Mass murder by timetable

How a nobody climbed the ranks of the SS.

eichmann book 88 298 (photo credit: )
eichmann book 88 298
(photo credit: )
Becoming Eichmann By David Cesarani Da Capo Press 458 pages Appearances are deceptive. Assigned to make portraits of Class A Japanese war criminals at the Tokyo International Tribunal back in 1947, I was struck by the mildly pleasant and often jocular appearance of General Hideki Tojo, in contrast to the utterly villainous faces of some of the other defiant or fearful defendants. Years later, I made drawings of Adolf Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and was struck by how ordinary he seemed. Israeli officers and others who interviewed him were all disappointed to find that he did not look like a ravening, heartless monster. Prof. David Cesarani, in his penetrating and eminently readable new biography of Eichmann (the first in some 40 years), reveals how this nobody came to orchestrate the transfer of European Jewry to the death camps. If Eichmann was fanatical about anything, it was his jealous guardianship of his job as the main organizing instrument of Germany's Jewish policy. Like many self-educated Germans who found a home and a metier in the multi-headed departments of the SS, Eichmann, at first a lowly NCO, escaped the tedium of compiling statistics by becoming a junior planner in Germany's efforts to encourage Jews to leave Germany. He quickly made himself into an "expert" on emigration procedures by learning what he could of Yiddish and a little Hebrew and the workings of Jewish communal organizations. Eichmann, who had Jewish relatives by marriage and always insisted he was not an anti-Semite, at first treated Jews "correctly," but ever more heartlessly as he progressed in rank. He eventually rose to Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieut. Col.), hardly an exalted rank, but he headed his own independent office and staff and lived it up with all the enthusiasm of a bon viveur, while criss-crossing Europe in his own car. EICHMANN FOOLISHLY admitted being enthralled by his intimate contacts with Reinhard Heydrich at the Wannsee conference. The term Final Solution did not upset him; it was official Reich policy and he was content to be its instrument. Like Himmler, he fled his first sightings of Jews being murdered. But as the war began to deal harshly with Germany, his resolve to do his job overrode Himmler's change of heart and resulted in the near-destruction of Dutch and Hungarian Jewry. Eichmann had become a fanatical avenger fighting to save Germany by ridding Occupied Europe of its arch enemy, the Jews. He even took his staff on a foray to the front, returning with a load of wounded. For this he was reprimanded but given an Iron Cross, Second Class. Eichmann the SS gourmet had lived in poverty with his family in Argentina. The Israelis who abducted him were shocked at the sight of his underwear. A good half of this book is about his capture, interrogation, trial and eventual hanging on a makeshift gallows. At the trial, Eichmann was clearly impressed by District Court judges Moshe Landau, Benjamin Halevy and Yitzhak Raveh, all dignified German-educated Jews who sometimes queried him in polished German; he accorded them great respect. Less impressive was another yekke, the long-winded prosecutor, attorney-general Gideon Hausner, who I recall, had a shrill, unpleasant voice and who was often told to get to the point by Landau. Eichmann's defense counsel, Dr. Robert Servatius, was a short thickset German who rarely opened his mouth except to make a generally telling point. Both Servatius and Hausner published books about the trial. The frequent rebukes to Hausner from the bench evidently gave Eichmann heart and strengthened his belief that he was getting a fair trial and had a chance of surviving. In the end, he appeared shattered when his appeal was quickly turned down, going into a fit of involuntary grimaces as the decision was read (interestingly enough, I had discovered that the left side of Eichmann's face was totally different from his quite handsome right side; in a sort of Dorian Gray procedure, his left side had become that of a degenerate villain). Cesarani quotes briefly from early books about Eichmann but is much concerned with Hanna Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. He acknowledges a number of her observations about the trial itself but time and again demolishes most of her criticisms, which were based on a firmly anti-Israel stand. Touchingly enough, Eichmann's wife was flown in secret to Israel for a final meeting with her husband, where she was allowed to see him from behind a sheet of bulletproof glass. It was a remarkable Jewish gesture. Much of the information about Eichmann's speedy execution comes from an unpleasant Christian missionary who insinuated himself into the Eichmann story by volunteering to become his pastor. The Rev. William Hull was a pudgy fanatic who, after gaining access to Eichmann, tried several times to sell me his accounts, for I was then Features Editor of The Jerusalem Post. I was sure that Hull was less concerned about Eichmann's soul than in using the opportunity to write a book. Indeed, his book appeared soon after the execution. Eichmann went calmly to his death, helped perhaps by the consumption of a whole bottle of wine with his last meal. He was not a practicing Christian and would have none of Hull's proselytizing. But as Hull stood by his side, his last words were a salute to Germany, Austria and Argentina and the claim that he had always been a gottglauberer, a term acceptable in the SS. With Hull as a witness, Eichmann was hanged with two loops of a rubber-covered rope, dropping three meters through a trap cut in the floor and the ceiling of the room below. His body was burned in an orange grove and his ashes scattered at sea.