Holocaust organizer sought clemency, saying he was ‘mere instrument’
Notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was abducted by Israeli agents in Buenos Aires in 1960, sentenced to death in 1961, and subsequently hanged in Israel a year later, appealed to then-Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi just days before his execution, asking for clemency.
The previously unpublished correspondence from Eichmann and his lawyer, as well as that of several family members, with the Israeli President, will be displayed on Wednesday at the President’s Residence in a special exhibition dedicated to the Eichmann trial.
In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will host the event in which some of the key players of the daring Mossad operation that brought Eichmann to Israel, as well of the subsequent trial, will participate.
Eichmann‘s final letter, as well as the appeals by his lawyer and family will be shown for the first time at the exhibit.
Eichmann’s appeal, handwritten in German and translated into Hebrew, calls on Ben-Zvi to pardon him since “the judges made a fundamental mistake in that they are not able to empathize with the time and situation in which I found myself during the war years.”
Eichmann continues, denying that he was a high ranking Nazi who could have independently carried out acts against Jews, citing a lack of promotion to the higher echelons of the Nazi regime as proof for his minor role in the Holocaust.
“Even had I been as the judges assessed the driving, zealous, force in the persecution of the Jews, such a thing would have been evident in my promotion and other awards,” Eichmann argues.
“Yet I received no such advantages.”
Eichmann also echoes a popular claim among former Nazi officers, insisting that he gave no orders at his own initiative, but only followed those of his superiors.
“I declare once again,” Eichmann continues, "I detest as the greatest of crimes the horrors which were perpetrated against the Jews and think it right that the initiators of these terrible deeds will stand trial before the law now and in the future.”
“Notwithstanding,” Eichmann immediately warns, “there is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders.”
“I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty,” he concludes.
The appeal, sent on May 29, 1962, ends with a plea to Israel’s President at the time, urging him to grant Eichmann clemency.
Eichmann’s letter to President Ben-Zvi followed the rejection of an earlier official request for clemency submitted by his lawyer Robert Servatius, as well as the rejection of a petition for a stay of execution pending his planned appeals to the German Government for extradition.
In his letter to Ben-Zvi, Servatius argued that Eichmann could not be held accountable, as “the individual can not atone for overall political events for whose atrocities the entire German nation already had to atone with their own great sacrifice and suffering.”
“The actions of the condemned did not stem from anti-Semitic conviction, but from bureaucratic coercion,” Servatius claimed.
“Finally, I ask you to consider that the stigma of the illegal abduction of the convicted person adheres to this judgment.”
Clemency appeals to President Ben-Zvi were also sent by Eichmann’s wife from Germany as well as his brother and sisters.
Vera Eichmann, who saw her husband for the last time at the end of April, made a desperate appeal by telegram to Ben-Zvi in the week before Eichmann’s death.
„Following (the) rejection (of the) appeal the fate of my husband is in your hand,” she wrote.
“As a wife and mother of four children, I ask your Excellency for the life of my husband,” she pleaded with Ben-Zvi.
Prior to the announcement that Ben-Zvi had rejected the final clemency plea, Eichmann was visited in prison by William Hull, a Canadian priest who had been the only religious representative to visit, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported in 1962.
The visit was "very discouraging," it was reported. The condemned man "showed no sign of confession or repentance."
Eichmann was "in a most uncompromising mood, but physically he seemed fit and well. He had no requests to make nor any final wish."
Eichmann was hanged in Israel’s Ayalon Prison a few minutes after midnight on June 1, 1962.
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