This afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting with Amos Hausner, the son of Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor in the Adolf Eichmann trial – what many believe to be the trial of the 20th century.
For readers wondering who Eichmann was, he was a Nazi officer who was one of the major figures in the Holocaust. He attended the Wannsee conference where the extermination plans for Jews came into being, was responsible for the movement of Jewish people in Eastern Europe to concentration camps, and personally oversaw the deportations from Hungary to Auschwitz starting in 1944. After the war he fled to Austria and then to Argentina where Mossad agents captured him in 1960. Brought to Israel, he was tried in 1961. The trial detailed many of the atrocities of the Holocaust, which many survivors refused to discuss openly even with family members. But Eichmann didn’t dispute the evidence, his defense was that he was simply following orders that came from Heinrich Himmler. Eichmann was found guilty of what we now would call crimes against humanity and executed. For more information on the Eichmann trial go here, here, and here.
Amos started his discussion with some legal issues that had to be overcome before the trial could start. Eichmann’s deeds were all done in 1945 and earlier. From a legal perspective, how could a state that came into existence in 1948 criminally try him? The answer was that these were crimes against “universal norms,” what we would now call crimes against humanity. And how could Israel have jurisdicition over Eichmann? The only option was an Israeli law that called for the trial of perpetrators of the Holocaust. According to Amos this was a novel concept at the time, but is widely accepted practice now. Finally, how could the judges be impartial? The crime was for the extermination of the Jews, and they were Jewish. The winning argument was that no one could be indifferent to such crimes, essentially that impartiality was impossible.
He also told us some interesting stories from the trial. Later in the war, Eichmann offered to save 1 million Jews if the allied forces would send him 10,000 trucks. Not surprisingly, they refused. At the camps where people were waiting to be moved to concentration camps, he sometimes ordered the delivery of some extra soup to create a moral dilemma for those prisoners passing out the soup. Who should get the excess – the sick, the strong, or should it simply be dumped on the floor to keep from choosing winners and losers? If it wasn’t dumped on the floor, was the decider complicit in the death of those who didn’t receive the excess?
Not too long after the trial, Gideon resigned at Attorney General and went into politics on his own right. He was elected to the Knesset several times and became a member of Golda Meir’s cabinent. He also was the head of Yad Vashem. Without elaborating, Amos said that his father was a different man after the trial.
Other interesting tidbits:
- It was taken for granted that Eichmann would be executed by almost everyone, but some asked Gideon to recommend something else. Amos said that his father despised the death penalty, even though he ultimately recommended it.
- Gideon suggested the attorney who represented Eichmann, Robert Servatis. Servatis had defended three defendants at the Nuremburg Trials and was both knowledgeable and capable. Servatis was assisted by Dieter Wechtenbruch.
- Amos believes that international criminal tribunals don’t work. While they do punish, the punishment is so much later than the acts (25 years or more) that the deterrence effect of such cases are minimal. He believes that such trials should be held much closer in time, like any other criminal case, and that the defendant should be tried in absentia. Then the deterrence effect is there, even if it’s years later before punishment can be enforced.
- Amos is well known on his own for his role in the fight to curb smoking in Israel.