The Mensch Who Put The Monster On Trial

By Rolene Marks

“Not a day goes past that I don’t think about the Eichmann trial”. Judge Gabriel Bach greets us warmly as he welcomes us to his apartment in a leafy suburb of Jerusalem. His living room bears testament to an extraordinary life and career. Dotted with family pictures and impressive volumes of books, the eye is drawn immediately to a collection of books entitled “The Eichmann Trial”.

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Judge Gabriel Bach

It is this moment when you are aware that the gentle, charming man who has welcomed you with a twinkle in his wise eyes is one of the men who sought justice for the millions. He is the mensch who put the monster, Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for sending millions of Jews to their deaths. I do confess to being more than a little star-struck. It is men like this, the quiet giants and their pursuit of justice and truth that hold a nation on their mighty shoulders.

Monsters are usually the stuff of fairytale lore but this one was real. The world was riveted when news broke that Eichmann was captured.

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Adolf Eichmann

Hiding out in Argentina as Ricardo Clement, the devil was now in custody, thanks to a stealth and decisive operation by Israel’s Mossad. All that remained was justice.

Born in Germany, the Bach family managed to flee to Holland just two weeks before Kristallnacht (Night of broken Glass) which would result in the destruction of many synagogues and businesses and the rounding up of Jews, many who would be sent to camps like Dachau. The Bach family managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazi machine, leaving Holland just before the German occupation and sailed to British Mandate Palestine on the “Patria” which would sink on its next journey. It was here, before there was a State of Israel and safe haven for Jews, where Bach, young lawyer in the state’s attorney’s office with an exemplary record and a bright future was one of those chosen to join the team of prosecutors.  He would also be tapped to be in charge of the investigation.

 It was time to gather the evidence for the trial that would begin on the 11th of April 1961.

The team of prosecutors would have to wade through volumes of documents and evidence. Married with a small daughter, Bach would spend 9 months immersed in investigations and communication with Eichmann without meeting him face to face, that included ensuring that he was aware of his rights to a defense attorney of his choice. The time came to meet the devil face to face.

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Chief prosecuter Tzvi Hauzner (standing). Defense advocate Robert Servatius (left). Deputy prosecuter Gabriel Bach (second from right)

Judge Bach describes his first encounter with evil. “I will never forget it. I was sitting in my office in the prison, reading the autobiography of Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz who was eventually hanged in Poland, describe how they had many days when they killed a thousand Jewish children per day and he mentions how the children would kneel and beg to be spared and when he and his colleagues were pushing the children into the gas chambers his knees would hurt and he felt ashamed of this “weakness” but remembered how Eichmann had reiterated that it was the children who had to be killed first lest they grow to be a generation that would grow up to take revenge. And then 10 minutes after I read that, there was   a request from Eichmann to see me.  It wasn’t so easy to keep a poker face with him sitting opposite me.”

How does one even imagine what it was like to have to sit opposite such a monster?

Bach describes having to handle this like any other criminal case. Emotional moments would come later – and without warning.

The German government was most cooperative in ensuring that Bach and his team received documents from all the ministries. The evidence was irrefutable.  It was time for the trial to commence.

The Eichmann trial was a game-changer in many respects. The first to be televised, the trial would allow millions around the world to enter the courtroom. The trial would also be the first opportunity that would allow survivors and witnesses to give emotional testimony. For many young Israelis who could not understand why the Jews of Europe seemed not to defend themselves, they now understood the severity, the genocide, the cruelty and the devious tactics of the Nazi killing machine that ended the lives of six million. There are accounts of Eichmann telling deportees on their way to the death camps to write postcards to their remaining loved ones and friends, not only telling them of the wonderful place they were going to, but also encouraging them to follow.

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Packed Courtroom. Leaning forward, members of the public strain to hear every word of horrific testimony in the case against Adolf Eichmann that was televised to the world.

Eichmann sat behind the glass, in the dock, completely impassive. Eichmann showed no remorse and no regret.

His defense? He was just following orders. This would prove untrue when on several occasions evidence would come to light and on more than one occasion when asked to spare the life of a Jew, Eichmann would refuse absolutely.

As the trial progressed, so did day after day of emotional, harrowing testimony from survivors who gave heartbreaking account of the loss of their families and the excruciating cruelty they endured at the hands of the Nazis under the commands of Eichmann.

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“Trial Of The Century”. Gabriel Bach (centre) with Adolf Eichmann in the glass booth (behind).

Most of us who have watched Schindler’s List can remember the searing image of the little girl in the red coat going to the gas chambers and her lifeless body on a pile of corpses.

