The trial and death of Adolf Eichmann
Published: 3 March 2009 (GMT+10)
His mother died when he was 10, his father remarried, and this wife too was a devout Protestant. ‘Under her wing, he [Adolf] used to read the Bible and mark with red pencil the passages that interested him most—the descriptions of battles and wars’2
At the age of 26, Eichmann joined the Nazi party and became a full member of the Schutzstaffel or SS, the Nazi elite military organization which, under Heinrich Himmler, was responsible for establishing and running the concentration/extermination camps in which millions of inmates died of malnutrition, shooting, systematic mass gassing, or brutal medical experiments. Eichmann became chief of the Gestapo’s Office for Jewish Emigration, and was ultimately responsible for the transport of Jews from all over Nazi-occupied Europe into the concentration camps, where an estimated six million Jews died as part of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’.3 His principal concern was to maintain the killing capacity of the camps by providing a steady flow of victims. The chain of command in his office was Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Müller (Head of the Gestapo), Eichmann.
Kidnapped and put on trial
After WW2, Eichmann fled to Argentina, where he lived in Buenos Aeries as Ricardo Klement until May 1960. He was then kidnapped by Israeli Mossad [secret service] agents, who smuggled him back to Jerusalem on an El Al plane for trial as a war criminal. The Israeli court decided that the legality of Eichmann’s trial was not compromised by the illegality of his capture, as the latter was a political matter. He was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people,4 under Israel’s Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law 5710 of 1950.
A series of trials of the other major Nazi War criminals had taken place in the German city of Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949. These centred on war crimes and crimes against humanity and were conducted by the victorious Allies. However, ‘the trial of Adolf Eichmann was initiated and conducted by the Israeli nation and was a Jewish affair. It was the intention of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to make Eichmann’s trial a general indictment, not only of Nazi actions, but of anti-Semitism in general.’5 ‘Until the Eichmann trial, no other occasion [after Nuremberg] presented itself to communicate on a worldwide scale what the Nazis had done. … Thus the trial provided a unique opportunity to re-educate an older generation and to educate a newer one’, i.e. ‘those who were at the time too young to have been informed by these earlier events’.6
Defence arguments rejected
The contention by the defence that Eichmann could not get a fair trial in Israel was rejected because the case would be tried on the basis of the evidence brought before the court. According to the court, ‘Those who sit in judgment are professional judges, accustomed to weighing evidence; they are carrying out their task in full view of the public.’7
The objection that the legislation was retroactive was rejected on the basis that ‘the four major Allies, including America, had sat in judgment at Nuremberg and elsewhere under precisely such retroactive statutes’ and ‘there was no other way to put the culprits on trial’.8 The further contention that the acts were done before the creation of the State of Israel, outside its borders, and to people who were not citizens of Israel was rejected on the basis of the universal nature of the crime of genocide, the principle of universal jurisdiction, and the fact that there was no international tribunal with competent jurisdiction, as the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals had long ceased to exist. And ‘At the time of the trial there was no other country that claimed the right or assumed the duty to try Adolf Eichmann.’9
At the trial, Eichmann’s main personal defence was that he was a subordinate lieutenant-colonel (Obersturmbannführer) and as such was only a ‘cog’ obeying ‘superior orders’, albeit zealously, because it was the will of Hitler. Hitler’s orders had possessed the force of law in the Third Reich, and so what had been done was an Act of State. (If the Germans had won he would have been decorated, not hanged.)
This prompted the presiding judge to state: ‘The objective of the crimes … was to obliterate an entire people from the face of the earth.’ … ‘the dispatch of each train by the Accused to Auschwitz or to any other extermination site, carrying one thousand human beings, meant that the Accused was a direct accomplice in a thousand premeditated acts of murder ’ … ‘the Accused acted out of an inner identification with the orders that he was given and out of a fierce will to achieve the criminal objective, and in our opinion it is irrelevant … how this identification and this will came about, and whether they were the outcome of the training which the Accused received under the regime which raised him, as his Counsel argues.’10
After 14 weeks of testimony, involving 1,543 documents and 100 prosecution witnesses (90 of whom were Nazi concentration camp survivors), Eichmann was found guilty on all charges by the three-judge panel, and sentenced to death by hanging. This was carried out shortly after midnight on May 31/June 1, 1962. His ashes were then speedily scattered over international waters of the Mediterranean Sea to ensure that he would have no final resting place that might serve as a future memorial.
Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner, in his record of the trial, states that Eichmann ‘was fanatically hostile to religion. Once, under my cross-examination, he admitted that he became so infuriated at seeing his wife reading a Bible that on two occasions he snatched the book from her hands and tore it to pieces.’11 ‘He remained steadfast to the Nazi concept of God, which was represented by the power of Nature and reflected in the biological world. There was no room for morality, Jewish or Christian, in the world he believed in.’12 ‘He was not, indeed, ever sorry for what he had done.’13 He said, ‘“What is there to atone for if there has been no wrong.”’13
The Germany that Eichmann grew up in was impregnated with Darwinism. Translations of Darwin’s Origin had been published in Germany in 1860, 1863, 1867, 1876 and 1916. Darwinism thus underpinned Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ philosophy, and became enormously popular in educated German circles due to the writings of Ernst Haeckel, famous (or rather infamous) for his forged embryo drawings.14,15 Haeckel was the founder of the Association for the Propagation of Ethical Atheism, on whom the Emperor William [i.e. Kaiser Wilhelm II] bestowed the title of Excellency, ‘in honor of his golden jubilee as a doctor’, on March 8, 1907.16
History professor Richard Weikart points out that ‘the Viennese press was saturated with racist Darwinism during Hitler’s time there [1908–1913].’17 And Haeckel’s influence is apparent in a 1933 statement by Hitler: ‘The gulf between the lowest creature which can still be styled man and our highest races is greater than that between the lowest type of man and the highest ape.’17 Hitler imbibed the Darwinistic philosophy of the strong eliminating the weak, and regurgitated it in his own work, Mein Kampf (meaning: My Struggle), six million copies of which were sold throughout Germany by 1940.18 Sample: ‘The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature … for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all.’19
Professor Weikart comments: ‘Since Hitler viewed evolutionary progress as essentially good, he believed that the highest good is to cooperate with the evolutionary process.’20 ‘Thus Hitler justified any immorality committed to those outside the racial community, as long as it contributed to the welfare of the “Aryan” race.’21 Hence killing Jews (in his view, the ‘unfit’) was not only morally justified, it was morally praiseworthy.
That Eichmann had absorbed this evolutionary worldview is shown by statements he made to the Rev. William Hull, the Christian minister appointed by the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, to be the spiritual adviser to Eichmann from April 1962 until his execution 50 days later. In a series of discussions with Hull, recorded in Hull’s book The Struggle for a Soul,22 Eichmann said that he did not believe that man was created by God, but, ‘My belief is that man evolved from a protoplasm’. And several times over he affirmed his belief in millions of years. He also said that he did not believe in the Bible or in hell; he did not believe that Jesus died to save sinners or that anyone needed a Saviour. He said he had nothing to confess, he had no sin, and no regrets.23
In 1942, Eichmann was appointed by Heydrich to attend and be the recording secretary at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, where Germany’s anti-Jewish measures were set down into an official policy of genocide, i.e. the ‘Final Solution’. One part of his Minutes reads: ‘The possible final remnant [i.e. Jews who do not die of overwork] will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection … .24 [Emphasis added.]
Corrie ten Boom—forgiving the unforgivable
In her book Tramp for the Lord,30 Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983) tells how, in 1944, she was transported from Holland to Germany in one of Eichmann’s human-freight trains. For her involvement in the Dutch underground, hiding Jewish refugees from the Nazis, she became prisoner No. 66730 in the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp, ‘where every day six hundred people either died or were killed’. One of those who died there was her sister, Betsie. Corrie was released the week before the order came to kill all the women of her age. She later learned that her discharge had been due to an administrative blunder.
I met Corrie in 1956 in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I had the privilege of transporting her to several meetings, and vividly remember her account of how, when the prisoners were herded into the shower rooms: ‘We never knew what would come out from the showers—water or gas!’
In her book, Corrie tells how, in Germany, after the war, at the end of a meeting at which she had been speaking on forgiveness, one of the cruelest former Ravensbrück camp guards came forward to meet her. He said, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fräulein. Will you forgive me?’
