The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 120
(Part 2 of 3)

In Paragraph 222 of its Judgment, this Court finds that in Adolf Eichmann's case there were no circumstances on the basis of which he could ask for mitigation of his punishment, and in the words of the Judgment: "The Accused's attempt to rely on superior orders... is already untenable."

In Paragraph 241 of the Court's Judgment it says that Eichmann "went to every extreme to bring about the speedy and complete extermination of all Jews in the territories under German rule and influence." It is therefore obvious beyond any doubt that he cannot rely on a defence of any mitigating circumstance whatsoever, so that the provisions of Section 11 of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law on mitigation of punishment could apply to him.

However, if the provision on maximum penalties in the Law on Methods of Punishment were to apply to the crimes of which Eichmann has been found guilty, and if the Court were free under the law to impose some other sentence on him than a capital one, I would argue that, in view of everything said about him in the Court's Judgment, and in the light of everything that has been proved in this Court - there is one punishment, and only one punishment, which the Court can impose on him.

Adolf Eichmann has excluded himself by the horrors of his actions from human society. He knowingly and willingly chose a path of a rampaging destructive and bloodthirsty wild animal, and he cannot demand of human society that it adopt an attitude towards him according to the normal standards which apply in relations between fellow men.

He was born a man, but he lived like a tiger in the jungle. He participated in ghastly deeds, which strip anyone performing them of his human image. For there are deeds which are beyond the human pale, which lie on the other side of the divide that separates human beings from animals. Adolf Eichmann crossed this divide.

Therefore, human society will judge him as a creature who knowingly placed himself beyond the pale, shook off all moral restraints, and gave vent without restriction and limit to base instincts against which civilized men protect themselves by means of a wall of moral constraints and prohibitions which must not be breached.

Anyone who dwells on this side of that wall is a man, even if he has committed crimes and transgressions. But the person who undermines this basic wall and breaks through it to the no-man's-land on the other side, who acts without restraint, without inhibition and without moral self- control, and certainly anyone keen to do so, has lost the common denominator between himself and civilized man.

Even a murderer who has taken human life, is still a man, even if his sin against society is most grave. Despite the horror of his crime - he is still within the bounds of the human. Many are of the opinion that there are weighty grounds for repealing the death sentence for murder, and the State of Israel is one of the countries to have done so. But anyone who sins against humanity, anyone who attacks not just the well-being of society but its very existence, anyone who in fact denies that every individual has certain obligations towards the rest of his species, anyone who believes that he is allowed to put an entire people to death, and does that out of cold and calculated hatred - that person places himself outside the human species. Such a creature has by his deeds deprived himself of the right to walk with human beings, and human society is commanded to cast him out from its midst, if only to protect itself from such criminals.

Eichmann is not worthy of your compassion, because in his heart there never was compassion. On the contrary: he still regrets the fact that any Jew escaped, because he wanted the death of them all. When he confessed to Sassen in 1957, he said that he always preferred to see the Jewish enemy dead rather than to see him alive, apologized for the fact - for which he was not responsible - that a handful of Holocaust survivors had escaped, and expressed his regret at the fact that, because of the perfidy with which his assistants ensnared him, Jews remained in Hungary to that day. In your Judgment, you have already held that there is not one iota of regret in his heart. Not only the blood of the millions murdered weighs upon him. He is also guilty of the awful, the inestimable suffering of the millions of victims, the suffering of bondage, torture and starvation.

The deliberate maltreatment of human beings in a cold, calculating fashion, with a clear mind and with diabolical wickedness, is no less terrible than the actual shedding of blood. Look at the eyes of the children, in the pictures and photographs from the days of the Holocaust; look on the infants wrapped in tatters, with terrible fear in their eyes, their bodies shrunk from hunger; listen to their desperate cries: Mama, Mama, help, echoing round the ghettos of Europe; gaze upon the long-suffering head of the Jew raising himself on the planks of his bunk at Auschwitz; the tortures and the horrors that you have seen in films of the Holocaust; remember the mental humiliation and the trampling on human dignity that Eichmann and his henchmen caused by their daily actions - and you will no longer be able to say, Your Honours, which is worse: the wholesale murder or the cruel and protracted torments.

Perhaps the Defence will argue here that so many years have lapsed since the dreadful deeds were carried out that with time the wounds have scarred over and that this is not the time to begin new upheavals by imposing a severe sentence on the perpetrator of the Final Solution.

But the truth is that the horrors and the atrocities live within us, just as dreadful as in the days when they were perpetrated. You have seen here in the Court the survivors of the Holocaust. None of them will ever again be what he used to be. Nor can human society ever be again what it was before these foul creatures came and sent millions to their deaths. The blood of the millions will cry out forever. Because the blood of the pure can never be atoned, and it boils and cries out and demands satisfaction.

