JERUSALEM (JTA) — Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann asked Israel’s president for a pardon two days before his execution, according to a letter unveiled on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Eichmann’s handwritten request, in which he said he was just following orders in implementing Hitler’s “Final Solution,” and then-Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi’s letter denying the request, were unveiled Wednesday by President Reuven Rivlin in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Eichmann was convicted in Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1961 and hanged the following year. It is the only time that Israel has used the death penalty.
“The judges made a critical mistake when assessing my personality, because they cannot place themselves in the time and situation I was in during the war years,” Eichmann wrote in the letter. “It is untrue that I was such an important personage that I could oversee or would independently oversee the persecution of the Jews.
“A line must be drawn between the leaders who are responsible and people like me, who were forced to be tools by the leadership. I was not in charge of things, and therefore I do not feel that I am guilty. And I ask of you, honorable president, to use your right of pardon and order that this death sentence not be carried out.”
Also put on display Wednesday were clemency requests from Eichmann’s wife and his five brothers.
In rejecting the request, Ben-Zvi wrote: “After considering the pardon requests submitted regarding the Adolf Eichmann case, and after I gave my attention to all the materials available to me, I reached the conclusion that there is no justification for giving Eichmann a pardon or mitigate the punishment passed down by the Jerusalem District Court on December 15, 1961, and which was approved by the Supreme Court on May 29, 1962. “Thus, I am informing you that I have decided to refuse the requests and not use my powers to pardon and reduce punishments in this case.”
In addition, the handwritten text of then-Attorney General Gideon Hausner’s opening statement was released.
“When I stand before you, judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. With me here are six million accusers,” Hausner wrote. “But they cannot rise to their feet and point their finger at the man in the dock with the cry ‘J’accuse!’ on their lips. For they are now only ashes – ashes piled high on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is stilled. Therefore will I be their spokesman. In their name will I unfold this terrible indictment.”