Dramatic Impact of Eichmann Case Felt in Court at Opening of Trial
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Dramatic Impact of Eichmann Case Felt in Court at Opening of Trial

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The opening session of the trial of Adolf Eichmann here today constituted a scene of the greatest dramatic impact, when the most damning indictment ever to be faced by a single mortal was read, charging Eichmann with committing one of history’s most savage series of crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity.

The drama began precisely at nine o’clock before the three-judge court–Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau, Judge Benjamin Halevi, president of the Jerusalem District Court, and Judge Yitzhak Raven of the Tel Aviv District Court. All of them are German-born and all of them, but for the luck of having had immigration certificates for Palestine, might have been one of the many Moshes, Benjamins and Yitzhak’s done to death in the Nazi holocaust.

In the glass-enclosed, bullet-proof box sat the thin-lipped defendant, a man without a country, spurned by his own people, his defense paid by his accusers. There was no trace in his manner of the Nazi “herrenvolk” arrogance or power as he stood listening to the reading of the bill of indictment by Justice Landau. He occasionally would wet his lips or swallow slightly. At the mention of the various Nazi murder camps, his lips contracted slightly. When the indictment recalled that the Nazi murder machinery was particularly active on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, a slight twitch was observed in his cheeks.

Wearing a dark grey suit, a bright shirt and a dark necktie, the defendant seemed calm. He leaned back on his chair not looking at the audience of correspondents from all over the world and diplomats from many countries but keeping his gaze on the court bench. He stood with all others when the Judges walked into the chamber and from that time on he remained standing, looking stiffly at the Judges only.

His first publicly spoken word since he was brought to Israel last May was a “jawohl, ” made in reply to the formal question from Justice Landau, “Are You Adolf, the son of Karl Eichmann?” The reply was translated into Hebrew, Just as the questions were translated into German for him. He replied in the affirmative when he was asked whether he was being represented by Dr. Robert Servatius, his chief counsel, and Dieter Wechtenbruch, the assistant counsel. The judge then named the prosecutor, Attorney General Gideon Hausner, and stated that the defendant was charged by the Israel State prosecution with crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity and with war crimes under 15 counts. Each of these was translated into German as it was read to the court.


During Dr. Servatius’ arguments against the competence of the court and on various subtleties of international law, Eichmann apparently feigned attention. He either stared into nowhere or looked slightly to the left as if to avoid the eyes of Deputy Attorney General Yaacov Baror, the bearded skull-capped, Frankfurt-born scion of the Breuer family, founders of the Agudat Israel.

Whether Eichmann was brooding over the riddle of Jewish existence or the fate of his “final solution, ” which took the lives of one out of every three Jews then living, may never be known. But one thing was certain; wherever he turned in the improvised hall of his Judgment, he saw signs of the sovereign Jewish State, ranging from the gilded Menorah hanging directly behind Justice Landau’s bench to the Hebrew tags on the shoulders of the two Israeli police guards who flanked him in the box, to the words of the indictment, which rolled out in the tongue of the Hebrew prophets.

Except when he donned or removed his earphones, Eichmann remained almost motionless throughout the morning session. He looked like a groomed scarecrow or a haberdasher’s dummy in his well-fitting suit. His sharp features tensed somewhat when Justice Landau interrupted the interpreter with a request to improve the nuances of the Counsel’s German in the Hebrew translation.

Before the opening of the trial, residents of buildings on Bezalel Street, across from the Community Center, the Beit Haam, which was converted into a court for the trial, watched the scene from balconies and windows. Hundreds of spectators lined up behind the grilled fences erected on Bezalel and Narkiss streets. Dozens of policemen, including the green bereted border police and some mounted police, were deployed throughout the area to maintain order.

At nearby Ratisbonne Hall, the court proceedings were televised. Admission was free on a first-come, first-served basis. Sixty-five persons were in line when the doors opened at 7:30 in the morning and all of the 670 seats were occupied by 8:45 a.m. The audience was hushed and attentive even during the reading of the lengthy indictment. Spectators who talked were immediately shushed by their neighbors.

Many of the world press and other media correspondents apparently changed their minds after hearing the morning session. They had expressed themselves before the session as dubious about the venue and purpose of the trial. Many openly expressed second thoughts at the noon recess and it appeared to be taken for granted that the trial was historically and objectively appropriate. This apparently also appeared to be the view taken by previously skeptical Israelis.

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