Jerusalem Trial Opens; Defense Lawyer Challenges Court’s Competence
Menu JTA Search

Jerusalem Trial Opens; Defense Lawyer Challenges Court’s Competence

Download PDF for this date

With the eyes of the entire civilized world directed toward the courtroom at Beit Haam, the trial of Adolf Eichmann opened here today with an attempt by Eichmann’s lawyer to challenge the competence of the tribunal and the right of the State of Israel to bring the ex-Gestapo colonel to Justice for directing the mass-murder of 6,000,000 Jews in Nazi Europe.

The prosecution took up the challenge immediately. Attorney General Gideon Hausner chief prosecutor, strongly and effectively refuted each of the arguments advanced by Dr. Robert Servatius, Eichmann’s chief counsel, contesting the Jurisdiction of the court. Dr. Servatius used every known legal strategem during his three-hour attempt this morning, but the effective refutation of his arguments by Attorney General Hausner left no doubt that his attempt was doomed.

Dr. Servatius opened fire on the court as soon as the indictment against Eichmann was read and before Eichmann could be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. He first questioned the competence of the three-man court, asserting that its members might feel prejudice against his client since his actions might have caused harm to them or to their family relations. He asked the court to examine this claim thoroughly, asserting that it was sufficient that the defendant had a reasonable concern that the Judges lacked objectivity.

The Cologne lawyer stressed that his argument was not directed against one Judge who had presided over another case in which Eichmann had figured (a reference to Judge Benjamin Halevi and the Kastner libel case). He said he had examined the records of that case but found no indications of prejudice. “But,” he added, “my claim is against all the Judges of the bench.”

Dr. Servatius listed several grounds on which he held the present court incompetent to sit in Judgment on his-client. He asserted that the basic Israel law for the punishment of Nazis, under which Eichmann is being tried, was contrary to the law of nations. He said that Israel had seized Eichmann’s person by an act of aggression and had brought him before the court illegally. He charged further that the State of Israel had no right to try a man for crimes committed prior to the establishment of the state and outside its territorial limits against persons who were not citizens of the state.

The attorney also complained that the defendant was denied complete rights of defense. He did not, Dr. Servatius said, have the financial means to bring witnesses to Israel to testify in his behalf. Members of the SS – Hitler’s Elite Guard in which Eichmann was an officer – were afraid to come to Jerusalem to testify for Eichmann, the attorney asserted, because by so doing, they would jeopardize their own security.


Dr. Servatius denounced what he termed the harshness of the law under which Eichmann was brought to trial and assailed Israel’s motives in bringing the defendant to trial. Several of the West German states, he asserted, had requested that the West German Federal Republic demand Eichmann’s extradition. Eichmann, Dr. Servatius said, “cannot atone for the crimes of an entire people or its leaders. Atonement must be made by all of Germany.”

The attorney concluded this line of argument by reminding the court that the West German Federal Republic had “accepted responsibility” for the actions of Nazi Germany and was paying reparations. He claimed that world opinion had judged Eichmann too hastily and asserted that Eichmann was certainly not a top-level war criminal like those who had stood trial at Nuremberg. He said he would submit written briefs covering the legal issues he had raised.

When the court resumed sitting after a brief recess, Dr. Servatius attacked the validity of the deposition made by Eichmann in Argentina. “Needless to say,” Dr. Servatius told the court, “this deposition was obtained under duress and I shall prove to the court that it was made under pressure and threats and is, therefore, without value. A man in hiding for 15 years to avoid trial will certainly not submit voluntarily, and especially to the state he had reason to fear more than any other.”

The attorney concluded by announcing his intention of bringing as his first two witnesses, the chief operations officer and the chief pilot of the El Al airline to prove his contention that Eichmann had been kidnaped. Their testimony, he said, would be important in determining the court’s Jurisdiction.


Attorney General Gideon Hausner, chief of the prosecution, answered the German attorney point by point. He opened his reply with a brief reference to the decision of the United Nations Security Council not to request Israel to return Eichmann to Argentina, thus implying that Israel had the right to put the prisoner on trial.

He challenged a statement by Dr. Servatius that the attorney had asked West Germany to ask for Eichmann’s extradition. No extradition request had been received by the Israel Government, he declared. “At this moment,” he told the court, “no one but the State of Israel wishes to try Eichmann. It is not the Jewish people who will try Eichmann here but many who are not here, including millions of neutrals, will sit in judgment upon him.”

The Attorney General countered the defense claim that the court might be influenced unfairly by the tremendous interest in the case by declaring that the fact that the trial was being held in the full glare of world publicity was the strongest guarantee of its fairness. He noted that this was the principle behind the Nuremberg trials and reminded Dr. Servatius that if that principle had been applicable at Nuremberg, it was certainly applicable in the Eichmann trial.

The Attorney-General, who spoke throughout in calm, low tones, showed some emotion when he dealt with the defense attorney’s intimation that the three Judges, as Jews, could not deal with Eichmann without prejudice. “No one expects you to be neutral regarding the charge of the destruction of a nation,” the Attorney General to be the three Jurists. “On the contrary,” he added, “if any judge could remain neutral in regard to such an indictment, he would be disqualified. You are, however, expected to conduct the fairest trial and to Judge according to the evidence presented to you.”


The Attorney General sharply attacked Dr. Servatius on the question of Eichmann’s deposition in Buenos Aires after his capture there. He asked the Cologne lawyer why he now considered that statement unacceptable when he himself had based his request to the Israel Minister of Justice that Israel pay for Eichmann’s defense on that statement. He said, however, that this question was irrelevant to the fundamental question of the competence of the court.

Dr. Servatius then asked that his own letter to the Minister of Justice not be accepted in the record because it was irrelevant. When a spectator laughed, the court warned that a similar disturbance would result in the eviction of the culprit.

Dr. Servatius then tried to explain his earlier remarks about the composition of the court. He said there was nothing wrong in a Jewish Judge trying the arch-enemy of his people. On the contrary, he added, the existence of a sovereign Jewish State qualified to try Eichmann should be welcomed. But, he added, the matter of abduction was arguable.

Attorney General Hausner also took exception to the defense claim it was handicapped because it could not bring witnesses to the court. If Dr. Servatius really had German witnesses with relevant testimony, Mr. Hausner declared, he was prepared to implement the legal assistance agreement with Bonn so that these witnesses could go before a German judge in Germany to testify and to be cross-examined by an Israel representative. Dr. Servatius, he added, thus far had not presented the prosecution with the names of any witnesses he wished to use but could not either because of their fears for their life, self incrimination or lack of funds.

The .Attorney General reverted to the question of the court’s Jurisdiction and cited a series of precedents to dispose of the defense arguments as to the legal effects of the methods used in bring Eichmann into the court’s Jurisdiction.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund