Eichmann, Adolf Otto°
EICHMANN, ADOLF OTTO°
EICHMANN, ADOLF OTTO ° (1906–1962), ss officer and head of the Jewish Department of the Gestapo. He became one of the people most identified with "the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem" during his trial, which took place in Jerusalem in 1961, and a synonym in all discussions dealing with human evil.
Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, to Adolf Karl, an accountant, and Maria, a housewife, both of whom were devout Protestants. When Eichmann was seven years old, the family moved to the city of Linz, Austria, a mostly Catholic city. In 1916, Eichmann's mother died and, shortly thereafter, his father remarried.
Eichmann's childhood was a usual bourgeois one, very different from the commonly accepted image of what is thought to be the childhood of Nazi war criminals, as if they had usually experienced traumas in childhood and were on the fringes of society. No social rejections can be found in his childhood nor any outstanding expressions of hatred of Jews.
Eichmann's achievements as a student were low, and at age 19, he became a traveling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company in Upper Austria. In 1933, he was promoted to the Salzburg area, but in the same year was fired because of staff downsizing in the company. His joining the ranks of the Nazi Party of Austria was the result of several factors. The general context was that Eichmann had grown up in an Austria where there was a long history of anti-Jewish movements and public discourse full of Jewish stereotypes. Eichmann was surrounded by an atmosphere and environment within which Jews were thought, as a matter of course, to be despised, foreign, and suspect as to their loyalty, as well as different in their religion and culture. Jews and non-Jews belonged to different societies. That is, there was a background of antisemitism, but not outright and aggressive. As to the street, there was a desire to eradicate the shame of Versailles and that, too, was thought to have been caused by the Jews. The strengthening of the National Socialist Party in Austria during the 1932 local elections gave it, besides strength, an increasing size and public respectability. To all this was added personal background. It was Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who later became the commander of the Head Office of the Security of the Reich, an acquaintance of the Eichmann family, who suggested to Eichmann that he join the ranks of the party and the ss. On April 1, 1932, Eichmann became a member of the Nazi Party. His number was 899895. Seven months later, he also swore allegiance to the ss, which at the time, numbered about 2,000 members in all of Austria.
The strengthening of the Nazi Party in Austria after 1933 resulted in its persecution by the government, and this, in addition to the fact that Eichmann was unemployed, caused him to immigrate to Germany in August 1933. Once in Germany, he received military training in one of the ss camps. In 1934, Eichmann served as a colonel in the Austrian unit of the ss in the concentration camp at Dachau. At the end of the year, he volunteered for the sd, the Secret Service, and was transferred to Berlin. This was extremely important because in a few years the sd became the driving force of the implementation of Jewish policies in Nazi Germany and an influence on the determiners of that policy.
Initially, Eichmann's main job in the sd was in Intelligence. At the beginning, he dealt with the Freemasons; later he gradually became an expert in the subjects of Judaism, Jews, Jewish organizations, Zionism, Herzl, and Jewish immigration. In appreciation of his efforts and achievements in the field of Jewish policy, he was promoted to Untersturmfuhrer (second lieutenant) in January 1938.
Now he had real standing and prestige. In the same year, he was requested by *Heydrich to prepare a memorandum about the international effort to encourage Jewish emigration from Europe. This was the beginning of a great advancement in Eichmann's career. This matter dealt with the future of the Jews in Austria, which had been annexed to the German Reich in March 1938. The sd made Eichmann responsible for the Jewish Emigration Office and, for the first time, he had real power. He had enactment authority in the security force and dictatorial authority over the helpless Jews. The summit of his achievements was the establishment of the Main Office of Jewish Emigration. The success of this office hinged on four factors: the ambitions of the sd and the despair of the Jews, together with the great effort of Eichmann to implement the emigration according to the sd doctrine, along with Eichmann's burning desire to achieve promotion. Moreover, in Vienna, Eichmann added a new twist to emigration by having the Jews themselves finance it and enlisting their cooperation, an action which was a precedent for the formation of the Judenrat.
