SIXTY years ago today, the fledgling state of Israel announced to the world that it had captured and had detained for trial the notorious Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution”.

On May 23, 1960, Israel’s then prime minister David Ben-Gurion made a dramatic statement in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. He said: “I must notify the Knesset that, some time ago, Israel’s security services located one of the most infamous Nazi war criminals of all, Adolf Eichmann, who, together with the Nazi leaders, was responsible for what they called ‘the Final Solution of the Jewish question’, that is the annihilation of six million of Europe’s Jews.

“Adolf Eichmann is already behind bars in Israel and will soon be placed on trial in Israel in accordance with the law regarding the prosecution of Nazis and their collaborators.”

It was a sensational coup for Israel, which was just 12 years old at the time. Now they would have the chance to show the face of Nazism’s antisemitic Holocaust.


BORN in Solingen, now a city in North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany on March 19, 1906, Eichmann was the son of a bookkeeper who moved his family to Austria where he eventually became a mine owner. Eichmann was an undistinguished scholar who joined his father’s firm on leaving school and then became a salesman for an oil company.

In 1933, after Hitler seized power in Germany, Austria banned the Nazi Party a year after Eichmann had joined it. He returned to Germany, moving to Bavaria which was a Nazi stronghold. He had already joined the SS, Hitler’s paramilitaries, and in 1934 he transferred to the security service of the SD security agency, where he rose through the ranks because of his undoubted bureaucratic skills and his detestation of Jews.

Eichmann encouraged and facilitated the enforced emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria before the war, and in late 1939 he moved to Berlin to become the officer in charge of all Jewish emigration – deportation, in fact – from the Reich. This soon became an obsession with Eichmann who came up with a plan for the deportation of a million Jews to Madagascar. Hitler liked the plan and It helped Eichmann to gain promotion.

By now a colonel, Eichmann took part in the infamous Wannsee Conference of senior Nazis in January 1942 which resulted in the plans for the Final Solution. Eichmann went on to play a leading role in organising mass murder, and later at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, many Nazi officials testified to his ruthless efficiency during the Holocaust.


EICHMANN had been arrested by American troops at the end of the war but he managed to escape and with the help of Nazi-sympathising Catholic clerics he eventually made his way to Argentina where he was joined by his wife and children. He had a series of low-paid jobs before joining the local Mercedes-Benz branch where he became head of department.

He was one of the top targets of Jewish Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal, who was able to discover that Eichmann was in Argentina. In Buenos Aires in 1957, a blind Jewish immigrant Lothar Hermann had his suspicions about a boy called Klaus who had been dating his daughter Sylvia.

She confirmed that her boyfriend had a father who looked like Eichmann and Israel intelligence was eventually alerted. A dozen agents of the Israeli security services began to tail Eichmann and on May 11, 1960, they pounced on him in the street on his way home from work in the San Fernando suburb of Buenos Aires.

He protested he was Rikardo Klement, the alias he had adopted on arrival in Argentina, but agents interrogated him round the clock until he admitted he was Eichmann.


DISGUISED and drugged, he was smuggled into Israel. Argentina protested about the violation of its sovereignty but the Israeli courts decreed his capture was lawful. Eichmann denied everything. As Ben-Gurion had promised, Eichmann did indeed go on trial. It was one of the first trials anywhere to be televised in its entirety.

During the nine months before the trial Eichmann was shown categoric proof of his Holocaust activities and he changed his tune to say that he had only been following orders. The trial went ahead with Eichmann behind bullet-proof glass before judges rather than jurors.

Incredibly, given that he was being hunted at the time, Eichmann was arrogant enough to give an interview in 1956 to a sympathetic journalist, Willem Sassen, a former SS member. The notes from that interview played a major part in the trial, but it was the evidence of Holocaust survivors coupled with the facts that Eichmann had to admit to that condemned him.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, and his appeal failed. Despite a few pleas for clemency, Ben-Gurion and his government decided to proceed with the execution. Eichmann was hanged in the early minutes of June 1, 1962, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean.


THE political theorist Hannah Arendt attended the “show trial” as she called it and noted the ordinariness of Eichmann. She reported on the trial for the New Yorker magazine and coined the phrase the “banality of evil” for the title of her book on the case.

In evidence, Eichmann said: ”I never killed a Jew or, for that matter, I never killed a non-Jew – I never killed any human being. I never gave an order to kill a Jew.” He merely arranged the transportation of millions to extermination camps.