Who is it ?

Was he a decision-maker or an executor ? The case inspired many books, articles, films and comic strips, often sensational, even before the trial started. In the many texts he wrote, the answers he gave during questioning or the testimony he provided during the trial, Eichmann is probably the Nazi official who spoke the most about his action and motives after the fact, but he still cut an intriguing figure. The gap between his inane personality and the crimes of which he stood accused was huge. But his unwavering commitment to Nazism, emphasized in the judgment, turned a so-called "ordinary" man into an individual out of the norm. The disparity between the man and his deeds, between the visible reality 15 years later and the scope of the crime in the observers' minds, was a key to the trial.

Adolf Eichmann was born into a nationalist petit-bourgeois milieu in Solingen, in the Rhineland, on 19 March 1906. A poor student, he dropped out of school at the age of 16 and found a job as a salesman.

In April 1932 Eichmann´s friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner, another future Third Reich official, helped him become a member of the Austrian Nazi Party, and he almost immediately joined the SS. In August 1933 he went back to his country to escape the Austrian government's crackdown on the Nazis, who demanded the Anschluss, the annexation to Germany. In 1934 Eichmann started working at the still-embryonic Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, SD) headquarters in Berlin. In 1935 he was assigned to the Office of Jewish Affairs (Judenreferat), a rapid rise showing that Eichmann was already in osmosis with the Nazi apparatus's core values, contrary to what he claimed during the trial.

At this time Eichmann concentrated on studying Judaism and even learned basic Hebrew. He specialized in emigration, the Nazis' first option to rid Germany of its Jews. He was described as an «a professional man» in Jewish matters and tried to convince the court that his anti-Semitism was «rational», different from that of the fanatical rank-and-file Nazi. In 1937 Eichmann contacted representatives of the Jewish Agency to examine the possibility of the German Jews' emigration to Palestine. He even traveled to Palestine and Egypt with Herbert Hagen, one of his superiors (and future Sipo-SD leader in Bordeaux). They led to the emigration of approximately 17,000 people to Palestine.

After Austria´s annexation on 12 March 1938, Eichmann was in charge of organizing the persecution of the country's Jewish communities. His brutal actions, the first of their kind outside Germany, led to the expulsion of 50,000 people. He repeated the operation in Prague in April 1939 after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Eichmann's effectiveness at inventing new methods, in particular the victims' participation in their own persecution and despoliation to make it profitable made him the uncontested expert of forced emigration.

When war broke out and the borders were sealed in September 1939, the Germans replaced the emigration option with a "territorial solution": deportation to areas under Nazi control. In October 1939 Eichmann joined the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration, which in February 1940 became a section of the Gestapo (Amt IV B4), itself part of the new Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA), headed by Heydrich, who reported to Himmler. This office claimed exclusive control over the entire "Jewish question" and organized the first deportations to the East. Several thousand German, Austrian, Czech and Polish Jews were shipped off to the Nisko region, near Lublin, where Eichmann claimed afterwards to have wanted to create a Zionist-inspired "Jewish territory"—even though most of them were abandoned there without any resources.

After France´s defeat in June 1940, Eichmann focused on the «Madagascar Plan», named after the French colony where the Nazis thought of creating a "reservation”. But in October 1940 the Germans abandoned the scheme because its success depended on the outcome of the Battle of Britain. The concentration of Jews in camps and ghettos definitively replaced forced emigration.

Eichmann´s role changed after Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 and began exterminating Soviet Jews by mass shootings in July. The emigration expert, promoted to Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel), the highest rank he reached, in October 1941, now participated in planning an unprecedented, continent-wide genocide. He implemented discriminatory steps (the yellow star), organized new waves of deportations from the Reich and Bohemia-Moravia to the lands conquered in the East, participated in the transformation of the Terezin camp and visited the places where the killing centers would be set up (Lublin, Belzec, Chelmno, Treblinka and Auschwitz). Contrary to the idea resulting in the notion of «administrative crime», invented during the trial, Eichmann was also busy in the field, combining administrative and inspection duties.

