The architect of mass murder

Dec 15 marks the day in which Eichmann was sentenced to death in a landmark case that changed int’l law.

Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: JOHN MILLI / GPO)
Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: JOHN MILLI / GPO)
On December 15, 1961, a man was sentenced to death by a civilian tribunal in an Israeli civilian court, the only individual ever to have achieved that distinction. The condemned was Adolf Eichmann, the “architect of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” He wasn’t executed because he had failed at his job; Eichmann was hanged because he had succeeded all too well. The work of this architect is remembered because of cattle cars, barbed wire, the remains of giant ovens, and the mass graves of six million Jewish men, women and children. 
Born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906, Eichmann moved with his family to Linz, Austria when he was eight years old. Although raised a Christian, it was there that he joined the Nazi Party and began his rise through its ranks. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, he sought admission to the SS and was assigned to the administrative staff at the Dachau concentration camp.
When the German army invaded Austria in 1938, Eichmann was assigned the task of eliminating all Jews from the newly annexed region. His efficiency landed Eichmann a new job as head of the Jewish Emigration Office where it was hoped he could duplicate his success in eradicating Jews from other regions. But as the war expanded, and countries closed their borders to Jewish refugees, removing Jews from German territory grew problematic and the Nazis turned to the Final Solution.
On January 20, 1942, a group of fourteen high-ranking German military and government leaders, Eichmann among them, met at Wannsee, a beautiful villa in a serene lakeside suburb of Berlin. Imagine: Over lunch fifteen men needed only an hour and a half to change the world forever.Ninety minutes was all it took for Adolf Hitler’s henchmen to determine the fate of six million Jews.
During that period — roughly the time it would take to drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv during peak traffic hours — the Final Solution became a heinous reality. At the conference Eichmann was appointed Transportation Administrator. It would be his duty to ensure that trains packed with Jews heading to the death camps were kept in good working order, that nothing would hinder the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. By the end of the war, Adolf Eichmann had risen from the rank of lowly enlisted recruit to lieutenant colonel, and had sent six million Jews on a train ride to death.
As Germany’s defeat became apparent, Eichmann assumed various aliases and identities in an attempt to elude Allied authorities and evade responsibility for his wartime atrocities. Twice captured by the U.S. Army, first as Adolf Barth and later as Otto Eckmann, he managed to escape and lived in northern Germany under the name Otto Heninger before finally slipping away in 1950 to Italy. There, he obtained a refugee passport which allowed him to travel to Argentina under the name of Ricardo Klement. Eichmann found a thriving German community that gave him a warm reception. With their help, he settled into an obscure life and a year or two later, his wife and children quietly joined him.
As time passed, the world seemed eager to forget the atrocities foisted on millions by the Nazis. But in Israel, no one forgot. While some Nazis were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes, Eichmann managed to elude discovery and capture. That changed in 1960 when Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, tracked the criminal to his lair.
Plans were laid for his capture and return to Israel. Details of Eichmann’s apprehension were recorded in The House On Garibaldi Street by Isser Harel, former director of Mossad and the man instrumental in the plan and execution of that mission.
Eichmann was returned to Israel where he stood trial in Jerusalem on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against the Jewish people. He was convicted in 1961, and, after all appeals were exhausted, he was hanged. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered across the Mediterranean. An authoritative account of the trial and execution can be found in Justice in Jerusalem, written by Gideon Hausner, the Israeli attorney general who prosecuted the case.
The story of the Holocaust and those who perished must never be forgotten. We must not allow the pathogen of hatred to germinate and blossom into another Holocaust. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The writer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His latest novel, The Locket, tells the story of a young girl, a neighbor of Adolf Eichmann, who is caught in the horror of the Holocaust.