Herbert Belkin
Hert Belkin is a historian who lectures and writes on modern Jewish history.

Golda Meir and the Eichmann Trial

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In 1960 David Ben Gurion exultantly announced that Adolph Eichmann, the man literally responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to their death, had been captured in Argentina. Eichmann’s capture was the result of a long trail of events that began, innocently enough, with a date between Eichmann’s son and the daughter of Lothar Hermann, a 1938 emigrant to Argentina who happened to be half-Jewish. During their date, Eichmann’s son boasted that his father had held a high position in the Nazi party. This errant piece of information spiraled its way from Lothar’s daughter to the Mossad. By 1960 the Mossad had confirmed that this was the Nazi war criminal they had been looking for and an elaborate plan was put into effect for his capture. Eichmann’s capture took place in May 23 1960 in a suburb of Buenos Aries by three Mossad agents who then spirited the war criminal to Israel for trial.

By 1960, 15 years had passed since the end of the war and memory of the Holocaust was beginning to fade. Ben Gurion wanted the Eichmann trial to remind the world that the worst crime in human history must not be forgotten. Eichmann’s emotionally draining trial in 1961 accomplished this as over 100 witnesses, many of them survivors, recounted the blood-chilling details of the German death camps. The trial was conducted with scrupulous attention to judicial fairness with Israel paying for Eichmann’s choice of defense attorneys. The trial lasted 53 days and Eichmann was found guilty of a number of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. After multiple appeals, the sentence was carried out and Eichmann was hanged on May 31 1962.

Justice done? Not so fast. With inflated pomposity Argentina filed a complaint against Israel in the United Nations complaining that its sovereign space had been violated by Eichmann’s capture without Argentina’s knowledge or permission… It was up to Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, to defend her country against Argentina’s spurious UN charges. Golda was furious. Argentina was the last country to invoke sovereignty when it came to harboring Nazi war criminals. Argentina, that had a sordid record of giving escaping Nazis refuge after the war. Argentina, that let Eichmann live there for 10 years without detection. Argentina, that had a long record of refusing to extradite war criminals. But Argentina’s arrogant charge at the UN had to be answered.

.Golda’s thin defense was that the people who adducted Eichmann were not Israeli secret agents, but private citizens. Also, there was strong evidence that Argentina harbored Nazi war criminals and this indicated that Argentina would not have cooperated if Israel had asked to have Eichmann extradited. To the charge that Israel was just seeking revenge Golda answered, “This is not a matter of revenge” and quoting from the Jewish poet, Bialik, “Revenge for a small child, the devil has not devised”. Golda’s impassioned defense was not successful; the UN Security Council found Israel guilty and ordered her to pay reparations. But Argentina found that it was no victory if you won in a court of law but lost in the court of international opinion. The world had paid close attention to the Eichmann trial and considered that Israel was fully justified in bringing Eichmann to trial and that this was a major victory for human justice. Bowing to public opinion, Argentina settled her case with the simple admission that Israel had violated her sovereign space.

The Eichmann trial provided — if further proof was needed — the need for a Jewish sovereign state. It took a sovereign state to bring Eichmann to trial, Jews in the Diaspora did not have the legal standing. Only in a court of Israel could Jews demand justice and, after observing all the legalities, find him guilty.

About the Author
Historian Herb Belkin writes and lectures on the epic events of the last two hundred years of Jewish history. His field of study covers Zionism, the Jewish Diaspora and the critical struggle for a Jewish homeland. Herb has taught courses on modern Jewish history at Brandeis, Tufts and Salem State University. He is a columnist for the Jewish Advocate and was a speaker for the Israeli Consulate of New England.
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