I saw Adolf Eichmann for the first time at about 4:45 p.m. on May 29, 1960. Colonel Hofstaetter (my immediate superior) and I had sent for him to be brought to the room where the hearings were to take place. We waited in a state of acute tension; even the colonel, ordinarily a model of self-restraint, was unable to conceal his nervousness. My first reaction when the prisoner finally stood facing us in khaki shirt and trousers and open sandals was one of disappointment. I no longer know what I had expected—probably the sort of Nazi you see in the movies: tall, blond, with piercing blue eyes and brutal features expressive of domineering arrogance. Whereas this rather thin, balding man not much taller than myself looked utterly ordinary. The very normality of his appearance gave his dispassionate testimony an even more depressing impact than I had expected after examining the documents.
Eichmann began our dialogue with a request. He had worn glasses in Argentina; they had been taken away from him and he needed them now. I sent for them. Later on, plastic lenses were substituted for the glass ones, and since he wanted to prepare himself between sessions by jotting down notes, I obtained permission for him to wear his eyeglasses in his cell during the day.
Because he was a heavy smoker, I arranged for his cigarette ration to be increased, and whenever I lit up a cigarette for myself, I would offer him one. Not that I had any personal reason to extend such generosity; I did it because it made him more talkative and improved his powers of concentration.
When Eichmann sat facing me for the first time, he was a bundle of nerves. The left half of his face twitched. He hid his trembling hands under the table. I could feel his fear, and it would have been easy to make short work of him. He only knew his own methods of interrogation and those of his former colleagues in the Gestapo. It must have seemed less than likely to him that the Israeli police would treat him with extreme fairness.
As I watched Eichmann sitting there in this condition, I suddenly had the feeling I was holding a bird in my hand, a creature who felt completely at my mercy. But that impression soon passed. His statements and the documents we examined together revealed the cold sophistication and cunning with which he had planned and carried out the extermination of the Jews. Occasionally, this filled me with such loathing that I couldn’t bear to be near him and would cast about for excuses to postpone the next hearing to another day, just to avoid having to follow his horrible descriptions or listen to his brazen lies.
Nevertheless, from the very beginning the hearings were conducted in a conversational manner. During the first days, in the heat of argument, we would occasionally speak at the same time or interrupt each other. When the secretaries who transcribed the tapes complained of the confusion, Eichmann and I agreed that he would stop talking in response to a prearranged signal from me.
His German was hideous. At first I had a very difficult time understanding him at all—the jargon of the Nazi bureaucracy pronounced in a mixture of Berlin and Austrian accents and further garbled by his liking for endlessly complicated sentences which he himself would occasionaly get lost in. After the first visit of his lawyer, Dr. Servatius, Eichmann asked me: “Herr Hauptmann [Captain], do you know what Dr. Servatius said? He objected to my German. He said: ‘You’ll have to relearn your language. Even the best translator won’t be able to find his way through those convoluted sentences of yours.’ Is my German actually that bad, Herr Hauptmann?” I had to agree that it was. Eichmann seemed almost offended.
I was especially struck by his complete lack of humor. On the few occasions when his razor-thin lips smiled, his eyes remained mirthless; each time, the look on his face was one of sardonic amusement and aggression.
His defense strategy was set from the start. I was already acquainted with it from my study of the Nuremberg trials. Knowing that his life was at stake, he clung from the beginning to the tactics of the major defendants at Nuremberg. He would lie until defeated by documentary proof, just as Kaltenbrunner, his former chief, had done. When that didn’t help, he would present himself as a little cog in the machine and put all the blame on others, subordinates as well as superiors. And most frequently he would plead Befehlsnotstand, “orders from above.”
He used all three methods by turns in the course of the interrogation and later at the trial in Jerusalem. Convinced that he could save his neck by demonstrating his own unimportance, he spoke at length and in detail about mass executions he had witnessed but in which his own role had been purely passive. In return for these volunteered accounts of crimes committed by others, he evidently expected me to give credence to whatever lies he produced to conceal his own crimes.
And yet, in the course of the hearings, I became something of a personal confidant for him. I was the one person to whom he could tell everything, lies as well as truths. Occasionally, he was so shaken by a damaging piece of evidence that he would unexpectedly confess everything. But then the extent of his admission would dawn on him, and at the next session he would ask for permission to add to his most recent testimony. Then he would deny everything he had previously admitted.
