In the spring of 1945, as the Allied and Soviet armies closed in on the last remnants of the Third Reich, one of Adolf Hitler’s most notorious followers found himself in the custody of the Americans.
Ernst Rüdin was born in Switzerland and known as one of Nazi Germany’s most prominent proponents of mass sterilisation and the clinical killing of adults and children, as well as a leading figure in the promotion of Nazi eugenics and one of the spiritual fathers of the racial purity pseudo-sciences that the Nazi Party adopted in the late 1920s, which were later used as a justification for the mass murder of Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies once Hitler came to power.
He belonged to the group of psychiatric perpetrators who not only worked to give Nazi science a façade of legitimacy and authority but also provided Hitler’s henchmen with the tools to implement the sadistic policies. His contribution to the Nazi Racial Health initiatives, which eventually led to the mass extermination of millions of Jews in the Holocaust, cannot be overrated.
Rüdin, whose devotees included the infamous Auschwitz physician responsible for carrying out appalling human experiments, Josef Mengele, never had to face an international criminal court alongside other war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials, despite his documented connection to war crimes. His only punishment was to be slapped with a paltry 500 Deutsche mark fine, the equivalent of €131 in 2019, after his release.
Bringing international attention to Rüdin’s case occurred only after recent extensive research by German historians that enough documented evidence emerged to show the true extent of his crimes.
This led Avi Omer, a lawyer from the Institute for Social Excellence in Israel, and a team of international legal experts to carry out a “mock” trial where the full extent of Rüdin’s appalling crimes was laid bare.
The timing and location of the unofficial hearing on January 20-22 carried significant symbolic value as it took place in Jerusalem, the city where Adolf Eichmann – the Austrian-born SS Obersturmbannführer and chief architect of the Final Solution – was brought to justice half a century ago after being apprehended in Buenos Aires, Argentina by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
The mock trial also took place shortly after the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event was sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education, was conceived by the Social Excellence Forum, a non-profit founded by Omer, and included a tribunal of five judges selected from the Israeli Supreme Court, The European Court for Human Rights, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. Federal Court, and the Supreme Courts of Scotland
The event was the culmination of seven months of training of the young participants underwent with some of the top leaders in Israel, including the current Chairman of the UN Committee for Human Rights and former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Prof. Yuval Shany.
The trial saw teams of teenage litigants presented evidence that was gathered in partnership with legal experts and historians.
At the end of the mock trial, Elyakim Rubinstein, a former Vice President of the Supreme Court of Israel, said, “It is amazing and disappointing that Rudin escaped indictment in the post-Nazi era and was able to end his life peacefully. Rudin’s history, and his wicked influence, are ideologically and practically a part of the Nazi era, the climax of which was the Holocaust,” adding, “Having said that, I am still optimistic that wherever there are perpetrators of crimes under international law, there will nowadays be efforts to enforce the law. Somebody will stand up to its challenge.”
“Unfortunately, the defendant, Rudin, was not brought to trial together with the other war criminals at Nuremberg in 1945. Like Adolf Eichmann, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Israel, if Rudin was prosecuted in Israel under Israeli law for the prosecution of the Nazis and their accomplices, he would have been convicted of the same charges,” Prof. Shimon Shetreet said in his concluding judgment.
The proceedings of the case, including the official court transcripts and the written verdicts of the international judges, including Rubinstein and Shetreet, will now be made available for schools around the world to use to re-enact their own court hearings.
Rudin, who died in 1952 after being rehabilitated during the “de-Nazification’ campaign by the Western Allies in 1947, faced various charges at the mock trial including human rights violations and attempts to incite genocide and crimes against humanity.
Justice Christoph Flügge, the President of the chamber, “The defendant is guilty of most of the articles of indictment against him. In light of the evidence presented in the trial, the defendant, Rudin, was found responsible for the sterilisation and murder of hundreds of thousands of people with physical and mental disabilities.”
According to Omer, the point of the mock trial was to “instil human rights values in young future leaders who will then become agents of change in their own social circles…with the lesson being that human rights and human dignity are above any other consideration or science.”