Eichmann trial 60 years on

Eichmann trial 60 years on

For JN April 2021

The Mossad cell which dramatically captured Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Final Solution of the Holocaust, also located the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in Argentina — but Israel’s prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, refused to permit Mossad to bring Mengele back to Israel with Eichmann.

The revelation, together with other eyebrow-raising stories, was made in a remarkable panel discussion held on Sunday under the aegis of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) and 3GNY, a group of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and victims, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. The event was punctuated with powerful film clips from the trial.

It was no accident that three of the participants — James Libson, Tamar Hausner-Raveh, and Eli Rosenbaum — are lawyers, since the 1961 trial is generally held to be a legal landmark. It was subject to many questions at the time because Eichmann’s crimes had not taken place on Israeli soil, and the authority of the court was frequently challenged.

But the famous opening speech of Israel’s attorney-general, Gideon Hausner, in which he told the court that he did not stand alone, but stood with “six million accusers, but they cannot rise to their feet”, sent a shuddering echo down the years. And his daughter, Tamar Hausner-Raveh, recalled not just her father’s speech but the long trail of survivors who arrived at her parents’ home, to discuss the possibility of giving testimony against Eichmann.

She spoke of the attempt by her father, who had only been appointed attorney-general two weeks before Ben-Gurion announced Eichmann’s capture in May 1960, to persuade some witnesses to take the stand. Among the most famous was the writer Yehiel De-Nur, known under his pseudonym of Ka-Tsetnik 135633, who spectacularly collapsed in the witness box while giving testimony. (Ka-Tsetnik is from the Yiddish for “concentration camper”, while the number is that given to De-Nur by the Nazis).

Eli Rosenbaum, a leading lawyer in America’s Department of Justice, was, for 40 years, director of the Department’s Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, responsible for identifying, denaturalising, and deporting Nazi war criminals. He spoke of the influence of the Eichmann trial on his own investigations, not least in the meticulous collating and saving of trial documents. More than 50,000 pages of OSI transcripts has now been donated for research, he said.

The Eichmann trial itself took place in a Jerusalem building known as Beit Ha’am, and lasted from April 11, 1961, to August 14. The building became an arts and cultural centre but now, according to Tamar Hausner-Raveh, is being renovated and will be re-opened as a memorial to the trial.

James Libson, who moderated the event — with panellists Avner Abraham, an ex-Mossad agent who now lectures on the Eichmann capture, and Shula Bahat, director of Anu (formerly the Diaspora Museum) in America — was one of the lawyers who acted for academic Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving. More recently he has represented the Jewish Labour Movement, particularly regarding testimony submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about Labour antisemitism.

All the panellists agreed that one of the major triggers of the Eichmann trial was that survivors began to talk about their experiences. But as Eichmann, and the Holocaust, as James Libson expressed it, “begins to move from contemporary experience to that of historical experience”, it was more important than ever to learn lessons from the trial and its conduct.

Ben-Gurion, it emerged, had refused to allow the Mossad to bring Mengele to Israel “because he did not want the then 12 year-old country to become a dumping ground for war criminals”. The importance of Eichmann was its uniqueness and singularity, the panellists agreed.

One person most shocked by the news of Eichmann’s capture was Israel’s renowned foreign minister, Abba Etan, who was minister of education at the time of the kidnap and trial. He had been attending a conference in Buenos Aires and Eichmann was in fact returned to Israel on Eban’s flight — completely unknown to the politician.

And Eli Rosenbaum spoke of revelations in newly released CIA records, which showed that the CIA “didn’t figure out what the Israelis were up to. No-one was more amazed than the legendary CIA director, Allen Dulles… a CIA agent was dispatched to speak to an Israeli embassy opposite number [in Washington] to get the details of how it was done”.

He also recalled that Israeli cabinet members had proposed to Ben-Gurion that the Mossad cell responsible for finding and capturing Eichmann, then living under the assumed name of Ricardo Clement in Buenos Aires, should be given some sort of reward. “And Ben-Gurion said: ‘The reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself’”.

Eichmann, aged 56, was sentenced to death in December 1961, and hanged in June 1962 in Ramle prison. His remains were cremated and scattered out to sea, beyond Israel’s territorial waters.

  • 25 April, 2021