Once Eichmann actually paid me a compliment. We had been discussing the draft of a letter from the Reich Minister for Occupied Eastern Territories; it dealt with gassing equipment and contained the following sentence: “Permit me to state that this procedure meets with the approval of Sturmbannführer Eichmann, the specialist for Jewish questions at Reich Security Headquarters.” This document was gravely damaging to Eichmann, but he spontaneously admitted that he had conferred with the writer of the letter along these lines. The next day, as we were checking the transcript, Eichmann said that he would like to say something more about the letter at our next meeting. I remarked that he was perfectly free to say whatever he wished. Eichmann replied that he was well aware that throughout the hearings I had not once attempted to obtain confessions by promises or threats. For this reason—and he said this quite formally—he felt the need to tell me that he was grateful for the fair hearing. These words were underscored with a ceremonious bow.
He was, as I said, extremely nervous at the beginning; but after about a week he recovered his composure. Evidently the tenor of the hearings had calmed him. There was one moment of panic, however—it must have been during the first half of June 1960—when he believed his last hour had struck. The officer of the guard stepped into the room and informed Eichmann that he had come to escort him to the judge. Badly frightened, Eichmann rose to his feet. One of the guards blindfolded him, and his knees buckled. “But Herr Hauptmann,” he cried in a pleading voice, “I haven’t told you everything yet!” I reassured him: “You’re only being taken to the justice of the peace so he can renew the order for your detention. Then we will continue with our hearings.” Whereupon Eichmann recovered his soldierly posture and marched out of the room, flanked by the two guards. The blindfold, incidentally, was intended to prevent him from getting an overall view of the prison compound.
I was particularly irritated by Eichmann’s attempts to ingratiate himself with us. One day he pointed to the insignia of the Israeli police and said: “Herr Hauptmann, when I see this badge, I realize that you and I are colleagues. I was once a policeman myself.” I replied: “You were never a policeman. You were in the SS and the SD.” He gave me a baffled look. “Is that so?” After a brief pause he continued: “But I’m not afraid of the police. I know them. The court is something else again; the fact is, I’ve never been on trial.”
I am recounting these particular scenes to give an idea of the sort of man who sat opposite me during the interrogations and during the sessions when we checked the transcripts for errors. What elicited my sense of outrage more than anything else was that Eichmann quite obviously had no feeling for the monstrousness of his crime, and that he did not show the slightest twinge of remorse. When on January 1, 1961, I mentioned the fact that a new year had begun Eichmann replied: “Herr Hauptmann, may I take the liberty of wishing you a happy New Year?” And he performed a sort of seated bow and clicked his heels under the table. All I could say was that it was impossible for me to wish him the same. His reply: “Yes, Herr Hauptmann, I understand very well that you are not allowed to do so.” It never occurred to him that I simply wasn’t able to do so.
This insensitivity became even more evident the day he asked me whether I had any brothers and sisters, and whether my parents were still alive. I told him that my father had been deported to the East by his organization in January 1943, in one of the last transports from Berlin. Eichmann opened his eyes wide and cried out: “But that’s horrible, Herr Hauptmann! That’s horrible!”
I did not feel capable of telling him more about the fate of my family, but an account of my own fate might be a relevant addition here.
I was born in 1916 in Berlin, on Prager Street. My father’s family came from East Prussia; my mother’s had lived in Berlin for several generations. My parents were good Jews and equally good Germans. My father worked hard and conscientiously in Germany, for as long as he was permitted to do so. In 1915, when World War I broke out, he volunteered. He survived the war; he was always very proud of his Iron Cross. My mother—almost fortunately, I might say—died of cancer at the age of forty-five, very soon after Hiter came to power.
I owe the happiest years of my youth to the Höhere Waldschule, a high school in the Grünewald district of Berlin. This was the first coeducational school in Germany. We spent the whole day at school, were served lunch there, did our homework after an hour’s nap, and devoted a good part of our time to sports. The spirit of the Waldschule was so indelible that its former students still hold reunions each year in Berlin.
I was barely sixteen when Hitler seized power. Just a few days later, the SA and the Gestapo searched our apartment. Even on the day when my mother was taken to the hospital from which she never returned, heavily-armed storm troopers came and accused us of having smuggled out seditious material on my mother’s stretcher. During the summer months of that year, my father became convinced that the storm troopers had it in for me in particular, and I was sent to France.