A red coat would later affect prosecutor Bach’s composure! One day when hearing testimony from a survivor who during the selection process was spared for labour while his wife and daughter were sent to the gas chamber for immediate extermination. The SS were unsure of what to do with his son but eventually told him to join his mother and sister. The witness was concerned his son would not find them but saw the image of his little daughter in her red coat, no more than two-and-a-half, disappearing, never to be seen again.

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Schindler’s List | The Girl In The Red Coat (ft. ‘Oskar Schindler, Liam Neelson)

Bach had just bought his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a brand new red coat. His impeccable composure was shaken to the core.

The trial would proceed until the eventual verdict. On December 13, 1961 the court found Eichmann guilty on most articles of the indictment, and on the 15th of that same month, sentenced him to death. The defense appealed to the Supreme Court which on May 29, 1962, ratified the verdict of the lower court. Eichmann and his team appealed to the President, Yitzchak ben Zvi for clemency but were denied and during the night between May 31, and June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging at Ramla Prison. In his final moments, Eichmann expressed his unwavering love and loyalty to Germany and Argentina. After his body was incinerated, his ashes were scattered at sea outside Israeli territorial waters.

Justice had been served.

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Justice Served. Following Eichmann’s conviction and sentence to death, the man who had once tried to wipe out the Jewish people, pleaded for mercy from the head of a Jewish state. President Ben Zvi responded with a verse from the Bible: “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.”

At the conclusion of the process, jurists from all over the world, including some who had initially questioned Israel’s right to judge Eichmann, noted the fairness shown by the judges and their strict adherence to the principle of a fair trial.

This was more than Eichmann ever showed his victims.

Prosecutor Gabriel Bach would go on to enjoy an illustrious career that would see him assume many titles. He would go on to be State’s Attorney and then a Judge on Israel’s Supreme Court.  One title would accompany him through all of this – that of mensch. Today, at his advanced age, Judge Bach is still a most sought after and loved speaker and travels the world, engaging new audiences. He is particularly moved by the interest and willingness to learn by young Germans.

Judge Bach waves goodbye to us from the window of his modest apartment. Well into his 90’s his exuberance for life and gentle personality are testament to why this man is a giant amongst the heroes of the Jewish people.  The lessons have been many.

The importance of bearing witness, of seeking justice and the example set by a man who can affectionately be called prosecutor, Judge and mensch.


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Judge Gabriel Bach with Lotl correspondent Rolene Marks in Jerusalem.

Exposing Evil

Escaping the clutches of the Nazis as a child, years later he would face the arch architect of “The Final Solution”  in an Israeli court. ‘Insights and Revelations’ from the man who prosecuted Adolf Eichmann.

By David E. Kaplan

What was it like staring into the face of pure evil?”

It was my opening question to 93-year-old  Judge Gabriel Bach, regarding his first meeting with Adolf Eichmann, whose case he investigated in 1961, and then prosecuted. As Israel’s Deputy State Attorney, he was the only member of the three-man prosecution team who had one-on-one contact with Eichmann.

We sat for the interview in the former Supreme Court justice’s modest apartment in the leafy Talbiya neighbourhood of Jerusalem, just a stone’s throw from the official residence of Israel’s State President.

Conspicuous on the bookcase were leather-bound volumes – in English and in Hebrew – of the transcripts  of the Eichmann trial.

An estimated  500 journalists from around the world converged on Jerusalem in 1961 to cover what was dubbed the “Trial of the Century” and what was televised live to 56 countries. The trial was the first time that testimony about the death camps had ever been broadcast live – and directly from the victim’s mouths.

TIME magazine described the accused as:

A thin, balding man of 55 who looked more like a bank clerk than a butcher: a thin mouth between protruding ears, a long, narrow nose, deep set blue eyes, a high, often wrinkled brow. He looked puny beside two burly, blue-clad Israeli policemen. When he stood, he resembled a stork more than a soldier.”

Yet this “bank clerk” or “stork” was the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ that meticulously murdered six million Jews.

Blaming The Other Adolf! Adolf Eichmann maintaining he was following Adolf Hitler’s orders. (Credit Kino International; from the documentary film “The Specialist”)

Following the audacious capture of  Eichmann by the Mossad from a street in Buenos Aires  in May 1960, he was brought to Israel where he was imprisoned near Haifa for nine months preceding the trial in Jerusalem. Tasked in heading the investigation, Deputy State Attorney Gabriel Bach left his young wife Ruth and their 2-year-old daughter in Jerusalem and moved into a hotel in Haifa.

He recounts before that fateful first meeting sitting in his office at the prison engrossed in reading the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and who had been executed in 1947. Suddenly, Bach came upon a startling reference to Eichmann.

