50 years later, new data surfaces about Eichmann trial

Conference reveals Nazi leader’s sexual preferences, decision to bar robust survivor’s testimony.

Eichmann 311 (Yad Vashem) (photo credit: Yad Vashem)
Eichmann 311 (Yad Vashem)
(photo credit: Yad Vashem)
The prosecuting attorney in the trial of Adolf Eichmann, retired Supreme Court justice Gabriel Bach, said on Monday that a psychiatric evaluation conducted on the Nazi leader following his capture in 1960 suggested that the man responsible for the deaths of millions during the Holocaust had ambivalent sexual tendencies.
That and other information about the case was revealed in a special conference Monday at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Tel Yitzhak, marking the 50-year anniversary of the Eichmann trial.
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The conference, held in partnership with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, was dedicated to the perception of the Eichmann trial in the media and examined the relationship between the courts and the media in Israel and Germany.
According to Bach, the psychiatric evaluation was one of the first things he had asked for after Eichmann was captured and brought to Israel. He said he had anticipated that Eichmann might plead insanity, and wanted to have an independent evaluation at the ready.
Bach said he had sent an anonymous copy of Eichmann’s evaluation along with evaluations of other people to a Swiss expert. In his response, the expert said Eichmann’s psychiatric profile was that of a person with unprecedented murderous tendencies.
Another piece of information disclosed in the conference was the prosecution team’s decision not to call a survivor to testify because of his large and muscular physique. According to a document, now on display at the Massuah museum, the prosecution feared that presenting such a healthy and hearty man to the court might have had an undesired effect, and that it was better to call up people who looked more “suitable” for the part of Holocaust survivor.
A panel of legal experts was asked during the conference how the press would have influenced Eichmann’s trial had it been held in today’s media environment. Pinhas Rubin, a leading lawyer from the Gornitzky & Co law firm, said that if today’s media got hold of Eichmann’s confidential psychiatric evaluation, reporters would have no qualms about exposing it to the public.
“It’s not just the reporters; both defense and prosecution lawyers leak information to the press every day, despite the fact that it is prohibited by law. Everybody denies it, but everybody does it,” said Rubin.
Rubin sharply criticized the media’s behavior when it came to covering high-profile trials, saying that the media had the power to corrupt justice. He said judges were well trained and knowledgeable enough so as not to be swayed by media reports when it came to procedural or evidentiary issues, but that they could be influenced by character reports on suspects or witnesses.
Retired judge Saviona Rotlevy said she was shocked at the speed with which the investigation and the trial had been conducted.
“It took them nine months of investigations and four months of hearings to wrap up the case,” said Rotlevy.
“Today we couldn’t work anywhere near as fast.”
Regarding the prosecution’s decision not to call up the robust witness, Rotlevy said that today, no lawyer would ever put that type of decision down on paper for fear that it would leak to the press. She also questioned the wisdom of the decision and the desire to show the survivors as weak and frail victims.
“Fifty years later, we are still clinging onto the narrative of the victim, and it’s a shame,” she said. “It doesn’t allow us to see others as victims today.”
Rotlevy, who was a judge in the murder trial of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, said that in that trial, the media’s pressure had not been felt so strongly because it had been run as a straightforward criminal trial. She noted that in the Eichmann trial, the press had presented an accurate depiction of the national consensus surrounding the case. In the Amir trial, she said, the press also depicted a national consensus, but it was a false depiction, and the country was far from unified on the issue.
Dr. Peter Krause from the University of Konstanz said that if the Eichmann trial were to be held today, there would likely be much more sensational coverage of the man and the trial. He said the public would likely see many more color pieces about Eichmann and his family, and many more speculative articles guessing at the outcome.
Bach said that judges, as a rule, were less prone to media influence than other people, but that sometimes judges reacted to the media not by bowing to its pressure, but by pushing back and going counter to its will.