Despite Eichmann's contentions that his efforts to encourage Jewish emigration were in the spirit of Zionism, the reality was that forced emigration was the realization of Nazi policy and that by forced, brutally implemented emigration the Nazis also got hold of Jewish possessions. Eichmann bragged that within a year of the annexation of Austria, about 100,000 Jews had emigrated from Austria legally and a few thousand Jews to Palestine illegally, and in total by November 1941, 128,000 Jews had left Austria. Eichmann's achievement was quickly rewarded by his promotion to Obersturmfuhrer (first lieutenant). Eichmann's activities in Vienna became the model for policy that was enacted in Germany beginning in January 1939, when the Main Office of Emigration within the Reich was established. Heydrich was appointed commander and Heinrich Mueller was appointed his second in command.
A few weeks later, Czechoslovakia was conquered and Eichmann was asked to come to Prague to establish an additional emigration center. At this point, Eichmann had formed a staff from the Austrian Nazis, which included Frantz Novak, Anton Burger, Karl Rohm, and Alois Brunner as well as the Gunther brothers. Fritz Gunther was to be his deputy. Theodor Dannecker and Dieter Wisliceny were also among the group. These were to be at the heart of activities in the years to come. To Bohemia and Moravia, which became a German Protectorate, Eichmann took Brunner and Hans Gunther.
All of Eichmann's activities seemed to be quite efficient until September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and World War ii began. At this point, Eichmann's command changed radically.
With the outbreak of war, *Himmler established the Main Office for the Security of the Reich (rsha) commanded by Heydrich. Eichmann was appointed to chair the Jewish Department with Heinrich Mueller at the head. Consequently, Eichmann was serving under Heydrich.
During October 1939, Eichmann and his men were responsible for the expulsion of thousands of Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia to a remote place in Poland called Nisko. Most of them perished; only about 300 of them survived. These deportations and those that came immediately afterwards became the basis for the development of methods of mass expulsions during the entire period of Nazi rule on the entire continent. It was Eichmann who at that time translated the German Foreign Office's plan to deport the Jews to the tropical island of Madagascar into a viable plan. The plan was never put into action.
In February 1940, the rsha began a series of reorganizations. Eichmann's unit was renamed ivb4, the name by which it would become known forever: the "Department of Jewish Matters and Deportation." It was formally listed under the authority of the Gestapo. It was a victory for the sd in the struggle for control of anti-Jewish policy. Eichmann was now formally a Gestapo officer.
Now Eichmann worked furiously. As head of the Department of Emigration in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin, he had to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to Poland to make room for ethnic Germans who had been evacuated from the Baltic countries. The deportation was carried out from the areas of Stettin and Posen, causing great chaos in the General Government and strong protests from Governor Hans *Frank. This crisis crossed wires historically with the preparations for the invasion of the U.S.S.R. It seems that at this point, the expert in emigration became the expert in mass murder and genocide.
The month of September 1941 marks the beginning of Eichmann's activities on a mass scale. In mid-September, *Hitler ordered Himmler to carry out a deportation of Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate. In October, Himmler officially prohibited Jewish emigration from the continent and in the same month Eichmann organized the deportation of 20,000 Jews from the Reich along with 5,000 Roma (gypsies) to the Lodz ghetto. In the same month, Eichmann was again promoted. This time, he was promoted to Obersturmbannfuhrer (lieutenant colonel), his highest rank. In October, Eichmann held a meeting of representatives of different institutions that were connected to the Jewish issue where he informed them of the deportation of German Jews. Likewise, they were required to report their activities in that matter. When all was ready, the trains from Germany and Austria began to move towards Poland, White Russia, and the Baltic area. Eichmann personally commanded all arrangements and traveled to Minsk, Lvov, Lublin, and Lodz, to check the progress of the preparations to receive the deportees.
At the beginning of 1942, Eichmann visited Auschwitz and Treblinka. Even so, most of his activities until then had involved deportations and their organization, and not the genocide of European Jews. His involvement in the latter phase began with the convening of the *Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942.
At the Wannsee Conference, the coordination of all the German bodies connected with the implementation of the Final Solution was discussed. Eichmann had convened the conference, written Heydrich's speech, and written the protocol. At the end of the day, it was Eichmann, Muller, and Heydrich who joined together after all of their aims had been discussed. Eichmann had now turned from an emigration expert to one of the most important people in the implementation of the new policies against the Jews.
After Wannsee, Eichmann became the director of the largest murder project in history.
