‘I was not a responsible leader and do not feel myself guilty,’ writes Nazi war criminal in personal petition now publicly released.
Adolf Eichmann’s appeal for a pardon from Israel’s then president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was refused and he was hanged two days later.
Israel has made public a decades-old handwritten plea for clemency from Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust, dated two days before he was executed.
In the request, written after he was brought to Israel in 1960, then tried, convicted and sentenced to death, Eichmann says the Israeli court overstated his role in organising the logistics of Hitler’s Final Solution, which involved the extermination of 6 million Jews.
“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,” the presidency quoted Eichmann’s letter as saying.
“I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty,” the German wrote.
“I am not able to recognise the court’s ruling as just, and I ask, Your Honour Mr President, to exercise your right to grant pardons, and order that the death penalty not be carried out.”
The letter was signed and dated: “Adolf Eichmann Jerusalem, May 29, 1962.”
He was hanged at about midnight on 31 May.
Eichmann, one of the main organisers of the Holocaust, escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp after the second world war and fled to Argentina in 1950, where he lived under a pseudonym until he was snatched by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires in May 1960 and smuggled into Israel.
The ability of the security services to bring him to justice was a source of pride for the Jewish state, and Rivlin referred to the trial as a momentous moment in Israel’s history.
“In the first years after the Holocaust, the people in Israel were busy rebuilding and founding an independent state,” he said. “The renewed Israeli society was not in the mindset to, or able to, remember.
“The Eichmann trial broke the dam of silence. The ability of the young Jewish state to capture the Nazi murderer afforded a basic sense of security to the survivors of the Holocaust.”
Israel and its allies have continued to use their resources across the globe to pursue those responsible for carrying out the Holocaust, even though the majority of perpetrators are now close to death.
On Tuesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center – named after the famous Nazi hunter – produced a list of 10 alleged Nazis who could be prosecuted in 2016. Of the 10, four have trial dates already slated in Germany this year. Among them is Helma Kissner, who served as a radio operator in the Auschwitz death camp for four months in July 1944.
Efraim Zuroff, the Jerusalem director of the centre, said it would continue to chase every remaining perpetrator as “we owe it to the victims”.
“The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. Old age should not afford protection to people that committed such heinous crimes,” he told AFP. “The trials send a powerful message about the significance of the Holocaust.”
As the number of second world war Nazis alive diminishes, Zuroff said his centre was also seeking to focus on historical accuracy – with strands of different societies in Europe keen to play down their role in the killings.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in a statement on Tuesday, warned that antisemitism was again growing in Europe.
“Even respected western opinion leaders have become afflicted with hatred for the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, without giving names. “The obsession with the Jews – the fixation on the Jewish state – defies any other rational explanation.”
Other documents presented at Wednesday’s commemoration, in the presence of Holocaust survivors, included requests for clemency from Eichmann’s wife Vera and his five brothers, along with Ben-Zvi’s letter to his justice minister rejecting the appeals.
Also in the collection, recently digitised by the presidential archives, are a transcript of Eichmann’s defence counsel’s supreme court appeal, the handwritten opinion of justice minister Dov Yosef, and a note by prosecutor Gideon Hausner for his opening address.
Israel marks its own Holocaust remembrance day, which this year will be held on 4-5 May.