The Eichmann Trial
The Eichmann Trial from 1961. (William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds the reports and editorials from the legendary editor of the Detroit Jewish News, Philip Slomovitz, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust.

Sixty years ago, Israel was the focal point for a world audience, not because of a war. In Jerusalem, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, began on April 11, 1961. The event was televised globally, and newspaper reporters were on location, including the legendary editor of the Detroit Jewish News, Philip Slomovitz.

Slomovitz spent weeks in Israel covering the Eichmann trial. The JN itself was not yet 20 years old in 1961, but by this time, Slomovitz was considered the dean of American English language newspaper editors. He believed it was his duty to be at this trial. The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds his reports from and editorials about the trial. 

The Eichmann Trial
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

The Eichmann Trial was the most significant judicial action against a Nazi since the Nuremberg Trials, 1945-1949. The Nuremberg Trials were conducted in the immediate aftermath of World War II (1945-49) by an ad hoc international military tribunal. It tried 197 German Nazi Party and military leaders who had been captured after the war. Nazis such as Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and others were tried and convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Eichmann Trial was a different affair. It resulted in another conviction of a leading Nazi, but it also raised global awareness of his role and that of other Nazis in the killing of more than 6 million Jews. More specifically, it was a key factor toward generic “crimes against humanity” becoming universally recognized as the Holocaust.  

The Eichmann Trial
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Eichmann escaped from Germany after its defeat in WWII. He settled in Argentina. That nation usually did not honor extradition requests and was a safe haven for many of the fleeing Nazis. After living there incognito for many years, Eichmann was seized by Israeli Mossad agents and clandestinely spirited to Israel on May 20, 1960.

Eichmann was a key implementer of “The Final Solution.” He planned for the shipping of millions of Jews to death camps. This was a massive logistical problem, especially, in the last months of WWII, when Nazi Germany was crumbling. It was Eichmann who kept the trains running.

The Eichmann Trial
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

At the trial, Eichmann claimed he was “merely a little cog in the machinery.” He admitted his role in transporting millions of Jews to death camps, but stated that he felt no guilt. He was just following orders, doing his duty, just doing his job. This is what philosopher Hannah Arendt termed the “banality of evil.”

Most important, the Eichmann Trial included the testimony of hundreds of witnesses, including survivors. These firsthand accounts of atrocities were a critical factor in raising public awareness of the enormity and magnitude of the Holocaust. In this respect, see Slomovitz’s poignant report in the April 28, 1961, issue of the JN: “Witnesses’ Experiences Document Nazi Holocaust, Eichmann’s Guilt.”  

The Eichmann Trial
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1961. He received the first and only death penalty in Israeli history. 

The JN has covered some major world events over the years. And, from start to finish, through 1961 and 1962, Philip Slomovitz and the JN reported the Eichmann Trial. It is fascinating, albeit somber, reading about Israel’s “trial of the century.” 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at
www.djnfoundation.org.