Eichmann now directed transportation from all parts of Europe to the extermination camps in Poland, and oversaw the number of deportees. He coordinated the train departure schedules with railroad authorities in different countries. In cooperation with the German Foreign Office, he organized the seizure of the huge quantity of possessions that the deported Jews left behind.
In defining Eichmann's role in this time period, it can be said that it was not Eichmann who determined the policy, yet he was an important link as an operative interpreter of the policy.
Although Eichmann was well aware of what was happening in the death camps, most of his activities were not in Poland and Eastern Europe. He was not involved in the activities of the Einsatzgruppen. His greatest impact was mostly in activities in Central and Western Europe. In all of those countries, except for Denmark, Norway, and Finland, representatives of his department spread out and were responsible for the deportations. In occupied France, Holland, Belgium, Greece, Slovakia, and the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, as well as in the Reich, the orders were given by Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich and carried out by the joint action of local collaborators and Eichmann's department. Yet Eichmann was informed and knew all along of the growing severity of the policy. Again and again, it can be seen how he intervened to reduce the number of Jews who received temporary exemptions from deportation orders. In Holland, for example, Eichmann fought to cancel the exemptions that were given to the country's Jewish diamond workers, who were very important for its economy.
Eichmann was a key figure in two places: in the Theresienstadt ghetto and in Hungary. The history of the Theresienstadt ghetto/camp in Bohemia is closely connected with the name of Eichmann. It begins with the order of Heydrich in October 1941 to evacuate 86,000 Jews from the Protectorate. The fear of chaos as with Nisko produced the decision to isolate them in the area of the Protectorate itself. Between January and June 1942, more than 50,000 Czech Jews were sent to the camp. In addition, Jews from Vienna and Jews of German nationality were later added. For most of them, the camp was a way station to Auschwitz.
It was Eichmann who realized the potential of Theresienstadt as a means of deceiving the world about the fate of the Jews. He made it into a "model camp," where the Red Cross Committee was allowed to visit in order to counter the reports of Nazi atrocities. The day after the Red Cross Committee's visit, one of the largest deportations was dispatched to Auschwitz.
In Hungary, which was conquered by the Germans on March 19, 1944, it was Eichmann himself who managed the deportations. Using the great experience he had acquired, Eichmann succeeded in sending off 437,402 Jews between May 15 and July 9, mostly to Auschwitz. More than 70% of them were murdered shortly after arriving at the camp. This "success" was made possible partly by the help the Nazis received from the Hungarians. Yet, at the beginning of July, the leader of Hungary, Miklos Horthy, ordered the cessation of this collaboration under international pressure. Eichmann was among those who fought most furiously to continue the deportations but was unable to continue for several months. He renewed his activities when the Hungarian Arrow Cross Fascists gained control of Hungary in October 1944. With his return, execution by gas in Auschwitz was stopped and he ordered marches of Jews to Germany through Austria to help with the German war industry. Around 76,000 Jews took part in these marches, which were called "death marches." In Hungary, Eichmann met with various attempts to save the Jews. In Budapest, Raul *Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, was active together with other representatives of neutral countries, against Eichmann's activities. Eichmann also played an important part in the famous "blood-for-trucks negotiations." In these, Joel *Brand of Budapest was sent to Istanbul with the offer to exchange Jews for trucks and other goods that would be given to the Germans. The plan was apparently an instance of German duplicity, as was the involvement with Eichmann's approval of Wisliceny, a member of his department, in the "Europe Plan" in 1943, in which Jews would be exchanged for dollars. Eichmann worked to ruin two other plans in Bulgaria and Romania but had to allow the release of some of the Sephardi Jews from Greece and some Jews from the Land of Israel who had been seized in Europe in exchange for Germans who had been seized in the Land of Israel.
At the end of the war, Eichmann was captured, but managed to escape. Like thousands of escaping Nazis, in 1950, Eichmann used the "Rat Path" which led from Germany to Argentina through Italy. He lived with his family in Buenos Aires as Ricardo Klement and became a father to a third son. In 1960, he was abducted by the Israeli Mossad and brought to Israel. There his trial took place, in which he was found guilty and condemned to death.
The Eichmann Trial
On May 23, 1960, the prime minister of Israel informed the Knesset, the Israeli public, and the world, in a short announcement of 62 words that Adolf Eichmann, who had been designated one of the most important Nazis, was in Israel and would stand trial for his part in the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem."
