Adolf Eichmann, a principal “architect” of the Holocaust, went on trial fifty years ago in Israel. To mark the anniversary, Berlin’s Topography of Terror museum explores the unraveling of the leading Nazi organizer.
The verdict read out against Adolf Eichmann on December 16, 1961, in a Jerusalem court, was clear:
“Guilty of causing the death of millions of Jews … Guilty of creating living conditions intended to annihilate millions of Jews. Guilty of causing severe physical and psychological damage to millions of Jews.”
The trial that began April 11, 1961 ended eight months later with Adolf Eichmann being sentenced to death for masterminding Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution.” In May of 1962, he became the only person in modern Israeli history to be executed for a crime.
Fifty years after Eichmann’s trial began, Berlin’s Topography of Terror museum is exhibiting video footage and information on the proceedings against the man whose role in Hitler’s genocide only became widely known years after World War II ended.
A ‘recipient of orders’?
Topography of Terror is located at the former site of the Gestapo and SS headquarters
In “The Trial – Adolf Eichmann in Court,” the outdoor museum located on the former site of the headquarters of Nazi Germany’s secret police, the Gestapo, and the SS, recounts Eichmann’s 1960 capture by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service in Argentina, where he had escaped with his family a decade before, after hiding from the authorities for four years in Germany, Austria and northern Italy.
Visitors to the exhibition can hear Eichmann defending himself to the Israeli court as a mere “recipient of orders”.
“I regret and deplore the former German state leadership’s ordered extermination of Jews. However, I myself was unable to do any different. I was simply a tool in the hands of stronger forces – and of an unfathomable fate.”
But the prosecution’s witnesses paint a different picture of Eichmann. Heinrich Grüber, a Protestant theologian who was involved with a Christian group that helped Jews in Nazi Berlin, testified that Eichmann was what he called a “mercenary type.”
“We distinguished between soldiers and mercenaries,” viewers can hear Grüber testify. “The mercenary was the kind who cast off his reason and his conscience when he put on his uniform.”
While Grüber died in 1975, Gabriel Bach, the deputy prosecutor in Eichmann’s trial, returned this month at age 84 to his country of birth to attend the exhibition’s April 6 opening, bringing black and white photographs of himself at the trial as a young man.
“I will never forget the first moment of the trial,” Bach recounted, “when the judges entered the courtroom with the Israeli emblem behind them. This man, whose sole endeavor, at least in the last years of his life, was to annihilate our people, got up and stood to attention before a sovereign Israeli court.”
“It was that moment that made clear to me the significance of the state of Israel – more than any parade, any demonstration or any newspaper article,” Bach said