Will we really ever forget the more than one million Jewish children whom these fiends sent to their death? More than sixteen years have passed since the end of this War. The wounds of other peoples have already healed, and their populations have returned to normal existence and have grown back to the same numbers as they were before the Nazi jackboots marched over Europe and even greater.

The only people whose national afflication has not healed to this today is the Jewish People. Others counted their losses in the War- we counted those who remained. The Gentile nations have recovered and filled the void left by the War. The Jewish People has barely been able to maintain a national existence on the basis of what is left.

A million and more Jewish children who were wiped out should today have constituted the up-and-coming generation of our people. One of them testified before you, Dr. Wells, who miraculously survived. He is a world-class genius, an inventor and a recipient of international prizes. Who can count the numbers of talented individuals who perished and were lost forever to Israel and to the world? How many great literary talents such as Anne Frank, how many youth leaders like Dolek Liebeskind, how many great minds like Mordechai Anielewicz have vanished and are no longer with us? Treasures of Jewish and human culture, whose greatness we can but guess at, were lost because of the actions of Eichmann and his henchmen, and for generations we shall not be able to fill this void.

Therefore, Eichmann's crime is not barred by the Statute of Limitations, nor has its heinousness dimmed.

He certainly cannot argue that there was any delay in putting him on trial, because he evaded those seeking him, he escaped the hunt for him, fled across the seas and concealed himself under a false name. The Supreme Court has already provided a precedent in the Markovits case,17 {17 Crim.App. 205/57, 12 Piskei Din 532} according to which the fact that the accused himself caused the trial to be delayed by having absconded, should not enable him to benefit therefrom. Had he had even the minimal courage that several other Nazis actually had in voluntarily standing trial, he could have been tried long ago as part of the Nuremberg trials or elsewhere, and it can be assumed that his fate would have been no different from that of his close assistants Wisliceny, Anton Brunner, Seidel and Rahm, or from that of his fellow criminals Pohl, Ohlendorf, Rudolf Hoess and Rauter, or from that of his Hungarian associates Endre and Baky. His punishment would have been no different from that imposed on these and on the man who incited hatred of the Jews using venomous and diabolic language, the infamous Julius Streicher. All of these were sentenced to death, and were executed in the occupied areas of Germany, as well as in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland and Hungary, among the many others who were similarly punished in other countries.

There are three main reasons why it is customarily held that a set period must be provided for holding the criminal trial of an individual for his deeds, as it is written "I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth."18 {18 Isaiah 57,16} The first is that the time which has lapsed has brought about some balm or relief or at least some appeasement for the victim or survivor of the crime; the second is that the criminal has been given the opportunity to reform, to repent of his wicked ways, and to regret his deeds; and the third is that it is no longer possible to prove what happened because documents have been lost and witnesses' memories become blurred. In normal circumstances such reasons are also likely to be grounds for mitigation, but none of them apply in this case.

The memory and the terror of the Holocaust still exist; the shock of the civilized world bears witness to the fact that this is a topical subject which arouses sensitivity and reactions as if it were a contemporary event that has just occurred. We are not dealing here with matters which have been entirely obliterated, and we are not pulling out junk from the storeroom of history. We are confronted here not by matters which are divorced from the realities of this generation, but by deeds and events which people suffer from and feel just as much today as on the day on which they occurred. The Court will remember the faces and the reactions of those survivors who testified here, when the suffering and the anguish buried in their hearts re-emerged, when the conjuring up of the images of those who have gone struck down a man in a dead faint from the impact of the shock, how their knees trembled and their faces became distorted as they described the horrors and the terror. Have they recovered, can the distance of time ever make them forget their past? Hundreds of thousands of people will bear the memory of those days with them for as long as they have breath in their bodies, and those also who were not with them there will feel pain and lament with them. For this is not simply a chapter for the historians who will one day write the history of the twentieth century and the history of the Third Reich in historical perspective. This is something which affects every civilized human being in whose generation and before whose eyes these events took place. The Holocaust is part of this generation's experience.

As far as documents are concerned, they have remained, in whole or in part, and the Court was able to base its findings on them. Also a number of witnesses survived who were able to testify to these matters from their own knowledge.

And Adolf Eichmann, who described himself in Argentina as "Obersturmbannfuehrer (ret.)," did not mend his ways, and it has been proved that, as recently as 1957, he was still imbued with the same feelings of hatred and ruthlessness that he brought to the perpetration of those crimes of which he has been found guilty here.

Moreover, most regrettably, Nazism has not entirely vanished from the world; the bearers of the venom of National Socialism are still living here and there throughout the world, and I fear that recently some nests of this hatred and malice have developed. The wicked and mendacious views have been espoused not necessarily by murderers and criminals for whom a death penalty may well not be a deterrent, but also by people who in a deliberate and coldly calculated fashion wish to revive the foul wave of fiendish arrogance and hatred. Let it be said: He who commits Eichmann's deeds will not be exonerated, but will be tried with the full severity of the law.

