Refugee from Nazis became chief justice
called ‘‘the usual loneliness of first instance judging’’.
After his retirement as chief justice, Eichelbaum sat as a judge in Hong Kong and Fiji. He chaired inquiries into genetic modification, why New Zealand lost co-hosting rights to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and, controversially, reviewed children’s evidence in the case against Peter Ellis, who was convicted of child abuse at the Christchurch civic creche.
In a tribute after his death, Elias said Eichelbaum was held in the highest affection by the judges who served under him, both for his leadership and for his personal warmth and kindness.
Barker said Eichelbaum could be expansive and hospitable, but there was always an area of privacy. Like others, he remembered Eichelbaum’s signature: long, controlled and unrecognisable as his name.
As Eichelbaum prepared for retirement, he reflected in an interview on the effect of his early experiences. Immigrants might tend to do well because they felt obliged to try harder, he suggested.
Typical German qualities of orderliness and diligence helped his career, and from his Jewish side came an empathy with minorities. ‘‘But I think perhaps it is a Jewish characteristic to empathise with people generally.’’
It was not until his mid-60s that he returned to his home town of Koenigsberg, which had become part of Russia in 1945.
The interviewer said Eichelbaum’s eyes filled with tears as he described seeing streets and buildings he recognised, but none of the Jews and Germans who once lived there.
Sources: Dame Sian Elias, Sir Ian Barker, The Evening Post and The Dominion, New Zealand Law Journal.