On September 5, 1933, I arrived in Paris, a refugee, without a work permit. Once, I was thrown out of a hotel because I couldn’t pay my bill. The owner kept all my belongings, except for the clothes I was wearing. I was wearing sneakers—not the most adequate footwear for winter in Paris. But when you are young, you know how to bend under pressure and somehow you manage to get by. Thus, Paris became my new home. But at the same time it became clear to me that as a Jew I could not remain in the new Europe that was taking shape.
For this reason I joined Hechalutz, a Zionist youth movement which trained young people to become farmers in Israel, or rather Palestine, as it was then called. Early in 1935, the writer Alfred Döblin delivered a lecture in Paris. Some of my friends told me about it and mentioned that a very beautiful girl from Germany had been there. I resolved to have a look at this marvel. I went, had a look, and fell in love. I informed my friends tersely: “I’m going to marry her.”
The girl came from Hamburg, and when she told her family there of our marriage plans, it seemed as though the world had come to an end. I was less than a have-not, I wasn’t even twenty yet, and I had no trade. The family shipped Vera off to Stockholm to put some distance between her and me. She held out for three months and then came back to Paris. Her family in Hamburg admitted defeat and set only one condition: I would have to learn a trade. I signed up for a course in ladies’ hairdressing and graduated with an impressive diploma; now at least I could give Vera beautiful hairdos. On November 7, 1936, we were married in the town hall of the 5th arrondissement of Paris.
Hechalutz first sent us for farm training to one of its kibbutzim in southern France. At the end of August 1938 we obtained a certificate for Palestine and on September 5 we disembarked in Tel Aviv. We found work in the orange groves of Hadera. Vera was used only for picking and pruning, which was seasonal, but I was given a steady job. It was backbreaking work and the boss wasn’t always able to pay us on time, but at least we had some security.
In October 1939, in her sixth month of pregnancy, Vera came down with spinal polio. At first she was paralyzed from head to foot and suffered from severe neuralgia, so that the merest touch was torture. No hospital would take her. There were no trained personnel, nor could the necessary equipment be found—an iron lung, for example, or a water bed. In Hadera we had a room with a small kitchen; the “toilet” was about thirty yards away, in the garden. We had no electricity, only petroleum lamps and a petroleum cooker. I had to give up my job to take care of Vera. The doctors tried very hard to help her, but they knew relatively little about polio. They speculated whether it might not be best to terminate her pregnancy. Luckily, they decided against it in the end. Our daughter, born in February 1940 with great difficulty, is now the mother of two delightful girls.
My sister, who lived in Tel Aviv, quit her job and took over the care of the baby. I learned to massage Vera; for twenty-two months I was exclusively occupied with her care. The unemployment benefits and welfare money we received were enough to keep us alive, not enough to live on. Some minor benefit accrued to us from the misfortune that had befallen Vera’s mother. She had succeeded in leaving Germany shortly before World War II broke out, but on the way to us she got stuck in Belgrade, and the Nazis caught up with her. She was murdered there, along with many others, on March 30, 1942. Her household effects did eventually reach us, though, after a long and confused voyage; she happened to have sent them off in time. I sold every single object for a pittance.
Vera had an iron will; she wanted to conquer her illness. She learned to move about at home and was able to do some of the work. Even during the greatest heat, she had to wear a high orthopedic corset all day long. Out of doors she could only move about with a cane and my arm for support. The first time I took Vera out in the street in a wheelchair, she burst into tears; it was only then that she realized she would never again be able to walk about like a healthy person. Nine years later we had another child, a son. During the delivery, Vera’s life hung in the balance; but then she was very proud of being able to diaper our baby herself.
When Vera was well enough to be left on her own during the day, I went to look for a job. The British Mandatory government was recruiting auxiliary policemen. I signed up, was given four weeks of military training, and was sent to Haifa to work as a guard at the airport there. I did night duty because that enabled me to take care of Vera and the household during the day. I kept that job for four-and-a-half years.
Then I was given a chance to transfer to the price-control section of the Mandatory government’s Ministry of the Economy. I accepted at once. The pay was much better, and for the first time we were able to live without worrying about money. In 1946, with the help of a bank loan, we were even able to buy an apartment of our own. It was very small, but now we were no longer living to pay the rent, so those tiny rooms seemed almost a paradise on earth. When the state of Israel was proclaimed, I was immediately recruited into the economic-control apparatus, and when the police were entrusted with the campaign against economic crimes, I was given an officer’s rank.