Höss was writing that they often killed a thousand children a day in the gas chambers and that the children would often go on their knees pleading to be spared. At times, when he and his colleagues had to push them into the gas chambers, he admits “my knees got a bit wobbly” but added “I always felt ashamed of this weakness of mine after I talked to SS Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, because he impressed upon me that it is especially the Jewish children that have to be killed first, because where is the logic, that you kill a generation of older people and you leave alive a generation of possible avengers who might afterwards create that race again.”

Face of Evil. SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann.

Ten minutes after Bach read this passage, a policeman walked in and said: “Adolf Eichmann wants to see you.”

A father of a young daughter facing the man who had plotted the extermination of all the Jewish children in the world, “it was hard for me to keep a poker face.”

But that is what this professional lawyer did.

One can only imagine the thoughts that went through Bach’s mind.

Sitting a metre away from the monster – separated by a desk –  he recalled of sitting 20 metres away in 1936  from another Adolf – Adolf Hitler – separated by stadium seats.  It was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. “I saw when Jesse Owens won the gold, Hitler walked out so he would not have to shake the hand of a Black.”

At that time, Bach was attending Theodor Herzl School off Adolf Hiller Square in Berlin. As good timing would have it, “Two days before Kristallnacht,  my family left for Holland.”

Within a few years, Gabriel was the only student of his class at Theodor Herzl School  – ALIVE!

The mild-mannered monster sitting opposite him was responsible for that!

Bach’s departure from Germany was not without incident or violence. At the Germany border with Holland, we were ordered off the train by the Gestapo and told to open our suitcases.  After an unpleasant search on the platform,  the train began pulling out and “the German SS officer kicked me in my behind as I was running, and I lunged with my case onto the train. That is how I left Germany – LITERALLY kicked out.”

In Amsterdam, Gabriel attended a non-Jewish school, but  as good fortune would have it, the family left for Palestine one month before Germany invaded. If again the Bach family were blessed with good timing, the ship the “Patria” that brought them to Palestine, sunk “on its very next voyage with a huge loss of life. So, as you can see, our family was always just one step ahead of imminent disaster.”

Robert Servatius

All these thoughts percolated in the mind of Gabriel as Eichmann requested, “If he could have Robert Servatius – who had represented Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg – as his defense attorney. We agreed; even changed Israeli law to allow it and Servatius was paid by the Israeli government for his services.”

“Only Following Orders”

For this writer who had studied the Eichmann trial at law school in South Africa over four decades earlier, I recalled the two salient issues:

(1) one of jurisdiction, that is,  the legality of kidnapping a man from one country to stand trial in a second for crimes committed in a third

(2) Eichmann’s defence that he had been a functionary,  a bureaucrat “following orders.”

“Arguing jurisdiction did not pose a problem,” explained Bach. “The Argentine objection  was mostly token, and Germany – the only other country to realistically try the case – was perfectly happy Israel took on the responsibility and cooperated fully in providing much of the material and documents from the camps to help build our case. In any event, the global sentiment shifted enormously to the view that it was most important to present the facts of what Eichmann did, and preserve them for historical record.”

Addressing the second issue of “I was following orders,” Bach refuted this with one horrifying example after another.

“In 1944, Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy wished to leave the Axis and make peace with the Allies. Hitler convinced him to stay but only on Horthy’s condition that 8,700 Hungarian Jewish families be allowed to emigrate to a neutral country. Hitler agreed – not out of any sense of humanity –  but because it was more important to have Hungary remain on the side of the Axis powers, and would ensure that the remaining 800,000 Jews would be exterminated.”

Eichmann, however, would not have any of it.

“We found a telegram from the Nazi appointee in Budapest to German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, reporting that Eichmann was very upset about releasing these families, saying they were important “biological material,” who could proceed from the neutral country to Palestine, where they could help reconstitute the Jewish race. According to the Nazi telegram, Eichmann tried to speed up deportations so those Jews would be taken before their visas arrived. Eichmann thereby acted in defiance of Hitler himself, belying his claim – of just following orders.”

Documents from various countries showed Eichmann was often requested to spare particular Jews. However, “no matter how seemingly strong the request, Eichmann invariably said NO.” Bach presents the case of a German general in Paris who wrote to Eichmann requesting he spare a professor Weiss – an expert on radar – for his value to the German war effort. Eichmann refused. When the general replied saying, “How dare you refuse me, I am a General!” Eichmann responded:

And I am a SS Obersturmbannführer and I understand you already took over his patents, so there is no need to delay his deportation.”

