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The Contemporary Relevance of The Eichmann Case

On Wednesday night, we went to the Maltz Museum for a presentation titled "The Contemporary Relevance of the Eichmann Case" by the brilliant Professor Michael P. Scharf, Dean at CWRU School of Law, Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at CWRU, and co-founder of the Public International Law and Policy Group among other fine accomplishments.

IMG_0955 First of all, Prof. Scharf urged us to walk one room over when he was done to view the exhibition, "Operation Finale; the Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichman" if we had not already done so. He briefly talked about how Eichmann; one of Hitler's most steadfast supporters who coordinated deportations of Jews to locations where they were killed en masse; was finally apprehended in Argentina May, 1960 by the Israeli Security Service who took him to Jerusalem where he was tried by an Israeli court for his crimes, sentenced to death and then executed on June 1, 1962.

Throughout the entire affair, Eichmann claimed that he was just acting under orders. But as Prof. Scharf was quick to point out, one of the Nuremberg principles firmly states that "the fact that a person acted pursuant to the order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility  under international law, provided a moral choice was, in fact possible to him."

Prof. Scharf then focused his talk about the issues brought to the forefront and precedents established by the Eichmann case such as the "rejection of obedience to orders defense" which later came into play when Lt. William Calley, Jr. was tried for his role in the My Lai incident in Vietnam.

Another important matter was "universal jurisdiction" because up to that time the only people to be tried in places where their crimes were not committed were pirates.

Then there was "mala captus bene detentus" which involved Eichmann being kidnapped (for a lack of a better word) and transported to Israel instead of being extradicted. Later on the Eichmann trial would be used as a precedent when the DEA kidnapped Humberto Alvarez-Machaine from Mexico and brought him to the U.S. for trial for his role in the torture of a DEA agent.

Finally, Prof. Scharf talked about the challenges of "maintaining courtroom order" in such controversial, emotionally charged affairs. We found this section particularly IMG_0953interesting because Eichmann had been stationed in a bulletproof glass booth during his trial to protect him against assassination attempts and to be able to control possibly incendiary statements by simply turning off his microphone.

During the Saddam Hussein trial, Prof. Scharf worked as a consultant to help train the judges and the attorneys involved just as he had done for war crimes tribunals in such places as Cambodia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. In the case of Saddam Hussein, Prof. Scharf recommended that he be tried in a glass booth (just like Eichmann) so his statements could be monitored and controlled.

This never happened due to the mechanics of working with a heavy glass booth and the fragility of the floors which was very unfortunate because Saddam Hussein acted like a martyr during his televised trial (Prof. Scharf was also not in favor of televising this one) and it is believed that some of his statements might have inspired ISIS.

During Q and A, Prof. Scharf interacted superbly with the attendees and such topics as the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the international legalities involving the use of drones, why the Eichmann trial had more of an effect than the Nuremberg trials, the practicalities of domestic courts vs. international courts, the Tokyo tribunals after World War II, and the John Demjanjuk case were all discussed.

We sat next to Mr. Vince Lombardo, a retiree who we see quite often at the City Club, and his wife, Ms. Barbara Stanford, who is still quite active as an artist. Prior to the start of the program, we introduced ourselves to Prof. Scharf who knows Ms. Margaret W. Wong quite well and is "a big fan."

Both before and after the presentation, we walked through the "Operation Finale" exhibit which was quite powerful to say the least. In order to view it, a person must first walk through a tunnel where one wall is devoted to how the stage was set for the Nazis to come to power and their "lure" to people like Eichmann. The other wall of the tunnel contained stark photos of holocaust victims suffering in a camp.

This gets us ready to take on Eichmann because, after walking through the tunnel, one can trace; through photographs, testimonials, and artifacts; how Eichmann was located in Argentina, seized and transported to Israel. One can listen to a tape of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's May 23rd, 1960 broadcast where it was announced that Eichmann had been captured.

A short distance away is a large, half-moon screen that encircles a good-sized room. On this screen a tape of Eichmann's trial is played and, right in the center of it, stands the original glass booth positioned so images of Eichmann reacting to the proceedings are right behind it as though he is actually in the booth.

At the exit of the exhibition, there is a statement from Mr. Elie Wiesel that reads, "wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the center of the universe."


Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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