It is possible that the argument will again be made here by Counsel for the Defence: In wartime, there are many crimes and many criminals, as it is written "The sword devoureth one as well as another."19 {19 II Samuel 11, 25} Cities were destroyed, continents were overwhelmed by jackboots, civilian populations suffered. Perhaps you will again be reminded that Nazi Germany was not the only country to have committed terrible acts during the War. In your Judgment you have already stated that the War simply provided the Nazis with a curtain and a smokescreen for concealing their large- scale murderous operations. Atrocities perpetrated during the course of a war, and even the most terrible and dreadful killing and slaughtering cannot be used as an analogy and compared with the Holocaust, not only because of the difference in terms of scope, not only because this crime of extermination also comprised plunder and humiliation and terror and torture, not only because tremendous energies were epended over many years against a helpless population which had provided no reason whatsoever for this fanatical horror; not only because of all of this - but primarily because the torturing and the extermination of the Jews were in no way related to any act of hostility and were not carried out in the heat of battle when one side which is fighting out of a desire for a quick victory uses savage means to break the foe. Even when they wreak death somebody may believe that they are, in the last analysis, saving human lives.

I have no intention of defending atrocities committed in battle, whether in accordance with or in infringement of the rules of war. But it is utterly clear that what the Nazis did to the Jews, what Adolf Eichmann perpetrated, was in no way connected with martial acts of hostility. This was not even an illegal operation which a military commander initiates during wartime or in that context.

Thus no analogy should be drawn from other trials which dealt with illegal orders and harm wrought on a civilian population in conjunction with hostilities. The penalties imposed in such trials can in no way serve as a yardstick because there is no resemblance whatsoever between those cases and Eichmann's guilt in terms of the evil, the wickedness, the desire to do evil, the cold planning, the inhuman obstinacy, and the continuity of the criminal activities over years.

I would ask the Court to impose on the wicked individual who stands before it the penalty which he deserves and which it is for a human being in a civilized society to decree. I am aware that he cannot be given even a small fragment of what he really deserves. Even if he were to die a thousand times over, if he were to expire afresh every day, this could not atone for the suffering which he caused one single child. In the words of our national poet, Bialik: "Satan has not yet created a revenge for the blood of a small child." A human being lacks the ability to give Adolf Eichmann a punishment which even remotely corresponds to the depths of the evil, the ocean of suffering which he brought upon the Jewish People in just one day of his foul deeds. There is no such punishment, at least it is not known to civilized society, nor shall we seek in the torture chambers of the Gestapo for ways of punishment which those fiends used. The Court will punish this creature according to what is prescribed in the law of the State of Israel. It is true that this punishment does not match the enormity of the crime, and will leave the terrible things that were done as if no proper retribution has been exacted for them. But this is the maximum that we can exact and at least this is to be exacted.

If it should be argued that because of the horror of the dreadful deeds Eichmann cannot be suitably punished and therefore he should not pay the supreme penalty known to the law, it would be like saying that human society cannot judge him at all. Because when a suitable punishment cannot be imposed, then neither can a trial be held, since there is no offence without punishment. He who argues thus will also have to say that the most dreadful barbarous actions, for which capital punishment is an inadequate means of assuaging the moral horror which they arouse, would not carry criminal liability at all. According to such a view, someone simply has to commit a large number of loathsome actions over an extended period in order for us, as it were, to stand helpless because of the magnitude of the crimes and for us to proclaim that we are unable to judge and punish their perpetrator.

Of course such a view is utterly baseless. We must try the large-scale criminal, the murderer of millions, just as we must try the ordinary offender who is known to the courts. The fact that under this law the murderer of one person will receive the same punishment as the murderer of ten or a hundred or a million people simply bears witness to the fact that it is not always possible to apply a punishment which fits the enormity of the crime. But there is no justification for refraining from applying the maximum sentence laid down in the law just because it is not possible to exceed that maximum.

Let me add in parenthesis that had Eichmann been charged with the murder of a single person whom he sent to his death in Auschwitz, then under Section 2(1) of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law the obligatory sentence under the law would have been capital punishment. I did not charge him with the specific offence of murdering a particular person because there is no point in singling out a particular victim from the host of millions of victims, but it is obvious that if this would have been the sentence for murdering a single person, then clearly his sentence should not be reduced on the grounds that he brought about mass murder, as you have held explicitly in your Judgment.

If it is said here that the execution of a single Nazi criminal, even if it is Eichmann, persecutor of the Jews, will not redress the bloodsoaked balance between Israel and Germany, I would reply that of course that is true. This account can never be settled. As long as a Jew lives, he will retain in his heart the memory of the vast Holocaust and the anguish which that bloodthirsty regime caused this people. This will never be forgotten in our hearts, nor in the hearts of our children, nor of our children's children. We shall not forgive the murderers until the last generation, because too much blood has been spilled, the wound is too deep and the injury too painful.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.