The Bureaucrat and the Holocaust: Eichmann in Jerusalem

"It was not my desire to kill people," [Eichmann] said. "The mass murder is the fault of the political leaders only."
Introduction: During his trial in Jerusalem Adolf Eichmann represented himself as the perfect bureaucrat, obediently following lawful orders from above. As his testimony demonstrated not even the most committed bureaucrat is free of responsibility, can entirely escape the awareness that erodes denial. But before turning to the Bureaucrat of Holocaust one young Jew emerges from that horrible period, both prophet and a partizan. Abba Kovner was a leader of Hashomer Hatsair, the left-wing Zionist youth organization in Vilnius, Lithuania. From the murder pits of Ponary he concluded that not only were the Jews of Vilnius, the so-called “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” condemned to death, but Germany intended to eradicate Jewish existence itself from the world.
Abba Kovner (standing in the center) with members of the FPO (Wikipedia)
Kovner’s future wife, Vitka is at the far right. Abba died in 1987, Vitka recently, on 15 February, 2012.
As had Jabotinsky earlier, Kovner delivered a message most chose not to hear. Below appears excerpts from his speech delivered in the Vilnius ghetto, a call to resistance over denial:
Jewish youth! Do not trust those who are trying to deceive you. Out of the eighty thousand Jews in the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" [Vilna] only twenty thousand are left… Ponary is not a concentration camp. They have all been shot there. Hitler plans to destroy all the Jews of Europe [italics added], and the Jews of Lithuania have been chosen as the first in line.
We will not be led like sheep to the slaughter! True, we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to the murderer is revolt! Brothers! Better to fall as  free fighters than to live by the mercy of the murderers. Arise! Arise with your last breath!"
Adolf Eichmann’s Jerusalem defense was based on his relatively low position within the bureaucracy, a claim that might have been somewhat more credible had he not boasted in earlier taped interviews of his enthusiasm for his role in the Holocaust:
I was no ordinary recipient of orders. If I had been one, I would have been a fool. Instead, I was part of the thought process. I was an idealist [italics added]… We didn''t do our work correctly,” he said. “There was more that could have been done.”
The degree to which he apparently relished his work is reflected in Deborah Lipstadt’s description of Eichmann “following orders”:
There would be times when he would get a communiqué from the German Foreign Ministry saying the Italians have contacted them and there''s a Jew in Vilna, or a Jew someplace else in a ghetto who''s married to an Italian Catholic ... and Eichmann would quickly rush to get the man deported, sent to Auschwitz or hidden away so that he couldn''t be turned over to the Foreign Ministry and maybe escape. He went after every individual Jew he could find.”
Eichmann, in his own words: Characteristic, and understandable considering his circumstances on trial by his victims and accusers in the state his activities in promoting the Holocaust paved the way for. Throughout the trial’s proceedings Eichmann’s testimony in Jerusalem represents an ordinary and God-fearing bureaucrat innocently caught up and participating in events beyond his understanding or ability to change:
Hitler became the head of government… After the first quick victories in the war that was forced upon Germany [italics added]… the State leadership of that time, carried away be these victories on the presumption of a supposed invincibility, went awry… went on to a stupid senseless, unrestricted measures brought about a tragedy which nobody could have foreseen, including me; for that my rank was too low, and my position too insignificant…[italics added]”
Eichmann’s enthusiasm was reflected in his interest beyond the mechanics of his instructions. He was both interested in Zionism and learning Hebrew. “My desire at that time was a thing which was ridiculed… and distrusted. [I]t was something entirely unusual that a member of the SS suddenly decides that he wants to learn Hebrew.” Apparently his request was turned down in part due to the three marks the rabbi asked to provide instruction. [It] would have been best had I proposed that a rabbi be arrested so that he could give me instruction from the prison. But I had not thought of this.”
Eichmann in Jerusalem court, 1961.(Wikipedia)
And his interest in Zionism was also an extension of his work. Otto Von Bolschwing “had been Eichmann''s tutor on Zionism and the politics of Zionism in the mid-1930s and then his ally in persecuting the Jews of Austria.” “The forcing and promoting of emigration was at that time ordered by my superiors. Zionism in various lands was promoting emigration to Palestine… My superiors placed no limitations on any country… Therefore I had to promote Zionism and, to be sure, as demanded, in a forced manner.”
Eichmann’s guilt was never in doubt faced with the historical record. His trial in Jerusalem was to allow him the opportunity of explanation and defense, to serve to educate a world still somehow viewing the Holocaust as a side issue of the war, and not itself a second, perhaps primary front in global conflict. In fact prior to 1961 a term distinguishing a final solution regarding the Jews did not even exist. The terms, the Shoah and the Holocaust were one important outcome of the Eichmann trial.
My purpose is not to provide a comprehensive review the trial proceedings, but to establish in Eichmann’s own testimony both his guilt, and his denial of guilt, manipulative, or imagined. A complete transcript of the trial is available to anyone interested at several websites. Nizkor is the site I reference.
Postscript: Like so many Nazi war criminals Eichmann managed to elude capture and prosecution after the war. What is known is that, “In 1946, Eichmann was captured by the US Army and shipped across the Atlantic as a prisoner of war. He escaped later that same year and hid in Germany, and later in Italy and Switzerland...” Apparently the “hunt” for Eichmann was called off in, “February, 1947… because [British Intelligence] assumed that he had committed suicide.” The trail then resumes in Germany where, information was available that could have led to his capture.” Apparently the government of Konrad Adenauer, “was terrified that Eichmann’s trial might turn up information it would rather keep hidden [regarding government assistance to Nazis after the war].” In the end it seems Eichmann was assisted by the Rat Lines. “Bishop Alois Hudal [working out of the Vatican] helped Eichmann get the documents he needed to escape.”
Adolf Eichmann''s Red Cross–issued passport (Wikipedia)
After Eichmann’s capture by Israel’s Mossad, “The CIA reported that Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s government was following the Eichmann trial “with growing apprehension, sometimes bordering on hysteria.” According to other news stories the German government would not have been alone concerned with the progress of the trial. “Evidence suggests that these Nazis were purposely allowed to escape with the involvement of the Vatican, the CIA, and other groups.”
A recent article in the New York Times outlines CIA and other US government organizations involved in assisting Nazi war criminals after the fall of the Hitler regime. The article was inspired by the release of the Justice Department redacted and unclassified 600 page report detailing that history.
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