Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes

Adolf Eichmann—the man most responsible for the organization and conduct of the Nazi’s so-called final solution, in which six million Jews were exterminated in concentration camps during World War II—was captured by Israeli agents in Argentina. He was placed on trial in Israel, convicted, and executed.

Summary of Event

Headlights blinded the slightly built, middle-aged man as he began walking the short distance from the bus stop to his rented house in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Suddenly, three men grabbed him, forced him into a car, and sped away. The kidnapped man was Adolf Eichmann. During World War II, he had served as commander of a sub-office within the Reich Security Head Office, from which he had overseen the operations of the Nazi death camps and particularly the train system used to transport Jews, Gypsies, and others to the camps. He was thus indirectly responsible for the deaths of several million Jews during World War II. For years, he had been living in Argentina under the name of Ricardo Klement. His sons, however, still used the name Eichmann. His wife had remarried, but her second marriage was to her first husband under his assumed name. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];postwar trials
War crimes;World War II
Executions;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Holocaust;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Capital punishment
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war crimes
[kw]Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes (Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961)
[kw]War Crimes, Eichmann Is Tried for (Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961)
[kw]Crimes, Eichmann Is Tried for War (Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];postwar trials
War crimes;World War II
Executions;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Holocaust;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Capital punishment
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war crimes
[g]Middle East;Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961: Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes[06890]
[g]Israel;Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961: Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes[06890]
[c]World War II;Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961: Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes[06890]
[c]Atrocities and war crimes;Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961: Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes[06890]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 11-Aug. 14, 1961: Eichmann Is Tried for War Crimes[06890]
Eichmann, Adolf
Harel, Isser
Servatius, Robert
Hausner, Gideon
Landau, Moshe

For fifteen years, Israeli agents had sought the whereabouts of this notorious war criminal; they were quite sure he was in Tucumán or Buenos Aires. Early in 1960, when Eichmann’s father died, the obituary listed Vera Eichmann, not Vera Klement, as a daughter-in-law. The surveillance team watching the Klement house noticed Mrs. Klement’s husband bringing her a bouquet of flowers on March 21, 1960, the twenty-fifth anniversary of her original marriage to Adolf Eichmann. This seemed to confirm what their photographs and other information already indicated: Klement was Eichmann.

The decision was made to arrest Eichmann, without the knowledge Extraordinary rendition of the Argentine government, and to take him to Israel to stand trial. The kidnapping was timed to coincide with an Israeli state visit to Argentina. While the Israeli government delegation was in Buenos Aires, the Israeli Mossad, or Central Bureau of Intelligence and Security, used the Israeli airplane to transport Adolf Eichmann to Israel.

The El Al plane landed in Israel on May 22, 1960. The news of its arrival electrified the world. For many months, the Eichmann trial would be global prime-time news. Eichmann was taken to a prison in Ramla under elaborate security precautions. He was allowed to choose his own legal counsel and selected Robert Servatius, an attorney from Cologne, Germany, who had defended other war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials Nuremberg Trials in 1945. Israel paid $30,000 in legal expenses for the accused.

Eichmann gave a fluent and detailed statement that took 3,564 typewritten pages to transcribe. He demonstrated an incredible memory—except regarding his involvement in the Holocaust. The Israeli investigation of his statement took eight months to complete. Finally, on April 11, 1961, Eichmann’s trial began at Beit HaAm, a large public auditorium in Jerusalem, with six hundred foreign correspondents in attendance. The prisoner’s dock was enclosed in bulletproof glass. The three judges, two of whom were born and educated in Germany, were all members of the Israeli Supreme Court. The presiding judge, Moshe Landau, read the indictment accusing Eichmann of causing the deaths of millions of Jews between 1939 and 1945. He was the person responsible for the extermination of Jews by the Nazis in their “final solution” to what they saw as “the Jewish problem.”

Eichmann’s defense attorney offered two preliminary objections: The judges should be disqualified because they had preconceived opinions about the case, and the court had no jurisdiction over Eichmann since he had been kidnapped from Argentina. Servatius further claimed that Israel’s Nazi Law had no validity, because it had been enacted after the historical events had occurred. Indeed, since the nation of Israel had not existed during World War II, none of its laws could have been violated during the war.

The court spent six days discussing the matter and citing legal precedents, especially from British and U.S. court decisions. The court held that the judges should be fair, but they could not be expected to be neutral. As for Eichmann’s kidnapping, the manner in which a defendant was brought within the jurisdiction of a national state had no bearing on the state’s competence to try him in a court of law. Finally, the Nuremberg Trials were cited as precedent for the Eichmann trial. Those trials had also involved accusations of acts that had been declared crimes only after their occurrence.

The attorney general of Israel, Gideon Hausner, was the chief prosecuting attorney. In recounting Eichmann’s crimes, Hausner cited age-old condemnations of murder, antedating even the Ten Commandments. “Murder is murder,” Hausner proclaimed. “And even if one shouts, ’Der Führer befahl, wir befolgen’ (’The Führer has ordered, we obey’), even then, murder is murder, oppression is oppression, and robbery is robbery.”

