The long-lost Adolf Eichmann recordings shown in new documentary

"I am 100% convinced Eichmann had no mercy for anyone... he was a sworn Nazi through and through."

 THE DEVIL speaks: ‘The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes.’ (photo credit: KAN 11/Itiel Zion)
THE DEVIL speaks: ‘The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes.’
(photo credit: KAN 11/Itiel Zion)

In the last two years, film producer Kobi Sitt has been constantly preoccupied with the story of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in Israel on May 31, 1962, after being convicted of committing crimes against humanity. The international trial was held in Jerusalem’s Binyenei Ha’uma building and was the only time in Israel’s history that a person was sentenced to death.

While working on this documentary, The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes, Sitt made use of long-lost interview recordings that had never been heard. In the recordings, Eichmann is heard describing the war crimes he’d carried out during World War II. 

The recordings were made in 1957 by Dutch Nazi journalist Willem Sassen in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Eichmann was hiding out. These recordings are now finally being made public in the documentary he created with Yariv Mozer, which was screened last week at the recent DocAviv Festival.

“Getting a hold of these recordings was an amazing surprise,” Sitt explains. “I felt I had to find these recordings, that they had significance for the history of the Jewish people. I approached film producer Yariv Mozer, since I loved the film he made about David Ben-Gurion, and I suggested that he join me on my journey of creating a film based on the recordings and the story they tell. 

“Mozer contacted Lucas Weinbir, our researcher in Berlin, who reached out to the German archive where the recordings had been located.

 THE NOTORIOUS Nazi awaits trial, which took place in Jerusalem, 1961-1962.  (credit: JOHN MILLI) THE NOTORIOUS Nazi awaits trial, which took place in Jerusalem, 1961-1962. (credit: JOHN MILLI)

“Right after I told Yariv about the recordings, he turned to me and said, ‘Kobi, you don’t understand what you have here.’ But I did understand, and that is how we set out on a two-year journey during which we didn’t get much sleep. This is especially exciting, since this is the first time people all over the world will be hearing these recordings.”

According to Sitt, he and Mozer went through all 67 of the reels of recordings that have excellent sound quality, and decided which sections they would use in the documentary. This was also the first time that anyone translated the recordings into English and Hebrew in an organized fashion,” Sitt continues. 

“A small portion of recordings were released in the 1950s. During that time, Eichmann was shaking with fear, but his lawyer, Robert Servatius calmed his fears, telling him, ‘The oak tree is just fine.’ ‘Oak tree’ was his code name for the recordings, since they’d been buried under an oak tree in Buenos Aires.”

AT THE END of World War II, Eichmann was captured by the Americans, and imprisoned in a detention camp. In January 1946, he succeeded in escaping from the prison. In 1950, Eichmann traveled to Italy under a pseudonym, and from there made his way to Buenos Aires. In July 1952, his children and wife left Austria and joined him in Argentina, where he held a string of jobs and managed small businesses.

In 1956, Eichmann sent a letter using his real name to the chancellor of West Germany asking to return to Germany, under the assumption that there he would be given a lighter court sentence than in other countries. This is also when he began writing his memoirs, “and also when he invited Sassen to come to interview him, because he was terribly bored,” Sitt explains.

“He’d reunited with his family, and he wanted to write his memoirs and reveal the role he’d played in the Second World War, so that it could be published after his death, and provide his family with money. Eichmann met with Sassen at his home, along with other friends who were also Nazis. In the film, Sassen’s daughter talks about how as a 10-year-old, she saw and overheard these discussions, which made her feel very uncomfortable.

“In these conversations,” Sitt continues, “Sassen extols the notion that the Holocaust had been intentional. To the utter surprise of all the people who’d gathered in that room, Eichmann admitted everything he’d done, and did not deny the Holocaust or the role he played

“There’s a chilling section on the recordings when Eichmann says, ‘I knew what was being done with the Jews. Whoever needed to go to work, should go to work. Everyone else who can’t go to work, should go to the Final Solution.’ 

"I knew what was being done with the Jews. Whoever needed to go to work, should go to work. Everyone else who can’t go to work, should go to the Final Solution."

Adolf Eichmann

“Sassen asked him, ‘When you say Final Solution, do you mean they should be eradicated?’ and you hear Eichmann reply, ‘Yes.’ Then, on the recording, you hear the publisher yelling out that this should not be recorded, and then the tape recorder is shut off.”

Why do you think he turned off the recorder?

”Because they understood that this is incriminating evidence. Nazis never spoke like that. You’ll not find one interview in which a Nazi speaks so directly and honestly like that. That’s why it was so critical to find these recordings.”

What did you feel the first time you heard the recordings?

“I couldn’t stop listening to them. I had to listen to every single one without a break until I’d heard all of them. The most surprising part was at one point during the recording, a fly apparently enters the room and lands on the wall. Eichmann just kills it. 

“You can hear on the tape as Sassen confronts Eichmann about the number of Jews that were murdered, and suddenly you hear the fly buzzing, then you hear a bang, which was Eichmann killing the fly, then he says: ‘That fly had a Jewish character.’ This backs up my basic understanding that in the eyes of the Nazis, we were less than flies. You’re not even a fly, you’re something that must be destroyed.”

What did you learn from working on this film?

“That I am 100% convinced that Eichmann had no mercy for anyone, and certainly not for Jews, and that he was a sworn Nazi through and through.”

IN 1960, the Israeli Mossad, led by Isser Harel, kidnapped Eichmann in Buenos Aires and brought him to Israel. After his capture, an arrest warrant was issued against him, which was extended a number of times until the end of the investigation, which lasted nine months. “[Chief prosecutor Gideon] Hausner had damning evidence that led to a death sentence, but the film deals with a number of aspects of the trial, including the banality of evil,” says Sitt.

