Interview with Gabriel Bach: 50 Years since the Eichmann Trial - Memories


On Monday March 26 2012, The Peace Palace Library, together with the embassy of Israel in The Hague, invited Judge Gabriel Bach, a Prosecutor in the Trial of Adolf Eichmann to the Peace Palace to give a Lecture to share his memories of what could be considered the most famous trial of the 20th century. Judge Bach spoke to an audience of over 200 people and some were able to ask questions during and after the Q & A session.

The first question was discussed during the Lecture and was included in the booklet with the entire program of the Lecture. The second and third question were answered by Judge Bach during the reception that took place after the lecture.

What do you remember from the first time you met Adolf Eichmann?

Two days after Eichmann was brought to Israel, the Minister of Justice called me, and asked me whether I would be prepared to be the legal adviser of the Police Bureau that carried out the investigation. I was then the Deputy State Attorney of Israel. I agreed. Until then, I had already carried out quite a number of prosecutions against very well known criminals and I also knew German, so it was that I would become one of the prosecutors.

The Israeli government declared that it would be responsible for all the defense expenses and allow Eichmann to choose whichever lawyer he wanted from anywhere in the world. Dr. Robert Servatius, one of the leading defense counselors at the Nuremberg trials, was brought first at the request of Eichmann´s family and also by Eichmann himself. But until he arrived, I was the contact had with the outside world and I let him know if he had some technical issues he wanted to discuss or formal matters he could come to me. But, I let him know from the start that I was not prepared to talk to him about the alleged offenses with which he was charged because then I would have to be a witness, and I had known already that I would be one of the prosecutors.

The Israeli government vacated an entire prison for Eichmann, right of Haifa (Iar Prison’). The prison was inhabited only by Eichmann and 30 or 40 police officers who handled him. There I had my office. For nine months I lived there. At night I was in a hotel in Haifa and in the morning I was taken to this prison and was actually next to Eichmann all the time. During this period, I was his only contact to the outside world until his lawyers arrived.

At first I didn´t see Eichmann. One day, I was reading the biography of Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz. He was hanged in Poland in 1948, twelve years before Eichmann was caught, and before he was executed, he wrote his biographical notes, his autobiography. There he described how they many days where they killed about 1,000 Jewish children a day and he described how the children used to kneel down to be saved…..He wrote that when he and his colleagues had to push the children into the gas chambers, his knees would were getting a bit wobbly sometimes. But then, he added: I’ve always felt ashamed of this weakness of mine, after I talked with SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, because Eichmann explained to me that it is especially the children that need to be killed first, because he says: ‘where is the logic that you kill a generation of older people and leave alive the generation of possible avengers, who can afterward create that race again?’. Now, maybe there is some kind of macabre logic in that but ten minutes after I read that, a policeman came in and said ´Eichmann wants to see you´.

The moments I heard his steps outside after I read that…..I remembered how I, as a child, escaped from Germany. That was the moment I realized, how easily It could have been the other way around, that me and my family-could have been brought before these SS men. When he came ten minutes after I´d read the biography of Rudolf Höss it was a bit difficult to keep a poker face.

Judge Bach, the Lecture was attended by over 200 people. Are you surprised that so many people came to the lecture? Why do you think this is?

It is surprising that there is so much interest. Fifty years have passed since the Eichmann trial, the interest from all over the world rose from year to year. It happens to be that the Holocaust was mentioned in many other trials, like for instance the Nuremberg Trials, but, it was always only marginal. Only part of it. The only trial that really deals with all the aspects of what happened there was the Eichmann trial. All the legal questions, the emotional and human aspects, all the ethical questions, all that really rose in the Eichmann trial. Because of that, the interest rose from year to year and still rises to this day.

I’ve just returned from Belgium where the President of the European Parliament asked me to speak together with him at the International Holocaust Remembrance day. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister from Austria, invited me to come to Vienna. Before that I was in Los Angeles to accept what is called the Lemkin-Award. Raphael Lemkin was an expert in International Law . He created the word Genocide. When he died he had become a great expert in International Law. In 2011, The Loyola Law School’s Center for the Study of Law & Genocide decided that they will give a Lemkin-Award to someone who has contributed to the understanding of Genocide and they gave it to me. I was invited to Los Angeles and 300 people came to the event.

In Japan, they opened up a special museum for which they brought flowers from The Netherlands, from the home of Anne Frank that were planted in the garden of the museum. They asked me to plant a tree in my name next to the flowers of Anne Frank. And there is interest in Australia and New-Zealand as well. And then, there’s interest especially in Germany. In Germany they have now decided that in every province where there is a Parliament, they will devote a whole day every year to commemorate the Holocaust and they asked me to come. What is particularly important, in Germany, is that they wanted me to speak to young children. Last year they asked me to meet with 400 schoolchildren. They told me that they wanted the young people to know things like this can never happen again. I mean, in a way, I can understand it, but sometimes it is surprising that after fifty years the interest is still growing.

How important do you think Libraries are in spreading the word in international criminal law and human rights violations?

I’m not a great expert on that but I think that Libraries are very important. After all, there you can find information that you cannot find in newspapers. They provide proper foundations for information to the public.