Heydrich asked him to organize the Wannsee Conference, an interministerial meeting on 20 January 1942 that dealt with methods of implementing the final solution; Eichmann took down the minutes. The conference was a decisive moment in getting the Reich's various ministries and departments to assent to and coordinate genocide. In the first half of 1942 he traveled to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy and Denmark to launch the deportation process. From 1942 to 1944 he was, in the words of his biographer David Cesarani, the main administrator of history's greatest genocide. A paroxysm of killing began: 80% of the Shoah´s future victims were still alive in mid-June 1942; a year later that proportion was reversed.

From March to December 1944 Eichmann and his staff moved to Budapest, where they played a decisive role in the extermination of Hungary's Jews: nearly 400,000 people were deported, of whom 275,000 were murdered, mostly at Auschwitz.

When Berlin fell in April 1945 Eichmann fled to Austria but was arrested and detained in an American camp in Bavaria. He escaped on 5 February 1946 without ever having been identified, even though his name had come up at the Nuremberg trial. In July 1950 Catholic and anticommunist networks helped him escape under a false identity, Ricardo Klement, to Argentina, a country that harbored many Nazi criminals at the time.

Le 29 mai 1961. Session 56.
In 1944 Joel Brand was a Zionist party representative and head og the Jewish rescue committee in Hungary. Questionned by Attorney General Hausner, he talks about his Apris 1944 meeting with Eichmann in Budapest

Coll. Israel State Archives/The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the World Zionist Organization.

« Ich Adolf Eichmann »

Eichmann was one of the few Nazi leaders to have expressed and given an account of himself after the fact. Although his many writings are full of lies, they offer a glimpse into the inner workings at the highest level of the "final solution". Eichmann often annotated these texts, which were sometimes transcribed from his oral statements. They constantly varied and cover thousands of pages, which supplemented the interrogations that took place before and during the trial. At times he tried to clear himself or downplayed his role, but he never denied the programmed genocide of the Jews.

The most important document is the transcript of his prison interrogation, which he reread, annotated and signed. Avner Less, a police officer born in Berlin in 1916 who fled to France in 1933—and whose father was deported 10 years later—questioned him in German. They lasted 275 hours spread out over 90 sessions between 29 May 1960 and 2 February 1961. The transcript, one of the prosecution's main pieces of evidence, is 3,564 pages long.

This was not the first time Eichmann spoke about his actions. In 1956 the former Nazi wrote a voluminous manuscript "The others speak, now I will speak".In this text, 83-pages has a special place. Eichmann entitled it Subject: my statement concerning 'Jewish Questions and the German Reich's National Socialist government's efforts to solve the whole complex of issues in 1933-1945'”. He probably wrote it to prepare for interviews with Willem Sassen, a Dutch-born former Waffen SS officer who had become a journalist in Argentina. The text demonstrates Eichmann's plan to write his own book and desire to make his voice heard in the public debate. The prosecution used it as evidence during the trial.

The «Sassen interviews» took place between April and November 1957.. The goal seems to have been to write an insider's "history" of the "Final Solution" in response to the earliest historical works by important writers (Gerald Reitlinger and Léon Poliakov) by trying to prove that the number of Jews killed was much lower than the authors claimed. Eichmann seems to have joined the project with the aim of showing how effective his action was. Sassen tape-recorded and transcribed the interviews, which amount to approximately 1,000 pages. The defense claimed they were inauthentic; just 83 pages written in Eichmann's hand and another 83 that he transcribed and annotated were admitted as evidence during the trial.

In Israel, Eichmann continued writing: over 50 handwritten pages a day. Between late May and mid-June 1960 he drafted a 127-page version of his memoirs, which was presented at the trial as «the defendant's handwritten memoirs». Eichmann also took copious notes during the court sessions, especially when witnesses were testifying. They form a series of little-known notebooks. The transcripts of the examination (conducted by his lawyer) and the cross-examination (conducted by the prosecutor) during the trial amount to 500 pages and provide a relatively coherent account of the defendant's actions. This is the public, and therefore best known, record of his statements.

20 July 1961. Session 105. Judge Raveh asks Eichmann about his interpretation of the Kant's moral philosophy.

Coll. Israel State Archives/The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the World Zionist Organization.