Corrie describes how she felt a great bitterness welling in her heart as she remembered the sufferings of her dying sister, Betsie. She wrote, ‘I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.’ She prayed, ‘Thank you Lord, that Your love in me can do what I cannot do.’ Then, ‘At that moment a great stream of love poured through me, and I said, “I forgive you, brother! With all my heart.” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.’31
The Law and God
At the Eichmann trial, as at the earlier Nuremberg trials, the defence argued that the Nazis’ own laws permitted persecution of the Jews, and so the acts committed could not in the 1960s be declared illegal by retroactive legislation.
In answer, the Israeli prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, appealed to natural law and the principle of universal jurisdiction, because of the universal nature of the crime. Previously, the chief US prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson, had appealed to moral law and the moral sense of mankind. Thus, despite the fact that Eichmann was obeying orders within the laws of his country, he was guilty of violating a higher law to which all people and nations are equally subject.
So just what is this higher moral law variously called natural law. moral law or universal jurisdiction?
These expressions are euphemisms for the law of God. This means God’s moral requirements of mankind, as written in the Bible, as well as on the hearts of all human beings, including non-believers (Romans 2:15), and by which He will judge all mankind (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:12). Natural-law theory considers law valid only when it reflects principles of a higher (divine) law by which everyone should live. This has been an important aspect of the Western legal tradition which, until the rise of evolutionism, generally has assumed that, in order to be valid, law must be grounded in principles of a higher, natural law.
Israeli Prosecutor Hausner appears to have rigorously avoided referring at any time to this as God’s law, no doubt because of the secular nature of the modern nation of Israel. This is in line with today’s evolutionary, anti-biblical state of thinking, but for a nation like Israel, which, historically, can cite the direct action of God in the call of Abraham and the role of Moses in the Exodus, as well as the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, as detailed in the Old Testament, it is perhaps surprising. After all, how can there be a higher moral law without a higher moral Lawgiver? Had Hausner done this, the question of retroactivity would surely have been answered immediately, as the Bible obviously pre-dates the Holocaust! Indeed, Eichmann’s trial, in legal terms, only makes sense once it can be justified on the basis of divine law or natural-law theory.
Legal apologist Charles Colson writes, ‘The ancient world’ [not just Hebrew, but Greek and Roman as well] ‘recognized a source of law beyond human will.’ This was ‘the divinely ordained natural law—this is naturally right and that is naturally wrong’. This tradition ‘taught the reality of a personal Creator-God and of a law of nature based on his will and reflecting his holy and righteous character’.25 ‘The reformers talked about natural law too. John Calvin wrote that God’s law is “engraved upon the minds of men” through conscience and natural law.’26
This tradition lasted until the rise of evolutionary humanism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Then, since it was now held that everything had arisen by chance rather than by supernatural causes, God was irrelevant. Hence there was no legal or moral objective truth—all was relative, a view promoted vigorously by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Evolutionism continues to erode the important rule-of-law concept of a transcendent law above human law. But how can the idea of ‘government under law’ exist in a society where the government becomes the final authority in matters of justice and legality?
This raises the fundamental question as to what is the basis of law. Is there a higher unchanging moral code grounded in objective truth that restricts individuals from doing whatever they like, that the law encapsulates, or is the law merely the means by which governments do whatever the ever-changing public interest wants or the dictator for the time being requires?
The answer depends on one’s worldview. Colson elaborates, ‘At this first, most basic level, there are only two alternatives: Either we are created, and the law is the law because its reference point is the Creator, or this is a godless universe, and the law is merely what humans from time to time decide it is—because there is nothing else for it to be.’27
Legal scholar Dr Augusto Zimmermann writes: ‘Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime are the perfect illustration of what might occur when a civil government declares itself to be completely independent of God’s law. The Nazis believed that humans were not created by God but rather descended from the animal kingdom, an idea they adopted from Darwin. They believed that “superior” humans had the “right” to eliminate the “inferior” ones, for the same reasons that lions eat antelopes. A “master morality” therefore prevailed, and it became meaningless to appeal to any higher law as a defence against such brutal tyranny.’28
If the State or society is regarded as the originator of law, then there can be no such thing as absolute authority. For example, in Hitler’s Third Reich, the evil laws had ‘validity’ simply because they had been ‘posited’ by the government of the day. However, according to the Bible, the originator of law is God. Firstly, His role as Creator gives Him the right to be Lawgiver. ‘Says God’ is thus the comprehensive answer to all those who oppose any restraint on their amoral behaviour by demanding to know ‘Says who?’29 Secondly, all of God’s laws for human behaviour are in the best interests of humanity to obey. Thirdly, seeing God is transcendental to this world, His moral code transcends national prejudices, situation ethics, and human favours. It is universal, objective and has absolute authority because it emanates from God Himself, and in particular from His unchanging holy character.
