Eichmann, clown or monster?

Eichmann 311 (Yad Vashem) (photo credit: Yad Vashem)
Eichmann 311 (Yad Vashem)
(photo credit: Yad Vashem)
The trial enjoyed few moments of laughter.
One of them, laughter of derision, came when Eichmann remarked on cross-examination that he wanted to help Jews emigrate, to reduce the stress circumstances had caused by resettling them. The only “final solution” he ever contemplated was the transportation of Jews to Madagascar “to put soil under their feet.”
Hausner almost lost control of the proceedings on hearing this near blasphemy. He and probably Eichmann too would have known that his words echoed God’s prophecy to the scattered Jews in Ezekiel 37:14 which Yad Vashem would later etch boldly across the gateway of its renovated campus in 2005. Eichmann’s Protestant stepmother in Catholic Austria was said to have been a dedicated Bible reader.
Eichmann bested Hausner in that round. When Hausner said the Madagascar plan actually was Julius Streicher’s idea, Eichmann corrected him and said it was reported in Streicher’s Der Stürmer but Streicher was not its author. His repeated assertions that he helped, cooperated and collaborated with Jews was surely part of the smiling way in which he deceived victims into cooperating in their destruction.
How well did he know Jews? He certainly immersed himself in Jewish matters more than other Nazis. As head of IVB4, the Gestapo’s department of Jewish affairs, Eichmann had learned some Hebrew and Yiddish. He even said he asked Reinhard Heydrich for permission to study with a rabbi. Request rejected.
Before being expelled by the British, he managed to spend almost two days in Palestine in 1937 on business. Hausner said his plan was to meet Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem.
Eichmann said he hoped to see him as well as many Jews. Hausner could make little headway along this track which he hoped might enable him to stress Arab-Nazi collusion.
Eichmann liked to say if he had been a Jew he would have been a fanatical Zionist. Yet he denigrated Jews in his report on Palestine which he said was written by a colleague. Still, later he warned that Jews in the east must be annihilated to prevent their resurgence in Palestine.
Visiting a camp, he was quoted by an SS officer as asking some Jews if they spoke Hebrew. When none answered, he rebuked them saying: “Shame on you! And I, an SS man, speak it fluently.” He even told SS men he had been born in Palestine where a Protestant German Templer community had thrived before World War I.
THERE WAS a good deal of the joker in the man.
Some wits remarked that Eichmann in his glass booth looked more Jewish than the Sephardi police who were guarding him. His sartorial appearance was certainly a vital part of his defense strategy, which prompted Hannah Arendt to make what was arguably the most glib statement generated by the trial. “Everybody could see this man was not a monster,” but looked suspiciously like a clown. Maybe he was both.
Though he insisted that he did not hate Jews but only followed orders, it is clear that Eichmann often exceeded or disregarded orders that would have enabled him to spare Jews. Remarks he made in extensive transcribed and initialed recordings with Willem Sassen, a Dutch Nazi he met in Argentina in 1956, prove his venality.
To Sassen he said that he would “jump into my grave laughing” at the thought of having killed millions of Germany’s enemies. Even if Germany lost the war he was determined to “win my war” and he denied being “an ordinary recipient of orders.” His only regret, he said, was that he had not killed all 10.3 million Jews who might have been seized during the Nazi occupation of Europe.
Tapes that have recently come to light according to Der Spiegel are those made by Sassen, the quotes mostly having been known to the prosecution at the trial. They were used sparingly, as only partial transcripts which Eichmann said were distorted, were available. The recordings were not and now are reportedly in the German Federal archives.
EICHMANN CAME from Linz in Catholic Austria, where Hitler lived happily as a teenager.
Eichmann’s family lived on Bisehofstrasse, four houses down from No. 7 where near neighbors were a Jewish family, the parents and grandparents of Israeli filmmaker Micha Shagrir. The filmmaker was born in 1937, four months before the Anschluss, when the family left Austria for good.
Eichmann’s father was a businessman and a notable in the small Protestant community.
When Shagrir’s grandfather Benedikt Schwager was appointed head of the Linz Jewish community in 1928, Eichmann’s father, Adolf-Karl, attended, and in an official photograph of participants at the celebration is seated four seats away from Schwager in the front row. “As fellow minorities Jews and Protestants were closer than Jews and Catholics,” notes Shagrir.
Eichmann attempted to prove that he never hated Jews by citing his return to Linz after joining the SS in 1932 and associating openly with a boyhood friend who did not appear to mind his uniform. He claimed to have read Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat with approval which caused Hausner to shout that he was not fit to utter Herzl’s name. However, he told the court, he concluded the Jewish people were Germany’s enemy when Chaim Weizmann, whom he took to speak for all Jews, pledged Jewish support for Britain against Germany. Weizmann, like Ben-Gurion in Palestine, naturally pledged Jewish support for the victims of Nazi aggression after Germany invaded Poland. Eichmann successfully provoked Hausner into losing his temper and calling him “a liar, you never heard such a thing.”
Eichmann clearly attempted to use his “Jewish connections” and his knowledge of Zionism to rile the prosecution. His uncle was married to a Jewish woman, his aunt Dorczi, whose daughter was therefore also Jewish. Eichmann allowed them to leave for Switzerland. If he expected that this act would help his defense it undermined his claim that he had no choice but to follow orders.
Many special requests had been made to spare Jews. Most notable were two by Italy, Germany’s ally, on behalf of the Jewish widow of a senior Italian war veteran and by the German commander in Paris on behalf of a radar expert called Dr. Weiss, who he said would be tremendously useful to the German war effort. Eichmann rejected both requests and all others with a simple sentence. “It is a matter of principle.”
No wonder there was an audible gasp in the courtroom when he was asked how he was able to let his aunt and cousin escape. Without apparent irony he simply said: “Of course, in every law there is a loophole.”