The Eichmann Trial was one of the biggest media trials of the 20th century and it made the name of Adolf Eichmann a synonym for the essence of human evil and its sources.
It took Israel almost a year to prepare for the trial, which began on April 19, 1961. The interrogation was carried out by a special unit of the Israeli Police Force (Department 06). Eichmann was charged with "Crimes against the Jewish People," "Crimes against Humanity," "War Crimes," and "Membership in an Enemy Organization" (sd, ss, and Gestapo). All of these were listed in Israel's Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law (1950), on the basis of which Eichmann was brought to trial.
The trial ended in August 1961. On December 15, 1961, the verdict and sentence were read. Eichmann was convicted and sentenced to death. Eichmann appealed to the Supreme Court. A panel of five Supreme Court justices rejected his appeal and confirmed the verdict and sentence. Eichmann was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962, almost two years after he was brought to Israel. It was the only death sentence ever carried out by the State of Israel. Eichmann's body was cremated and his ashes were scattered outside the territorial waters of Israel.
Eichmann's trial revealed to the Jews and the world what had happened to the Jews during World War ii. Ben-Gurion called the trial "The Nuremburg of the Jews" because during the Nuremburg trials in Germany the Holocaust had been sidelined, while this time it was at the heart of the matter. In this, Ben-Gurion also wished to emphasize that in 1961, unlike during the course of Jewish history in the Diaspora, the Jews had a sovereign state, and as a result they could call to account those who had injured them. Thus it was asserted that the State of Israel represented all the Jewish people in the world.
The prosecutor at the trial was the attorney general, Gideon *Hausner, who headed a prosecution team that numbered five people. The defense attorney was Robert Servatius of Germany, who had represented a number of German defendants in the Nuremburg trials. His co-consul was Dieter Wechtenbruch, an attorney from Munich. The panel of judges consisted of judges at two levels. The president of the court was a member of the Supreme Court, Moshe *Landau, and alongside him sat two judges from district courts, Benjamin Halevy and Yitzhak Raveh. The trial took place in front of an audience in a hall in Jerusalem, while Eichmann sat in a bulletproof glass enclosure. The beginning of the trial focused on the motions of the defense attorney, who mainly challenged the right of the court to try Eichmann. The defense attorney's main objection was that the judges, being Jews, could not judge Eichmann impartially. If that was not enough, Eichmann had been abducted from Argentina and brought to Israel illegally, in violation of international law. Finally, the defense attorney held that the law under which Eichmann was charged was retroactive and extraterritorial, in that it related to crimes committed before the State of Israel had existed and were committed outside the territory of Israel, on European soil. The judges rejected all of these arguments. They rejected the first on the grounds that a judge is bound to restrain his feelings while on the bench, and if he did not he would not even be able to sit in judgment of a felony. The issue of retroactivity did not involve a binding principle. Usually it is cited in cases where a law was not law at the time of the crime. But in the case of the current trial, laws had been passed all over the world that did not constitute new judicial norms but make it possible to bring to trial criminals who knew very well at the time of their crimes that their actions were illegal. In the matter of the abduction, the court held that it was not the court's business to deal with how the defendant had been brought to court but with the legality of the accusation and venue. Finally, in the matter of extraterritoriality, the court held that it was not relevant, for two reasons. First, the intention to murder was also to exterminate the Jews of the Land of Israel, and second, that there is an existential connection between the Land of Israel and the will to ensure that people who commit crimes against the Jewish people will be brought to trial and punished for their crimes.
With the rejection of the objections, the trial began. Eichmann's answer to each of the accusations was: "In the spirit of the indictment – not guilty."
The documentary evidence that was brought before the court included 1,600 documents, many of them with Eichmann's signature, and 110 witnesses, mostly Holocaust survivors. The trial told the story of the Holocaust as the story of European Jewry but excluded the story of the fate of the Jews of Libya and Tunisia in North Africa. The prosecution described the fate of the Jews of Europe in a wide geographic context while describing the chronological stages of the fate of the Jews in each country. The prosecution put on record the stories of the camps in Europe and the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, while emphasizing that in each stage one could see the fingerprints of Eichmann.
