On This Day

eichmann trial, eichmann court, adolf eichmann, adolf eichman
Associated Press
Adolf Eichmann stands in a glass encased bulletproof defendant’s box as he pleads not guilty to war crimes, April 17, 1961.

On This Day: Israel Announces Capture of Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann

May 23, 2011 06:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On May 23, 1960, the Israeli government reported the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, who had hidden for a decade in Argentina.

Eichmann Captured

During the Holocaust, Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann had orchestrated the roundups and transportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps. He “ensured that the trains carrying their wretched human cargoes to the death camps, crammed into cattle wagons, ran on time,” writes the Guardian. “He organised the round ups, the timetables for the extermination, and garnered the manpower and hardware.”

After World War II ended, he managed to escape U.S. custody and travel secretly out of Germany with the help of Nazi sympathizers. In 1950, using a fake passport and visa for “Ricardo Klement,” he reached Argentina, where several other former Nazis had already settled.

During the Nuremberg Trials in 1945–6, other Nazi officers frequently mentioned Eichmann, lauding his dedication to the Nazi cause. Eichmann soon became one of the most sought-after Nazi fugitives.

The Mossad, Israel’s Secret Service, pursued Eichmann and eventually tracked him to Buenos Aires. Acting without the permission of the Argentine government, which did not allow other countries to extradite criminals, Mossad agents secretly observed Eichmann for months before launching its plan to capture him.

On the evening May 11, 1960, the Mossad waited for Eichmann to come off a bus and walk home. Mossad agents leapt out of a car at Eichmann, who “let out a terrible yell, like a wild beast caught in a trap,” according to former Mossad head Isser Harel, author of “The House on Garibaldi Street.”

Eichmann was taken to a safe house and secretly flown out of the country on an El Al plane on May 20. On May 23, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, that Eichmann had been captured.

“I have to inform the Knesset that a short time ago one of the greatest of the Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders, for what they called ‘the final solution’ of the Jewish question, that is, the extermination of 6,000,000 of the Jews of Europe, was found by the Israeli Security Services,” he declared.

The Trial and Execution of Eichmann

Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem. Expressing no remorse, he claimed he was only performing his duty. Nearly a hundred Holocaust survivors testified, recounting the horrifying stories of Nazi concentration camps.

In December 1961, Eichmann was found guilty on 15 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on June 1, 1961.

Biography: Adolf Eichmann

Eichmann, born near Cologne in 1906, spent much of his youth in Linz, Austria, Adolf Hitler’s hometown. As a boy, Eichmann “was teased for his looks and dark complexion and was nicknamed ‘the little Jew’ by classmates,” according to History Place.

He joined the Nazi party in 1932 and soon joined the SD, the Nazi Security Service. He was put to work facilitating Jewish emigration from the Third Reich. As it became more difficult to find destinations from Jewish emigrants, he attempted to create Jewish territories in Poland and Madagascar, but the plans faltered.

In January 1942, he attended the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders agreed upon the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”: extermination. Eichmann was made responsible for the implementation of all issues related to the Nazis’ Final Solution.

He oversaw the exportation of Jews to death camps over the next three years, continuing even after Heinrich Himmler ordered him to stop.

Extracts from a diary that Eichmann kept while in an Israeli prison were released in Germany in 1999. “Throughout his outpourings,” The Guardian reported, “he builds upon a well-worn theme: that he was a cog in a greater machine and was only following orders.”

Related: Other Nazi War Criminals

The Nuremberg Trials tried 24 Nazi leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace. Thirteen of the defendants were sentenced to death, including Hermann Goering, who committed suicide before his execution could take place.

Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” who performed experiments of Holocaust victims, spent 34 years on the run. After the war, he escaped to Argentina and spent the rest of his life in South America. It was not until 1985 that German authorities discovered that he had died in 1979.

Historical Context: World War II and the Holocaust

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to World War II provides the best links for learning about the Holocaust. The Learning About the Holocaust page teaches you about the events and people associated with it.

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