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Attorney General v. Adolf Eichmann

Court Supreme Court of Israel, Israel
Case number Criminal Appeal 336/61
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 29 May 1962
  • Attorney General of the Government of Israel
  • Adolf Eichmann
Other names
  • Eichmann Case
Categories Crimes against humanity, Genocide, War crimes
Keywords child, crimes against humanity, deportation, execution, extermination, Forcible transfer, genocide, jurisdiction, other inhumane acts, persecution, pillage, unlawful deport, unlawful transfer, war crimes
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The crimes perpetrated by the Nazis during Hitler’s reign against Jewish citizens were some of the worst recorded in history. Although accurate figures may never be known, it is estimated that some 6 million Jewish individuals died – men, women, and children from all over Europe. They were deported from their homes in large freight trains in appalling conditions, others starved or froze to death, others still were taken away to concentration camps where the fit were forced to perform manual labour whilst the weak were shot to death or later, gassed to death in their thousands.

The Appellant, Adolf Eichmann, was an Austrian by birth who volunteered to work for the Security Service (SD) in Berlin. He rose through the ranks and eventually occupied the position of Head of Section (Referant) for Jewish Affairs charged with all matters related to the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. In this capacity, he oversaw the transport and deportation of Jewish persons, set up and personally ran an operations centre in Hungary in order to implement the Final Solution there, organised the transfer of money from evacuated Jews to the State and was responsible for the administration of the camps at Terezin and Bergen-Belsen.

He was captured by Israeli Security Forces in Argentina and handed over to the District Court of Jerusalem to stand trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people. He was convicted of all 15 counts and sentenced to death by the District Court of Jerusalem. His appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel and he was executed by hanging a few minutes before midnight on 31 May 1962.

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Procedural history

In May 1960, the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, abducted Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina and transferred him to Jerusalem to face an Israeli court.

The trial commenced on 11 April 1961 with the indictment charging Eichmann with 15 counts of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, war crimes and membership in an organisation declared criminal by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg 15 years earlier. On 11 December 1961, Eichmann was convicted on all 15 counts and sentenced to death.

He appealed on both legal and factual grounds against his conviction and sentence. On 31 January 1962 and 15 February 1962, his Counsel submitted written pleadings to the Supreme Court.

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Related developments

Eichmann was executed by hanging on 31 May 1962.

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Legally relevant facts

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Appellant was a member of the Austrian SS and later volunteered for a position with the Head Office of the Security Service (SD) in Berlin (para. 59 of trial judgment). When the SD merged with the State Secret Police (Gestapo) to form the Head Office for Reich Security (RSHA), the Accused occupied the role of Special Officer of Zionist Affairs (para. 61 of trial judgment). He was transferred to Vienna in 1938 to administer the Central Office for the Emigration of Austrian Jews (para. 64). His success was such that approximately 150,000 Austrian Jews were forced to emigrate and he was appointed head of the new Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration in October 1939 (para. 65 of trial judgment).

From the outbreak of the War to mid-1941, the Accused devised and carried out the mass deportation of Jewish persons from his role as the Special Referent for Emigration and Evacuation within the RSHA (paras. 71-75 of trial judgment) and explored the possibility of setting up a slave Jewish state in Madagascar (para. 76 of trial judgment).

In early 1942, the Accused was appointed the Referant of the RSHA in matters connected to the Final Solution (para. 88 of trial judgment). In implementing the Final Solution, the Accused received information as to the number of persons to be expelled (para. 90 of Trial Judgement), organised the transfer of money from evacuated Jews for the disposal of the SS (para. 91 of trial judgment), and oversaw the handling of the transport of Jews (para. 93 of trial judgment), not only in the Reich but also in other countries (para. 98 of trial judgment). In particular, he headed the Eichmann Special Operations Unit in Hungary and did his utmost to carry out the Final Solution (para. 111 of trial judgment). These "Transport Jews" were taken to concentration camps and those who were unfit for hard labour were exterminated immediately (para. 145 of trial judgment).

In autumn 1942, a cover up effort was begun as bodies in mass graves were burned in an effort to hide the slaughter (para. 148 of trial judgment). The concentration camps were evacuated (para. 149 of trial judgment) – the Accused in particular was responsible for all administrative matters connected with the Terezin Ghetto (para. 152 of trial judgment) and the camp at Bergen-Belsen (para. 153 of trial judgment).

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Core legal questions

  • Is the Law of 1950 contrary to the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law or to the principle of territorial sovereignty?
  • Does the Law of 1950 conflict with the principle of territorial sovereignty?
  • Can the Appellant rely on the Act of State doctrine to excuse his criminal responsibility?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 1(a)(1),(2),(3), 1(b) and 8 of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law.

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Court's holding and analysis

There is no rule of general customary international law, which prohibits the enactment of retroactive penal legislation. Furthermore, the argument that to punish an individual for conduct which was not yet criminal at the time of its commission would be unethical loses its force in face of the odious crimes committed by the Appellant. The Appellant’s contention that the Law of 1950 is therefore contrary to the principle of non-retroactivity and cannot therefore apply to the Appellant is rejected (para. 8).

There is no rule of general customary international law that the principle of territorial sovereignty prohibits the enactment of a criminal law applicable to extra-territorial crimes committed by a foreign national. The Appellant’s second ground of appeal must also be rejected (para. 9).

These findings are reinforced by positive international law: the crimes for which the Appellant was convicted were international crimes under international law entailing individual criminal responsibility at the time that they were committed (para. 11), and their universal character is such that each State is vested with the power to try and punish anyone who assisted in their commission (para. 12).

Finally, the Appellant contends that his crimes were Acts of the State, the responsibility for which rests with the State alone and another State has no right to punish the person who committed the act, save with the consent of the state whose mission he carried out. This ground of appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court as there is no basis for applying the doctrine to acts prohibited by international law, particularly in cases of such heinous international crimes. This was affirmed by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg  (para. 14).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

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