In 1954 I was sent to the United States for three-and-a-half years, in the line of duty, and Vera and the children went with me. I arranged for Vera to be examined by specialists there. They said: “Mrs. Less, you are a medical miracle. You should not be able to make the movements you do. Somehow your body has learned to adjust to the loss of certain functions. All we can do for you is advise you not to overexert yourself.” As it turned out, they were right: starting in 1968, Vera’s general condition began to deteriorate; from 1974 on, she needed the wheelchair more and more often; and in 1980 she died of a brain hemorrhage.
Twenty years before, on May 23, 1960, when she was still in relatively good health, the evening papers carried a sensational report under banner headlines: Adolf Eichmann had been arrested and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had announced in the Knesset that Eichmann would stand trial in Israel for his crimes against the Jewish people. No Israeli citizen, no Jew anywhere in the world could remain indifferent to this event. Was there a home anywhere in Israel that had no victims to mourn?
The news filled me with satisfaction, but also with dread at the thought of reopening wounds that had scarcely begun to heal. How much agony and grief would be stirred up by these memories? Thoughts and feelings that had been hard to suppress and forget would be reawakened. But then, did we have the right to forget? Wouldn’t we be endangering our children’s future if we turned our backs on the past? I discussed these questions until late into the night with Vera and several friends. The following day my friend and colleague Yehuda Kaufmann told me he would like to become involved in the Eichmann case. The thought of such a task horrified me; and besides, it wouldn’t bring a single one of the murdered millions back to life.
But the next day, May 25, Colonel Shmuel Roth called me and said General Selinger wished to see me. Selinger at that time was chief of police for Haifa and the whole northern district. With him in his office was Colonel Efraim Hofstaetter-Elrom, head of the criminal-investigation department of the Tel Aviv district. I had always regarded General Selinger as the prototype of the Israeli police officer, and Colonel Hofstaetter was considered one of the most capable criminal investigators.
Selinger said: “Less, the government has entrusted the police with the Eichmann investigation. I am putting together a group of officers to prepare the case against Eichmann. I have chosen you to be his interrogator. It won’t be an easy task, and in all probability it will take a good deal longer than three months. Are you willing?”
My first impulse was to decline. I dreaded the thought of tracking down the evidence of so much horror. When Selinger noticed my hesitation, he said: “Less, I am convinced you are the right man for the interrogation.” When Colonel Hofstaetter joined in urging me to accept, I overcame my revulsion; after all, somebody had to do it.
Selinger and Hofstaetter agreed that the incriminating evidence should be organized along geographical lines, and that for every country where Eichmann and his machine had been active, an officer conversant with that country’s language should be appointed. It was then decided that since Eichmann was being transferred to a prison near Haifa, our staff headquarters would have to be in that city as well. In conclusion, General Selinger impressed on us the need for total secrecy; we were not to discuss any details, not even at home.
As I was leaving police headquarters that evening, a journalist accosted me on the street: “Captain, I hear you’re a member of the group entrusted with the Eichmann hearings. I’d like to ask you a few questions.” I was flabbergasted, for I was convinced that only a handful of people were informed. So I merely said: “The only thing I’d be willing to discuss with you is the weather.” At that moment a major came out of the building, a man who happened to be the official spokesman for the police force. The reporter complained to him that I had been unwilling to tell him anything about myself. The major said: “Less, you’re quite free to tell him about yourself.” This I did, although very sparingly. When I got home, our daughter exclaimed with great excitement that she had heard on the radio that I was part of the police team that would be investigating Eichmann. So it took just a few hours for the cat to get out of the bag. Sometime later, Eichmann’s place of detention became the best-kept “secret” in Israel; everyone knew where he was, but no one talked about it.
The following is a brief summary of the guidelines I was given for my work.
Object: To obtain a complete statement from the defendant concerning his goals and activities during the Nazi regime.
Preparations: All the materials assembled under the deputy director of Bureau 06 (that was our team’s official name) were placed at my disposal. The research staff had instructions to direct my attention to every document, every piece of testimony or bit of information that could be of use in the hearings or that could be authenticated or verified by the defendant. For my part, I had to prepare in writing all questions I planned to ask the defendant.
The Hearings: They would be recorded on tape. I was to mark each tape with an identifying label immediately after the end of each hearing. If I considered it desirable that Eichmann amplify his voluntary testimony with written notes, and if Eichmann agreed to this, I could supply him with paper and writing implements. Whenever I handed him a document, I was to solicit his commentary. He was free to refuse such comment.