Sitt, 47, is the CEO of Alice Communications, and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. “My grandmother lost all of her family in Krakow. She and her brother hid out in a closet in an attic for three years,” Sitt says. 

“My grandfather, who twice jumped off a train, lost his entire family except for one brother. My mother’s brother married a woman who experienced all the evils at Auschwitz, where Mengele took away her baby and did experiments on her, including refusing to let her breastfeed the baby. 

“Both mother and baby were forced into the gas chamber, but somehow a miracle occurred, and that day the gas had run out. She then survived the Death March and made her way to Israel, where she married my uncle and together they had a family. My aunt died just last year.”

How much did your family talk about the Holocaust when you were growing up?

“A lot. Like all the time. My mother felt it was her duty to tell everyone about the Shoah. My grandmother was less vocal. My grandfather died young, and it was his dying wish that we continue telling his and other survivors’ stories. As a child, this kind of talk fascinated me.”

In 2003, Sitt was one of the producers of the film, I Will Be Their Voice, which tells the story of Hausner, who was Israel’s attorney-general and chief prosecutor during the Eichmann trial. While they were making this film, the existence of the lost recordings became known. 

“I was exposed to lots of things connected to the Eichmann trial and to people who were still alive, such as [journalist-turned-politician] Tommy Lapid, Judge Moshe Landau, and of course the Hausner family and key figures from the Eichmann trial,” Sitt explains.

“I understood that this is a torch that must be passed on from one generation to the next, and that the story needs to continue being told. The new movie is some sort of historical correction, because Hausner did stupendous things in that trial, even though he was missing an important link: the lost recordings that he’d desperately wanted. 

“We knew that we needed them to act as a contrast to Eichmann’s statements about the banality of evil, and how he was just a mere instrument. Eichmann succeeded in convincing the world that he was just a small screw in the war machine, and that he’d just been following orders. 

“These lost recordings completely shatter that narrative, as they are a recording of him saying things like, ‘I knew. I sent the Jews to their death.’ He even gave detailed descriptions of where he sent them. 

“He has no regrets and no pangs of conscience. On the recordings, he is recorded saying, ‘I do not regret anything, and if we had killed 10.3 million Jews, I would say with satisfaction: Good, we destroyed an enemy.’”

According to Sitt, the Mossad and the Israeli government were less enthusiastic about the lost recordings. “Hausner knew about the recordings and wanted to reveal their existence during the trial, but the Israeli authorities didn’t want the recordings uncovered, since they were fearful what Eichmann might have said about Yisrael Kastner. 

“Eichmann did, in fact, talk about Kastner on the recordings,” Sitt adds. “The leadership, which was headed by David Ben-Gurion, did not want this to come out, since the Kastner trial had been extremely traumatic, and there was no consensus around it like there was surrounding the Eichmann trial.”

Yisrael Kastner was a prominent Zionist activist in Hungary, who negotiated with senior SS officer Adolf Eichmann to allow 1,684 Jews to leave for Switzerland in exchange for about $1,000 a person, thus saving their lives. In Israel, he joined Labor precursor Mapai and became the spokesman for the Trade and Industry Ministry in 1952. A year later, a pamphlet was published accusing him of collaborating with the Nazis, specifically because he helped SS officer Kurt Becher avoid a war crimes prosecution by giving a positive character assessment.

In the subsequent libel suit – brought by the Israeli government on Kastner’s behalf – the court ruled in 1955 that Kastner had “sold his soul to the devil” and sacrificed many of the Hungarian Jews he didn’t save by not telling them what the Nazis had planned for them. 

In 1957, Kastner was assassinated by Ze’ev Eckstein, a Stern Group veteran. A year later, the Supreme Court overturned most of the decision against Kastner, finding the pamphlet against him had been libelous except about the “criminal and perjurious way” in which Kastner defended Becher, the Nazi.

IS THE NEW film going to touch a sensitive nerve?

“Well, the film does bring up old memories. But I’m not afraid of remembering – what I’m afraid of is forgetting. What this film shows is that those recordings were left hidden, because that’s where the Israeli authorities at the time wanted them. Not only because of the trauma from the Kastner trial, but also because just nine months before Eichmann was kidnapped, Ben-Gurion had convinced Germany to support scientific research institutions in the Negev, and he didn’t want to jeopardize that relationship.”

Even before the film was released, it received support from MGM, Tadmor Entertainment, Toluca Pictures and Alice Communications. Two Israeli actors appear in the film: Eli Gorenstein as Eichmann and Roy Miller as Sassen. 

“Not only is this the first time MGM is wholeheartedly supporting an Israeli film, but it’s also crazy to complete a production like this in just 18 months,” adds Sitt.

“Don’t forget that we were also dealing with COVID-19 as we filmed in seven different countries. We decided to have Eli and Roy perform in the film so that the story would be easier for viewers to follow, instead of just listening to the recordings and looking at pictures. Eli and Roy talk, but the sound that the audience hears is from the original recordings. 

“Neither of the actors is a native German speaker, and they worked hard to make the lip sync credible.” The film was recently shown on KAN 11.

In addition to working on this film, Sitt, who has been actively involved in Holocaust commemoration for years, reopened the Binyenei Ha’uma building [now called the Jerusalem International Convention Center] following renovations. A new exhibition there features works created by Sitt and Tami Hausner-Raveh, Gideon’s daughter. 

Also, inspired by Hausner’s speech at the Eichmann trial, Sitt wrote a song titled, “Six Million Like Me,” which was set to music by Dror Alexander and performed by the IDF troops on TV this past year on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Just like with the film,” concludes Sitt, “it is important to pass on this legacy to our children, since we are probably going to be the last generation that personally knew survivors. We must create a legacy that will last forever.” 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.