From April until August, there followed an incredible parade of witnesses from all over Europe who recounted Eichmann’s role in the crimes of the Nazis. After 114 sessions, the trial ended on August 14, 1961, and the court adjourned for four months. When it reconvened on December 11, Eichmann was found guilty on all fifteen counts and sentenced to death by hanging.

A Protestant clergyman was given the task of ministering to Eichmann’s spiritual needs. The clergyman sought to persuade Eichmann to repent. Eichmann’s reply was, “I am not prepared to discuss the Bible. I do not have the time to waste!” Nevertheless, with the noose literally around his neck just before execution, Adolf Eichmann said, “I have lived believing in God, and I die believing in God.” The clergyman later commented that Eichmann was “the hardest man I ever saw.” On May 31, 1962, at midnight, Adolf Eichmann was hanged on the gallows. His body was later cremated. Early in the morning of June 1, a police launch carried his remains beyond the three-mile territorial limit and scattered his ashes into the Mediterranean Sea.


The arrest, trial, and execution of Adolf Eichmann dramatically demonstrated that there are people in the world determined to bring to justice those responsible for horrible violations of basic human rights. Neither time nor national barriers prevented justice from being meted out to the commander of the Holocaust.

It is significant that world opinion was solidly behind what Israel sought to achieve. West Germany, as well as Great Britain and the United States, cooperated in the investigation and trial. West Germany had issued an arrest warrant for Eichmann in 1956, but there was no extradition treaty with Israel, and the West German government did not request Eichmann’s extradition. Argentina’s sovereignty had been violated by the Israelis, so Argentina, of course, protested. The matter was discussed in the United Nations, and Argentina eventually accepted Israel’s apology.

Besides bringing an exceptionally notorious war criminal to justice, this trial also demonstrated that no matter how terrible the crime, the accused still possessed certain basic human rights that were inviolate. He did not possess the right to avoid public trial, but his personal safety and decent conditions of incarceration were paramount. Eichmann was not tortured or physically abused, and he was protected from those who would harm him. He had adequate living conditions and food, and the ability to communicate with friends and family. Not only was he given legal counsel of his own choosing, but the Israeli taxpayers paid his legal fees. The Jewish people, whose own human rights had been so viciously violated by Germany during the war, demonstrated that human rights are more significant than raw power. The meticulous care for fairness, judicial process, and systematic gathering of evidence in the trial in Israel contrasted sharply with the Gestapo methods familiar to Adolf Eichmann.

The German people knew all this. There was outrage in Germany when, on November 20, 1961, the Stuttgarter Zeitung reported a statement by Eichmann’s defense attorney that “every German could have found himself in Eichmann’s situation.” They knew that this was not true. His crime was that of mass murder, not that of being a German or even a member of Hitler’s military command.

Ironically, the Eichmann trial fostered a new understanding and a greater empathy between West Germany West Germany and Israel Israel;relations with West Germany . West German loans, at favorable interest rates, were made to Israel. German investments in Israel increased considerably, and German arms shipments to Israel were made at a time of critical need in Israeli history. During the 1960’s, West Germany was one of Israel’s chief markets, and exports to West Germany rose sharply during the decade.

The intense worldwide publicity surrounding the trial of Eichmann educated a new generation on the atrocities of the Nazi regime. This was particularly true of the many young Germans who were horrified to learn details of the Holocaust. They had been kept in virtual ignorance of these details and felt a sense of betrayal for the silence surrounding these events. Twenty thousand German youths visited Israel between 1961 and 1967 to help in the work of building the young nation. The “final solution” to those Germans and Israelis was mutual respect and service. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];postwar trials
War crimes;World War II
Executions;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Holocaust;Adolf Eichmann[Eichmann]
Capital punishment
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];war crimes

Further Reading

  • Aharoni, Zvi, and Wilhelm Dietl. Operation Eichmann: The Truth About the Pursuit, Capture and Trial. Translated by Helmut Bogler. New York: J. Wiley, 1997. Written by the investigator who tracked and interrogated Eichmann, this is a firsthand account of Eichmann’s pursuit and capture.
  • Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. Revised edition of the classic philosophical exploration of the Eichmann trial and the lesson it teaches about evil.
  • Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. Recounts in detail Hitler’s “final solution” and Adolf Eichmann’s key role in bringing it about.
  • Harel, Isser. The House on Garibaldi Street. New York: Viking Press, 1975. Isser Harel was the head of the Mossad and made the key decisions involved in the capture of Eichmann. His account is limited to the capture and removal of Eichmann to Israel.
  • Pearlman, Moshe. The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963. This is a lengthy and full account of the entire Eichmann episode, but most of the book is a detailed account of the trial: the arguments and counterarguments, conclusions, sentence, and final days of Adolf Eichmann.

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