Moshe Landau: Judge who presided over the trial of Adolf Eichmann

Moshe Landau was the presiding judge in the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key architect of the Final Solution. Although the Eichmann trial brought him to international attention, Landau had already developed a reputation in Israel for a meticulous approach to the law within a strong moral framework. He was widely seen as the ideal candidate to face the world's media and to lead the three-man panel at the trial. He was "handsome, balding, 50-ish," as the British journalist Peter Johnson described him; it also helped that Landau had gone to Palestine in the early 1930s and had not suffered directly at the hands of the Nazis.

At the end of the Second World War, Eichmann had fled to Argentina, where he lived under a false identity, working for Mercedes-Benz until May 1960. Following a tip-off he was abducted from a street in Buenos Aires by agents of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and taken to Israel to face trial.

Eichmann had been charged with the task of overseeing the logistics of the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe. Although his guilt was not much in doubt, the trial in Jerusalem faced a number of initial obstacles raised by his German lawyer, Dr Robert Servatius. Foremost was the question of the tribunal's legitimacy: Eichmann's abduction had prompted a diplomatic and legal uproar – newspaper editorials lambasted Israel's "jungle law" approach and questioned the right of Israel to hold trials for crimes committed in Europe.

Landau and his fellow judges were at pains to point out the court's legitimacy. They explained that the court had jurisdiction over Eichmann because the state of Israel represented all Jews. "To argue that there is no connection," they wrote, "is like cutting away a tree root and branch and saying to its trunk: I have not hurt you."

The trial opened in Jerusalem on 11 April 1961, with Landau reading the 15-count indictment aloud in Hebrew, pausing as each charge was translated into German. The charges included "causing the killing of millions of Jews", "torture" and placing "many millions of Jews in living conditions that were calculated to bring about their physical destruction." Eichmann sat impassively in a bulletproof glass box. The world's media regularly remarked on Landau's strong, sober leadership over four months of testimony. They also noted his sometimes terse exchanges both with the prosecution and with Eichmann, who testified that he was a "small cog" in the Nazi machine and that he was acting on orders. Landau responded, "A soldier, too, must have a conscience."

Landau navigated the fine line between allowing emotional testimonies by victims and keeping proceedings grounded in facts and questions about Eichmann's specific responsibilities and actions. This won general admiration, and ensured that Eichmann was seen to be being given a fair trial.

Eichmann was eventually found guilty on all counts on 15 December 1961. In condemning him to death, Landau said, "The dispatch by the accused of every train carrying 1,000 souls to Auschwitz or to any of the places of extermination amounted to direct participation by the accused in 1,000 acts of premeditated murder. Even had we found that the accused acted out of blind obedience, as he alleges, yet we would have said that one who had participated in crimes of such dimensions for years on end has to undergo the greatest punishment known to the law."

Eichmann was hanged on 31 May 1962, and remains the only person killed in Israel on conviction by civilian court.

Born in Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland) in 1912, Moshe Landau was sent to England and graduated from London University with a degree in law in 1933. By then Hitler had come to power and consequently Landau did not return home. Instead he settled in the British Mandate of Palestine, where he was admitted to the Palestine Bar in 1937. He rose rapidly, and in 1940 was appointed a magistrate in Haifa.

He was promoted to the District Court in 1948, and at the time of Eichmann's trial was a member of the Israeli Supreme Court, where he served until his retirement in 1982, the last two years as president.

As well as the Eichmann trial, he delivered several important rulings. In 1957 in the Criminal Court of Appeals he had to determine what constituted lawful orders when sitting at a court martial of soldiers who killed 30 Arabs in the village of Kafr Qasim, a trial that set the boundaries for a soldier's responsibility to refuse orders. In the mid-1970s he served on the Agranat Commission to determine responsibility for Israel's lack of preparedness for the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In the 1980s, Landau headed a judicial commission investigating Shin Bet, the internal state security service whose agents had been charged with using excessive force when interrogating prisoners. The Landau Commission (1987) criticised the agents but declined to prosecute, saying that a "moderate measure of physical pressure" was permissible. The commission's findings were overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999.

Martin Childs

Moshe Landau, judge; born Danzig, Germany 29 April 1912; married (three daughters); died Jerusalem 15 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Voices
Björt Ólafsdóttir is a member of Iceland's Bright Future party
voicesIceland's Björt Ólafsdóttir on her decision to take part in #FreeTheNipple
Life and Style
The Clove Club will charge customers when they book
food + drink
News
Lapping it up: a woman feeds felines at a cat café in Japan
newsThe vast majority of cat and dog 'wet foods' contain items not specified on the tin, study finds
Sport
Andros Townsend and Paul Merson
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat