 4 was crimes against humanity. Against the Jews was one of those crimes. The world and the prosecutors had not yet put their heads around the fact the Holocaust, the Final Solution, was different from other crimes. So when Hausner creates the indictment, he flips it around so crimes against the Jews was the first part of it.

There is a big world debate that begins as soon as Israel says it has captured Eichmann. This happens in the Security Council, where Israel is condemned. Even the western allies are troubled by the idea of going and kidnapping someone. Golda Meir goes to New York to defend Israel. Argentina sends a fascist as an ambassador. He says, yes some Nazi war criminals might have come into Argentina illegally, but yes, many Jews came in as well. Golda Meir flipped, saying you're equating the perpetrators and the victims!?

The problem is that Israel has good relations with Argentina. At that point, two things happen. The Soviet Union, which under the Nuremberg laws could call for the reconvening of the Nuremberg trial, says maybe we should do this. This is the last thing the US, or France of Britain wants. This makes them very nervous. And lots of people don't want him returned to Argentina.

Richard Nixon, who was about to run for President in 1960, calls his running mate and says, "Make this go away without returning Eichmann". So the running mate, Cabot Lodge, comes into the UN saying that Golda Meir's apology has been accepted, and the objections dropped. So Argentina gets its apology, and Israel gets its man.

People said how can it be a fair trial in Israel? But no one had said that about Polish or Czechoslovakian trials after the war. And as Hausner said, how is this different from a murder trial, or anything?

Others said it should be an international court. But there was none then. (Or only for cases between nations.) Others said Germany. Germany really didn't want this; because they were afraid Eichmann would point to the Nazi past of people in the German administration.

The trial begins on 11 April 1961. In between times, a special police bureau was set up to question Eichmann.

Hausner made the decision, with the urging of Holocaust survivor Rachel Auerbach, to make the trial differently from Nuremberg, which was based primarily on documents, not on evidence from victims.

They used the Nuremberg documents, and asked for documents from other countries too, which they received from all countries except the Soviet Union and the UK (because of their role in the Kasztner case).

So there was a steady flow of survivors giving evidence. People say it was the first time that survivors had spoken, but that's not true. There had been a debate on the name of Yom Hashoah, the role of Yad Vashem, you had the Kasztner trial and his assassination. Menachem Begin once nearly brought down the government on the subject of accepting reparations from Germany; "blood money", he called it. In 1946 40,000 people came to Yom Hashoah events in Palestine.

The journalist who attended the trial, wrote about how he was amazed about what happened. So what's the difference here? Answer: People had spoken before, but the post-Holocaust generation had never listened the way it listened as a result of the Eichmann trial. People told powerful stories.

Georges Valère, a Frenchman, during July 1942 when the roundups took place, went to the Drancy internment camp to visit the children there, with René Blum, the brother of Léon Blum, the French premier who had been assassinated. [Eh?]

The children were kept 100 to a room, on filthy matttresses, separated from their parents. some too young to know their own names.

We met one little boy with an intelligent face... When we asked about his parents, he said my father goes to the office and mummy plays the piano. The boy showed a biscuit he was saving for his mother. [lacuna]

A previously unspoken question came to the fore when Abba Kovner came to give testimony, the first person to actively call for armed uprising—"we shall not go like sheep to the slaughter". He said I protest against the unstated assumption: why didn't they fight back? Israelis said we fought against Arabs; what about the Europeans? Israelis called Holocaust survivors soaps. But Hausner, from talking to survivors, knew that was not the case.

He asked a question people thought was outrageous. Beiskey, who was interned in Plashov in Crakow, had a chance to escape, but doesn't because he knows Amon Goeth will kill eighty of the other prisoners. He gives good testimony, well controlled, and then talks about how 15,000 prisoners were forced to watch as a young child was hanged. The first time he was a [lacuna]

There were 15,000 prisoners there but only hundreds of guards. "Why didn't you revolt?" Beisky breaks down; he's a broken man again. He says I cannot describe the terror and fear. Where could any of the Jews go? "We were wearing yellow clothes with yellow stripes; our hair was .?????ed." Even assuming 14,000 people managed to escape, where could they go, what could they do?

Many of the survivors when they came to Israel was be given a gun and became part of the War of Independence.

This was the beginning of a more tolerant Israel. It didn't happen overnight, but it took a while.

???, when she testified about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when she testified about the heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto, she didn't talk about the uprising at all, but about how they didn't raise the childsren not to have any hope all all.

Abba Kovner says don't ask why they didn't fight back, but how was it possible to have an uprising at all? No one on the outside was helping them.

Look for YouTube, Session 1. The man seeing Eichmann standing as the judges came in said that was the high point of this saga.

After Israel went into exile, the rabbis said, אין דִין ואין דַיַן (there is no justice, and there is no Judge). Now יש דִין ויש דַיַן (there is justice, and there is a judge).

The speaker's favourite moment in the trial: Eichmann says he was just following orders. The prosecutor said he saved individual Jews. So when you wanted to disobey orders, you could.

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