The Tapes: After each hearing, I was to hand over the tapes of our conversation to the director of the 06 archives. He would have them transcribed and stored in a safe, but first Eichmann and I had to make a word-for-word comparison of each transcript and tape. If any changes were made, Eichmann was to make them by hand; furthermore, he had to confirm in writing that he had approved the correction and that the text of the final transcript was identical to that of the tape recording. The transcript would then be read aloud to the research staff for the purpose of analysis and discussion. The entire body of evidence (the transcripts of the hearings, the documents, the testimony of witnesses) would have to be translated into Hebrew.
No one on our team had detailed knowledge of the Holocaust. We immediately got started and attacked the many books General Selinger supplied us with, plowed through the forty-two volumes of the Nuremberg trials of the major war criminals, as well as the many thousands of pages of the subsidiary Nuremberg trials. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, opened its archives to us, and its research staff helped us in every way possible. Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution became almost a bible for us; Léon Poliakov’s works and H.G. Adler’s Theresienstadt proved equally indispensable. We sat reading day and night, reading, reading. . . . None of us slept more than three or four hours at a time. We were exhausted, nervous, sometimes irritable. It was a most stressful and trying time.
We obtained our first important documents from Tuvia Friedman, a journalist who on his own initiative had set up a documentation center in Haifa. (He had been a victim of the Nazis himself, in Poland.) An especially important adviser was Robert Kempner, the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He became our “gray eminence” and gave active assistance to the prosecution authorities later on at the trial. Mountains of documents poured in from all the countries that had received appeals for help from Bureau 06—all except the Soviet Union.
As a result of this strenuous and sometimes hectic work under the leadership of Selinger and Hofstaetter, we became a homogeneous unit with an esprit de corps that has kept us together until this day. If Eichmann amazed us at first with his knowledge of the material, the day soon came when we knew a lot more about his actions than he could have liked. The evidence grew, and with it the files of the prosecution. I myself contributed a good part of this material, having questioned Eichmann for 275 hours, which came to 3,564 pages of transcript. But this would have been impossible without my colleagues’ painstaking research.
Criminal investigations in Israel are conducted along English rather than continental European lines. The police, who are not under the authority of the Attorney General, conduct the investigation from beginning to end, independently and in the framework of their own guidelines. The police officer conducting an investigation does not have the function or powers of an examining magistrate. After the police investigation has been completed, the whole dossier goes to the Attorney General’s office, which examines it for errors and inconsistencies, and then presents the court with a written indictment.
Contrary to continental procedures, the official in charge of the interrogation is not permitted to subject the accused to cross-examination. Before the hearings begin, he must inform the accused of his rights and make it clear to him that he is free to speak or not, as he chooses, but that everything he says will be taken down and can be used if he is brought to trial. The interrogator is not even permitted to say that any statement made by the accused “may be used against him,” since the word “against” implies a threat that could intimidate the accused. Under such conditions, the questioning of a suspect is somewhat difficult. The interrogator can base his questions only on statements the accused himself has made. If, as was the case with Eichmann, the accused asks the interrogator to refresh his memory with questions, he is free to do so.
Throughout the police investigation of Eichmann, we worked in close association with Attorney General Gideon Hausner and Gavriel Bach, currently a judge on the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. They had to familiarize themselves with the complex material very quickly; the government insisted on holding the trial in the near future, and so the indictment had to be drawn up in a hurry. The volume and content of the documents would have required another year’s work for a complete police investigation. We of Bureau 06 were quite unhappy about having to break off our research prematurely. On the other hand, the state had already incurred considerable expense on account of Eichmann. He was the only inmate of a large prison complex, all the other inmates having been transferred for security reasons. In addition to the members of Bureau 06—there must have been well over thirty police officers in the group—a detachment of border police was put in charge of security. This detachment also supplied the guard personnel. None of the guards spoke either of Eichmann’s two languages, German and Spanish. Their officers, however, had to speak at least one of those languages. To prevent any acts of private revenge, no one who had lost family members in the Holocaust was chosen for the guard unit. For fear of attempts to free Eichmann, the entire area was kept under strict surveillance day and night.
Eichmann’s cell, measuring roughly ten by thirteen feet, contained only a cot, a table, and a chair. The electric light was left on all night. Every day he cleaned his cell and the adjoining toilet and shower room unaided. He did these chores with thoroughness and dedication. A guard sat in the room with him day and night, and outside the cell door sat a second guard, who watched the one in the cell through a peephole, to make sure there was no contact between him and Eichmann. The second guard was in a kind of vestibule, outside the door of which a third guard kept constant watch on him.
