Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann

A Trial for the World

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, which took place from 1945 to 1949, convicted many of the Nazi murderers and brought a sense of justice for the dead. But in 1960, a new generation was emerging and the world needed to know of the incredible atrocities committed by Hitler, Eichmann, and the rest of the high German command. Israeli prosecutors had amassed millions of pages of damning proof, much of it consisting of the Nazi's own precise records during the war. In 1945 as the Allies closed in on Berlin, Nazi administrators worked feverishly to destroy the incriminating accounts that detailed every terrible step of the Final Solution. But they couldn't destroy it all. American and British troops seized mountains of paperwork that would stand forever as documentary proof of the sadistic madness of the Nazi regime.

Eichmann in bulletproof glass
Eichmann in bulletproof glass

During the spring of 1960, hundreds of media personnel, reporters, observers and television crews from dozens of countries descended upon Israel for the opening of Eichmann's trial. It was agreed upon that the proceedings would be broadcast live, providing viewers with one of history's first televised criminal trials. Eichmann was placed inside a bulletproof glass cage where he was given a pitcher of water and paper and pencil to take notes. Wiesenthal described him as "a weak, colorless, shabby fellow...he wore a cheap, dark suit and presented the picture of an empty, two dimensional cardboard figure."

On April 11, 1961, the first day of the trial in Jerusalem, the clerk of the court read off the 15 charges against Adolf Eichmann. He was accused of crimes against humanity which consisted of the murder of untold millions in the death camps, the introduction of the poison gas known as Zyklon B, of being the author of plans that murdered 80,000 in Lithuania, 30,000 in Latvia, 45,000 in Byelorussia, 75,000 in the Ukraine and 33,000 in the city of Kiev. As Eichmann sat stoically inside a bullet proof glass cage in the courtroom, the court accused Eichmann of giving the orders to send hundreds of thousands to Auschwitz, causing the inhuman suffering inside the Warsaw ghetto in 1939 and 1940, the slaughter of 500,000 Hungarian Jews in just 8 months in 1944, enslaving millions across eastern Europe in forced labor camps, performing forced abortions on pregnant women, forced sterilization of thousands of Jewish men in Germany and finally of being the person in command of the entire Nazi bureaucratic structure that brought starvation, ruin and death to millions of people before and during the Second World War.

Corpses of prisoners from Auschwitz piled up in a store room
Corpses of prisoners from Auschwitz
piled up in a store room

For the next four months, survivors of the Nazi horrors marched bravely to the witness stand. In gut-wrenching testimony that often had spectators weeping with grief, they described in graphic terms the barbaric cruelty of the Nazi reign of death. Day after day, the sickening story of the mass murder of millions was told to a world who heard, for the first time, eyewitness accounts of what it was like to be in hell. Gassings, beatings, random killings of thousands, ovens for humans, tortures, unspeakable medical experiments and the destruction of entire towns and villages were just some of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. And at the head of this murderous rampage was the man in the glass booth, at times fearful, indignant, embarrassed, proud and not at all guilt-ridden. He looked more like a clerk, a bookkeeper, a cashier in a grocery store. He didn't look like his earlier photographs in which he proudly wore a Nazi uniform and a strange smirk on his face. But all the witnesses knew the name: Adolf Eichmann, the Chief of Section IV B 4 of the Gestapo, the Nazis' man in charge of the fictitious "Jewish Problem," the monster who masqueraded as a human being.

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