As an historic event, the Eichmann trial lasted two years. It began on 23 May 1960, with Prime Minister David Ben Gurion's astonishing announcement to the Knesset: "I would like to inform the Knesset that some time ago Israel's Security Service ascertained the whereabouts of one of the greatest Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders, for what they called "The Final Solution of the Jewish problem" i.e. the murder of six million European Jews. Adolf Eichmann is now under arrest in Israel and will soon stand trial here, in accordance with the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710-1950." This announcement rocked the Israeli public in a way that few things ever did.
The trial opened nearly a year later, on 11 April 1961. The District Court proceedings continued through mid-August and the guilty verdict was handed down on 12 December 1961. Three days later Eichmann was sentenced to death under the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law.
Eichmann's appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected on 29 May 1962 and the President did not accept his request to be pardoned. In the early morning hours of 31 May 1962, two years after Ben Gurion's announcement, Eichmann was hanged at Ramla prison. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered at sea outside the State of Israel's territorial waters.
Events that shape public consciousness occur in every nation and every generation – experiences that continue to impact that consciousness for many years. The Eichmann trial, one of the most publicized events in Israeli history, was such an event. It was linked to the two key events in the history of the Jewish people in the 20th century – the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. And it led to two basic understandings. The first was related to the significance of having a sovereign Jewish state, only after the establishment of which, were the Jewish people able to bring to justice those who had caused them harm. And the second was the transition that Israeli consciousness went through regarding the Holocaust, from a state of information to a state of knowledge.
The Nuremberg trials, conducted by the Allies immediately after WWII, revealed a large portion of the information to the public. But at that time the essence was not yet internalized or understood properly. The Eichmann trial turned that information into knowledge.
Two of the long term consequences of this process were a change in the public standing of Holocaust survivors, as they became the living bridge between Israelis and their past, and a change in the central place that the Holocaust has occupied ever since in Israelis' national identity as well as in the public, legal, ethical, educational `and cultural discourse in the world and in Israel alike.
Prof. Hanna Yablonka