When the SS came, professor and Mrs. Weiss managed to drop off their infant daughter at their neighbors, who sent her to America. During the trial, this young woman came to Israel and visited Bach in his office. She said she had no memories of her parents, and asked Bach to help her locate photos. He tried but was unsuccessful.

In Lithuania, the Germans arrested a Jewish woman who was the widow of an Italian war hero. This Italian officer had died fighting the Allies with the Germans. The Italian ambassador to Lithuania asked Eichmann to spare her, saying that, “All of Italy feels this lady should be allowed to return,” and “the Italian authorities demand her return, in memory of her husband.”

Eichmann refused and sent her to the camps.

For Eichmann, there were no exceptions.

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Deputy State Attorney, Gabriel Bach addressing the court

Postcards From The Edge

Always Gabriel thought there might be “one case” where Eichmann might find reason not to send a Jew to his death – but it was not to be.

In Holland, the Dutch Fascist leader requested Eichmann spare a dozen or more Jewish Dutch Fascists, “on the grounds that their deportation would demoralize their party comrades, and because they could help identify other Jews.” Eichmann agreed only to delay their deportation to Auschwitz for two weeks.

After that, Eichmann said, “their comrades would be used to it.”

Far from “following orders”, Eichmann proved a master manipulator at devising ways to keep Jews unsuspecting on their path to destruction. One such devilish stratagem, explained Bach  “was forcing the new arrivals at Auschwitz, moments before being sent into the gas chambers, to write postcards to their relations – the wording determined by Eichmann – such as:

 “The conditions are good here, come before all the best places are taken.”

Seeing Red

During the trial, “We came across a survivor who had received such a postcard before himself arriving at  Auschwitz with his family. This witness came to Jerusalem the night before he was to testify but because it was already 11 o’clock at night, I told him to come to my office in the morning. However, he arrived late the next morning, and so I proceeded blind,  putting him on the witness stand, without having heard his testimony.”

The witness testified of how he arrived at Auschwitz on the train, with his wife, 12-year-old son, and 2 1/2-year-old daughter. “The guards told his wife and daughter to go to the left, which he later learned were the gas chambers. Telling the guard he had been a metal worker in the army, he was told to go to the right. However, the guard was uncertain where to send his son. They waited some time until the guard returned and told his son to “run along after your Mama.” The son went off to the left, and the father stood there trying to see them, wondering if his son caught up with his mother and sister. Meanwhile hundreds of people had gone between them, and soon the father could not see his son anymore, nor his wife. But his young daughter was wearing a red coat, which he suddenly spotted. He watched this red dot get smaller and smaller, and so his family disappeared from his life.  His last recollection of them was of a red dot.”

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Red Alert. A scene from the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ of the red coated girl that film director Spielberg picked up from testimony in the Eichmann trial.

Bach points to a family photograph on a shelf. “Here is our daughter Orly, who was roughly the same age as the girl in the red dress. Only the day before hearing this testimony, my wife had photographed  me standing with Orly wearing her new red-coated dress that we had bought for her two weeks before. Hearing this testimony, culminating with the red dress moving inexorably towards the gas chamber, I suddenly was unable to speak — I could not utter a word. The judges looked to me to continue, but all I could do was shuffle my papers for three minutes before I gained my composure and was able to proceed.”

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Moment Of Reflection. Gabriel Bach processing the horrific testimony of a tearful witness.

Day after day over a period of four months, live testimony brought to the world  the horrors of the Holocaust.

Did Bach at any time during the trial ever get the impression that Eichmann felt any remorse?

“NEVER – he showed no sign of it.”

Supporting this assertion, Bach referred to an admission made by Eichmann in 1956 – eleven years after the war and five years before his trial – that he had only one regret:

 “that I had not been tougher because now you see what has happened, the Jews have reconstituted their State.”

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Girls In Red. Gabriel Bach shows a photograph of his daughter Orly who was the same age as the ‘girl in the red’ revealed in testimony.

Yes, a Jewish state that would hunt him down and expose his crimes to the world.

As I stood up after an enthralling three-hour interview, staring at me from framed photographs were Bach’s children and grandchildren. Their smiling faces left no doubt that Eichmann’s biggest fear – couched in the instruction to Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Höss,  “to kill the children first” – was realised.

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Interviewing Team. Lay Of The Land (LOTL) correspondents (l-r) Rolene Marks and David E. Kaplan interviewing Judge Gabriel Bach (centre) in Jerusalem.

The smiling children of Israel, today, tomorrow and forever are the message to the Eichmanns of the world – “Never Again”.





*Feature picture – Adolf Eichmann on trial in April 1961. Photo : Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis.