Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Gideon Hausner and the Eichmann Trial: 10 Years Later

December 16, 1971
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Exactly 10 years ago today. Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death by a three-judge court in Jerusalem. Four days earlier, Dec. 11, 1961, he was convicted on 15 counts. On May 31, 1962 he become the only person ever to be executed in modern Israel.

Gideon Hausner, who is now a Knesset member representing the Independent Liberals and was in 1961 Israel’s Attorney General and Eichmann’s chief prosecutor, was recently interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency while he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Hausner discussed the trial and its effects during the course of a 90-minute interview. Ironically, at the time of the interview he was exactly the same age-56 years and two months-as Eichmann lived to be.

If he were conducting the prosecution today, Hausner said, he would do so in “substantially the same manner,” as “further evidence only substantiated Eichmann’s central role in the Final Solution.” He excoriated Hannah Arendt, the leading critic of the trial procedure, for having “falsified evidence, distorted documents, switched names and falsified history” in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem” so as to create “her own fantasy in order to make facts conform to her ideas.”

Hausner said it would be unfair to label Lt. William L. Calley an Eichmann-like war criminal, because while his killings at My Lai were “manifestly immoral and illegal,” they were not typical of American policy. “At least there was a trial, at least things were not hushed up,” Hausner said. “The adequacy of the punishment is another matter.”


Hausner declared himself “satisfied” that Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban did not discredit the memory of the Six Million when he said on the David Frost Show that he had no interest in tracking down individual escaped Nazi “wretches.” Said Hausner, who is chairman of Yad Vashem, the martyrs’ memorial: “Let’s agree on one thing: Mr. Abba Eban hates the ex-Nazis not less than any other person. I don’t think any Israeli is indifferent to the continuation of the cleansing process of our earth of the Nazi filth.” (Ironically, the leader of the unsuccessful attempt to condemn Eban’s remarks in the Knesset, Gahal MK Benjamin Halevi, was one of the Eichmann judges.)

The ex-prosecutor said he had “doubts about the accuracy” of German Gen. Reinhardt Gehlen’s claim that Martin Bormann, Hitler’s deputy, became a Soviet spy and died in Russia in 1968. The Russians were “notoriously ill-informed,” Hausner explained, and “It just doesn’t stand to reason that they had an informant at the top of the Nazi hierarchy.” Furthermore, “Bormann’s past doesn’t fit in with the role of a spy, nor does it tally with a guilty conscience.”

The Polish-born Hausner said he was “not overjoyed” by the recent “German Culture Week” in Israel. “The issue is a very aching one,” he reflected. “The wound is still open for thousands and thousands of people; it probably will never heal. We have to take into consideration that tens of thousands of such people are among us.”

Expressing more optimism now than five years ago, when he wrote in “Justice in Jerusalem” that “the chapter of history unfolded in Jerusalem…is already, I fear, fading from the minds of men.” Hausner observed: “I think that the effort to retain the basic lesson of the holocaust fresh and green in our minds is partially successful. I think the non-Jewish world is beginning to reality you can’t understand the present-day policy of Israel without understanding that this hovers over our consciousness and that we react to various problems recalling the holocaust–not only in Israel. The great powers failed us completely, but still we survive. I think the world just cannot repeat this callous performance.”


In this connection, Hausner believes that despite recent obscurantist State Department pronouncements, the US is more concerned about Soviet Jews today than it was about European Jews 30 years ago. “I think they’re conscious of the problem, at least–that they have an obligation,” he said. But he added of President Nixon and UN Secretary General U Thant: “People in such positions can always do more.”

While endorsing peaceful, even silent, diaspora demonstrations for Soviet Jewry, Hausner condemned the Jewish Defense League’s approach to the problem, declaring: “Through these tactics they will defeat their own purpose. We are out to get the sympathy of the non-Jewish world. The Russian government should have no respite. You can bring it about only by building up sympathy for your cause. If you use ways and means which are abhorrent, which are controversial, you immediately divert attention.”

Referring to JDL chairman Rabbi Meir Kahane’s citing of the Maccabees as Jews who are revered for using “necessary violence,” Hausner exclaimed: “How can you compare? You have to adjust your ways of warfare to the circumstances. The Maccabees were fighting the Greeks where the Greeks were, not in other countries–this is where the fallacy lies.”

The Israeli lawyer ridiculed Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin’s promise that a Middle East peace would lead to an improvement in the life and out-of-state traveling accomodations of Soviet Jews. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “Until 67 the Soviet authorities had no such excuse and still they didn’t allow Jews to leave the Soviet Union. They allowed less than they allow now. They have to decide which line they’ll pursue.” Meanwhile, there must be a continued combination of “globe-embracing” efforts and “the internal struggle of Soviet Jewry itself.” He was, Hausner said, “confident that all these elements together will combine to produce a breakthrough.”

Recommended from JTA