Therefore, when Eichmann sinned against the six million Jews whom he transported to be exterminated, he was ultimately sinning against God Himself.
Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Dr Augusto Zimmermann, LL.B., LL.M, Ph.D., Law Lecturer at Murdoch University, Western Australia, for critically reading this article.
- The family spent several years in Linz in Austria, where young Eichmann went to the secondary school Adolf Hitler had attended 15 years before and sat under the same history teacher, Dr Leopold Poetsch. See ref. 2. Return to text.
- Hausner, G., Justice in Jerusalem, Nelson, London, 1966, p. 27–28. Return to text.
- ‘According to two S.S. witnesses at Nuremberg the total was put at between five and six millions by one of the great Nazi experts on the subject, Karl [Adolf] Eichmann … . The figure given in the Nuremberg indictment was 5,700,000 and it tallied with the calculations of the World Jewish Congress.’ Source: Shirer, W., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Mandarin, London, 1960, p. 978. Return to text.
- Namely ‘the persecution, the plundering of the property, the expelling, the forced labour and the physical destruction of the Jewish people in Germany and in the European countries which it annexed or occupied, from the time Hitler came to power until the surrender of Germany in 1945’. Papadatos, P., The Eichmann Trial, Stevens and Sons, London, 1964, p. 2. Return to text.
- Sharpe, B., Modesty and Arrogance in Judgment: Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, Praeger, Connecticut, 1999, p. 2. Return to text.
- Glock, C., Selznick, G., and Spaeth, J., The Apathetic Majority, Harper & Row, New York, 1966, p. 135. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 319. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 288. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 314–15. Return to text.
- The Trial of Adolf Eichmann—Sentencing, PBS Online, http://remember.org/eichmann/sentencing.htm July 31, 2008 Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 8. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 9. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 280 Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Ernst Haeckel: Evangelist for evolution and apostle of deceit, Creation 18(2):33–36, 1996. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Fraud rediscovered, Creation 20(2):49–51, 1998; Return to text.
- The New York Times, March 8, 1907. Available at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C03EFDD123EE033A2575AC0A9659C946697D6CF. Return to text.
- Weikart, R., From Dawin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004, p. 216. See our review, The Darwinian roots of the Nazi tree. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 81. Return to text.
- Hitler, A., Mein Kampf, (English translation by James Murphy, 1939), Fredonia Classics, New York, p. 262, 2003. Return to text.
- Ref. 17, p. 211 Return to text.
- Ref. 17, p. 214. Return to text.
- Hull, W., The Struggle for a Soul, Doubleday, New York, 1963. Return to text.
- Ref. 22, pp. 36, 46–47, 53, 69, 77, 146–49. See also pp. 23, 24, 30, 83, 132–33, 140. Return to text.
- The Wansee [sic] Protocol, English text based on the official U.S. Government translation prepared for evidence in trials at Nuremberg …. <http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/wansee-trancript.html>. Sept. 16, 2008. Return to text.
- Colson. C., Justice that Restores, Wheaton, Illinois, 2001, pp. 17 & 18. Return to text.
- Colson, C., It’s a Natural, A Dangerous Grace, Nelson Word Ltd, Milton Keyes, England, 1994, p. 433 Return to text.
- Ref. 26, pp. 15–16. Return to text.
- Zimmermann, A., The Darwinian roots of the Nazi legal system, Journal of Creation, 22(3):109–114, 2008. Dr Zimmerman is currently Lecturer in Law at Murdoch University, Western Australia. Return to text.
- ‘the grand sez who?’ is a phrase famously used by the late Yale Law School professor Arthur Leff in a lecture delivered at Duke University Law School on April 2, 1979. It is published as ‘Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law’, Duke Law Journal 1979, p. 1229. See Johnson, P., Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, 1995, pp. 147, 233. Return to text.
- ten Boom, C., Tramp for the Lord, Fleming H. Revell, Michigan, 1974. Return to text.
- Ref. 30, pp. 19–31, 82–86, 121, 278. Return to text.