The Greatest Trial in History

“I never gave an order to kill a Jew” were the words said by the man who is known as the architect of the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann had joined the Nazi Party in 1932. He later worked in a section that dealt with Jewish affairs. From the beginning of Germany’s reign of terror, more than half a decade before the Holocaust, Eichmann was persecuting Jews and learning to find efficiencies within the Reich’s new camp system. After Hitler annexed Austria, Eichmann was sent to Vienna, and later Prague, to rid the city of Jews. Because of his efficiency, this was done faster than it had ever been done before in Germany. Before the victims were sent away or emigrated, Eichmann managed the process of stealing their property. In 1942, a conference of Nazi high officials had been gathered to organize the logistics of what the Nazis called the “final solution to the Jewish question”. Eichmann was named chief executioner and organized the identification, assemble, and transportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to their final destinations at Auschwitz and other extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, where the victims were gassed.

Like other leaders during the regime, Eichmann was always “working toward the Fuhrer” when carrying out mass murder. This phrase was frequently used to encourage German leaders to go above and beyond in their efforts, and not wait for Hitler to issue specific orders. When Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, Eichmann oversaw the deportation of much of the Jewish population. Under his command, most of the victims were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where about 75 percent were murdered upon arrival. Towards the end of the war, during the summer of 1944, Eichmann had organized the slaughter of 400,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most Germans knew that the war had been lost, but the genocide’s pace was actually hastened through Eichmann. Towards the end of the war, he said that he would “leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

Following the war, Hitler and most of the high-ranking officials had committed suicide to avoid capture by the Allied forces. U.S. troops had captured Eichmann, but he managed to escape from a prison camp in 1946. After dodging in and out of the Middle East for several years, Eichmann settled in Argentina in 1958 using a false identification under the name of ‘Ricardo Klement’. He obtained these false papers through an organization directed by Bishop Alois Hudal, an Austrian cleric then residing in Italy with known Nazi sympathies.

The Allied forced held the Nuremberg trials in 1995. These trials were primarily for the prosecution of those involved in the Holocaust and other war crimes and were considered one of the greatest trials held in history. During the trials, the Rorschach test was administered to the defendants, along with a few other tests. All were above average intelligence, several considerably. The death sentences were carried out in 1946. These were done by hanging using the standard drop method instead of the long drop. The U.S. army denied claims that the drop length was too short which would have lead to a slow death from strangulation instead of quickly from a broken neck. However, evidence suggested that some of the condemned men died agonizingly slowly, struggling for around 14 to 28 minutes before finally choking to death.

Eichmann, in Argentina, was located by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. However, Argentina had a history of turning down extradition requests for Nazi criminals, so rather than filing a possibly futile request for extradition, the then Israeli Prime Minister decided that he should be captured and brought to Israel for trial. Thus, he was kidnapped by the team and held in a safe house for nine days, during which his identity was double checked and confirmed. Around midnight on 20 May, Eichmann was sedated by an Israeli doctor on the Mossad team and dressed as a flight attendant, he was smuggled out of Argentina.

A controversy had risen over this Israeli violation of the Argentinean law, and after settling it, the Israeli government arranged his trial before a special three-judge court in Jerusalem. However, there were other controversial issues at stake. Only three years after the Holocaust was there a trial conducted before the Jewish state by Jewish judges. This gave rise to accusations of ex-post facto justice. An international tribunal to try Eichmann was called, while others wanted him tried in Germany, but Israel was insistent. Justice and honour were at stake, as well as an opportunity to educate a new generation about the Holocaust. Under questioning, he strongly claimed not to be an anti-Semite. He portrayed himself as an obedient bureaucrat who merely carried out his assigned duties. He was not the first Nazi defendant to argue obedience and adherence to the law. Even though he denied his ultimate responsibility, he seemed proud of his effectiveness in establishing efficient procedures to deport millions of victims. However, he did more than merely follow orders in coordinating an operation of this scale. Eichmann was a fanatical and a resourceful manager who relied on varied tactics and strategies to secure scarce cattle cars and other equipment used to deport Jews at a time when shortages in equipment threatened the German war effort. His repeatedly devised innovative solutions helped overcome obstacles.

His trial lasted from April 11 to December 15, 1961. Eichmann was sentenced to death, the only death sentence ever imposed by an Israeli court. He was hanged on May 31, 1962, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

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