The defense attorney did not question the authenticity of the Holocaust, but the central role that the defendant had in it. The defense was not able to bring witnesses to speak for Eichmann since ss and other Nazi personnel were not offered immunity if they came to Israel and were therefore subject to prosecution. As a result a group of jurists was sent to Germany to gather testimonies from ss men who were willing to testify. Clearly this was a deviation from the commonly accepted practice in criminal trials.
The court rejected the claims of the defense that Eichmann was mainly obediently fulfilling the orders of his commanders, and claimed that Eichmann had acted in a criminal manner on his own initiative. The outstanding example was the murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews, where the defendant had become relentless in his implementation of the "Final Solution." The court did not accept the claims of the prosecution especially with regard to Eichmann's part in the Einzatzgruppen murders and the murders in the camps. The main accusation against Eichmann concerned his part in what had occurred in Central Europe and in the west of the continent. The judges in their verdict did not rely on the testimony of witnesses when they came to convict Eichmann. The witnesses' testimony about their individual experiences had a powerful and enduring impact on Israel and the world, in contrast to their apparent lack of effect on the judges.
The Eichmann Trial left a lasting effect on the discourse and memory of the Holocaust as well as on Holocaust survivors, who at the time made up more than a quarter of the population of Israel.
Israel's public discourse shifted from an attitude that judged European Jews harshly and maintained that they had gone like "sheep to the slaughter," to deeper understanding of the desperate situation of the Jews at the time of the Nazi occupation and a more complex and varied insight into the essence of heroism. No longer was the latter understood only as armed combat but also as spiritual resistance. The Holocaust discourse underwent personalization. Israelis stopped speaking about "the six million" and began to speak about individuals with names and faces. Holocaust research, which until then had relied on German documents, began to focus on documents and materials that came from the victims. The Jerusalem school of Holocaust study began to flower. As a result, alternative interpretations of the behavior of the Jews, their leadership, and their choices in the Holocaust period were made. The status of Holocaust survivors in Israeli society underwent a dramatic change. For the first time, they were also seen as part of the Holocaust history, no less than the six million who were murdered. The Israelis, who perceived themselves as writing a new chapter in Jewish history, began to search for ways to rejoin the mainstream of Jewish history. The Holocaust survivors became the living bridge between the ruins of the Diaspora, its history and spiritual treasures, and the modern Israelis. It was the survivors who, in 1963, initiated the youth trips to Poland in search of the past.
Jews of the Diaspora also followed the trial with bated breath to discover the story of the Holocaust as it was revealed.
The trial's impact, however, transcended the borders of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. In Germany, the trials of Nazi criminals were sped up and, in 1963, the Auschwitz trials were held there.
The Western intellectual debate profited profoundly from the trial which introduced two ongoing controversies.
It was Yehiel Dinur (*K. Zetnick), the survivor of Auschwitz and well-known writer, who described in his testimony what he called "Planet Auschwitz." By this he excluded Auschwitz from ordinary human experience. This phrase significantly increased the danger of mystification of the Shoah. An important variation of this theme can be found in the debate about the uniqueness of the Shoah as opposed to its universalistic aspects.
In the wake of the New Yorker articles that later became the book Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah *Arendt, an intellectual and moral dialogue began about the essence of evil as expressed in Arendt's theory of "the banality of evil." In this she had meant to say that Eichmann did not differ from millions of people around the world. What was crucial, she claimed, is the essence of the Nazi evil, which does not lie in its sadistic manifestations but rather in its ability to undermine basic morality of humanity.
The controversy over "the banality of evil" became one of the cornerstones in the discussion of evil and the sovereignty of people in making their choices. In this connection, one must mention the title of *Righteous Among the Nations bestowed by Yad Vashem on gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, a designation stemming from the need to illuminate the choice to do good.
Almost five decades after the trial, it can be said that for Diaspora Jews as well as for Israelis, the trial brought about a dramatic shift in the perception of national identity. Today it can be said that the heart of Jewish national identity is rooted in the Holocaust. Ironically, though, the result is the marginalization of the Jewish State in this identity.
Z. Aharoni Zvi, Operation Eichmann: The Truth about the Pursuit, Capture and Trial (1997); H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963); D. Cesarani, Eichmann, His Life and Crimes (2004); G. Hausner, The Jerusalem Trial, 2 vols. (1980); H. Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (2004).
[Hanna Yablonka (2nd ed.)]