The Eichmann Trial

With the capture of a Nazi officer, discussion about the Holocaust entered the public realm.

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Adolf Eichmann was born to a middle-class German family in 1906. He rose through the ranks of the Nazi party to become the senior lieutenant colonel responsible for the transportation of an innumerable amount of Jews to the death camps in Poland. Eichmann also facilitated and managed the use of gas chambers in the coordinated Nazi plan to enact the Final Solution, earning him the title "the architect of the Holocaust."

Eichmann was arrested by the Allies at the end of World War II, but he escaped by assuming a different identity. He managed to spread a rumor of his suicide and was aided by former SS colleagues as he fled to Argentina. He lived there with his family for more than a decade under the pseudonym Ricardo Klement.

Capture and Trial

In 1960, Israeli intelligence was alerted to Eichmann's identity by the CIA, which had received information from Simon Wiesenthal about Eichmann's location in Buenos Aires. The capture was carried out non-violently by Mossad agents, who first had to track and positively identify him, all the while concealing their operation from the Argentine authorities.

Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, aware that the Argentine government had a history of protecting Nazis and was unlikely to agree to extradition, authorized his security agents to move on their own. The Argentine government knew nothing of the capture at the time. Afterward, when they brought this grievance to the UN, the matter was resolved peacefully.

The agents smuggled Eichmann by plane to Jerusalem, where he faced charges of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, and membership in organizations that the 1945-46 Nuremberg Trials had classified as criminal.

Eichmann was tried in 1961 in one of the most notorious trials in history. He sat for eight months in a bulletproof glass box in a Jerusalem courtroom and listened to all of the testimony against him. One hundred and eleven survivors testified with detailed eyewitness accounts of their experiences in the Holocaust, hundreds more attended the trial, and thousands of survivors worldwide followed the radio and television broadcasts.

Eichmann was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. On June 1, 1962 he was hanged. This was the only time that the death penalty was used in the history of the state of Israel.

Eichmann was prosecuted under the provisions of the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law, established in 1950 by Ben Gurion's government. The trial was only possible because a sovereign Jewish state with its own political structure, legal system, and intelligence and security agencies existed. For the first time in history, the Jewish people had the means to bring about justice to those who persecuted them. Ben Gurion and other founders of the state saw this as an intrinsic value of Israel's national identity.

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Jessica Kraft

Jessica Kraft is a writer, educator, and artist based in San Francisco, CA.