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Eichmann Trial Opens in Jerusalem Today; Defense to Attempt to Block It

April 11, 1961
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Dr. Robert Servatius, the Nuremberg war crimes veteran who is defending Adolf Eichmann, has mapped out a three-part strategy to block the trial of the former Gestapo official accused of the murder of six million Jews. Eichmann goes on trial before a three-judge tribunal in Jerusalem’s Beit Haam tomorrow morning on charges of crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people.

Dr. Servatius, it was learned today, has charted three moves to contest the right of this court to try his client. He is expected to make the first of these moves tomorrow morning as soon as the court is called to order.

The German attorney’s first action will be to challenge the legality of the trial, claiming that Eichmann had been abducted from Argentina and brought into the court’s jurisdiction in violation of international law. To support this contention, he has obtained permission to call as witnesses the chief operations officer and the chief pilot of El Al, the Israel National Airlines, Yehuda Shimoni and Zvi Tohar.

The prosecution was reported prepared to counter this argument by citing various legal precedents, including a principle of British jurisprudence that it is irrelevant how a prisoner is brought into the jurisdiction of a court to answer charges.


The court is expected to adjourn after hearing these arguments and to deliver its ruling when the trial is resumed. The court will not sit on Thursday, a day which will be marked nationally as a remembrance for the Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust. It may explain the reasons for its ruling on the first Servatius motion when it reconvenes, or it may leave the explanation, until it prepares the final verdict in the trial.

Dr. Servatius is expected to follow this action with two other motions. One will claim the court has no jurisdiction since the crimes complained of were committed both outside of Israel’s territory and before the State of Israel existed. The second will challenge the law under which Eichmann is being tried here. In this motion he will question the legality of a retroactive law, pointing out that the legislation was enacted only years after the alleged crimes were committed.

The prosecution, it was known, has amassed an impressive array of arguments to refute these two motions, including the precedents of the Nuremberg war crimes trials and all subsequent war crimes trials.

Once these technical skirmishes are out of the way, Dr. Servatius is expected to build his defense of Eichmann on the theory that the ex-Gestapo colonel was only a “small cog in the machine” and only carried out orders from above. If the defense, however, expects to make headway with the argument that Eichmann cannot be held responsible for carrying out orders from above, it will run headlong into a strong precedent in Israeli law which denies such a defense any validity.

The precedent was established in the famed Kafr Kassem case when an Israeli court sentenced Israeli border police officers to heavy prison terms for their part in the massacre of Arab civilians at Kafr Kassem in 1956. The defendants then argued that they had only obeyed orders and could not be held responsible. The court rejected that defense, holding that the men were not obliged to obey illegal orders.


It will not be until after Dr. Servatius has made his challenge of the court’s competence that the tribunal will get down to the actual case in hand. The case will be opened with the reading of the 15-count indictment. Probably not before Friday morning will Attorney General Gide on Hausner make the prosecution’s opening statement.

This statement, it is understood, is largely devoted to a description of the historical and ideological background of nazism from which the plan and practice of “the final solution” of the Jewish problem emerged. In this, the Attorney General hopes to make clear that the Eichmann trial is not the prosecution of merely one person–Eichmann–but a disclosure of the broader responsibility of the Germans who collaborated or acquiesced in the “final solution” and of the occupied countries which, with some notable exceptions, did little to prevent the destruction of their Jewish citizens.

The trial is expected to last at least three months. All arrangements were completed and satisfactorily tested today, including the closed television circuit that will give correspondents in the press section a continuous view of events in the courtroom. Security measures were tightened even further today as frontier police units, armed with submachine guns, extended their patrols to the streets surrounding the fortress-like Beit Haam.

When he is not in the bullet-proof, glass-enclosed prisoner’s dock in the courtroom, Eichmann will be confined to a specially built cell high up in the Beit Haam.

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