These security measures were not designed to prevent Eichmann from attacking the guard in his cell so much as to prevent him from committing suicide. That was our greatest fear; if he had succeeded in committing suicide, no one anywhere in the world would have believed us. That is why we guarded him like the apple of our eye. During the first week, when the electric light disturbed his sleep, he would pull his woolen blanket over his head, whereupon the guard would pull it back to make sure Eichmann was not trying to kill himself under the blanket. Twice a day he was examined from head to toe by our police physician.
The room where the hearings took place was considerably larger than Eichmann’s cell, but also very simply furnished. A large military-style desk was placed close to the center of the room, with a chair on either side. I sat facing the door, and Eichmann sat across from me. To my right, on a stand beside the wall, was a large recorder, which I operated. On the desk, two microphones, one in front of me, the other in front of Eichmann. On a small table beside me, a telephone.
I was never alone with Eichmann. Each hearing proceeded according to a fixed ritual. I would leave the headquarters building and go to the gate leading into the main prison block. The sentry, who had been notified of my approach, would examine my papers and let me pass. I would cross the large inner court, surrounded by an outer wall and a one-story cell complex, and arrive in the interrogation room. There I would arrange my papers and documents, put a tape on the tape recorder, and phone the officer of the guard to bring the prisoner in.
The officer responsible for Eichmann’s transfer from his cell to the interrogation room would come in first, followed by two guards with Eichmann between them. Eichmann would stand at attention behind his chair until I said he could be seated. Though I told him there was no need to stand at attention, he went on doing so until the end. Maybe it was a habit he couldn’t shake off, or maybe he wished to demonstrate that fifteen years after the war he still wanted to be treated like a soldier.
By this time, the guard officer would have told the two guards to sit down, one by the window, the other in the open doorway. The guard in front of the window was supposed to keep his eyes fixed on us at the table; the guard in the doorway had to watch his comrade. Neither of them understood a word of what Eichmann and I were saying. Our conversation would not begin until after the officer of the guard had left us, and he would return only when the guards were relieved (every two hours) or whenever I notified him by phone that the hearing or the session of correcting transcripts was at an end.
As time went on, I noticed that each time Eichmann said “Never! Never! Never, Herr Hauptmann!” or “At no time! At no time!” he was lying. That was always a cue for me to ask my colleagues to search for additional material with which to probe the sensitive spot. They often located just what was needed, and thanks to their stubborn determination I would be able to present Eichmann with additional damaging documents at a later hearing. When I read to him from the book Commandant of Auschwitz by the notorious concentration-camp commander Rudolf Hoess, Eichmann became increasingly nervous. He denied every accusation with the argument that he hadn’t had the slightest influence on the way the camps were run; intermittently, he would try to belittle Hoess’s statements with sarcastic laughter, but his quivering hands betrayed his fear.
On October 9, 1960, Colonel Offer, commander of the prison, came into the room and informed Eichmann that his defense lawyer, Dr. Servatius of Cologne, was expected that day. Two days later, as we were going over some tapes, Eichmann told me in a buoyant, almost peppy manner about his first meeting with his attorney. Servatius looked exactly the way he had imagined him. He made a very competent impression. No doubt he had gathered some important and highly relevant insights at the Nuremberg trials. He, Eichmann, would need that kind of experience; he understood the gravity of his situation very well, he said; he was not harboring any illusions. One thing was definite, though: his trial would be a historic event of the first order; he as a person was less important than the “historical factors” involved. After all, he had just been “a little cog” in Hitler’s gigantic machine.
I replied that this might very well turn out to be the central issue of the trial—whether he wasn’t in fact the flywheel of that merciless extermination machine. In any case, this was an issue which neither he nor I had to decide; it was the court’s task to arrive at a judgment.
About four weeks later, I presented Eichmann with a document dated September 21, 1939, a time when there was still fighting in Poland. It dealt with a meeting in which he had participated and where, among other items on the agenda, the “ghettoization” of all Polish Jews as a step toward the Final Solution was decided. It was precisely this that Eichmann had categorically denied just a short while before. It was a noticeable shock for him to have to admit that he had been aware of a plan to exterminate the Jews as early as September 1939. This document completely robbed Eichmann of his appetite; he sent his meal back without touching it. Ordinarily, he ate heartily.
In February 1961, as we were correcting one of the last transcripts, the officer on duty led our photographer, Gerber, into the interrogation room. As Gerber set up his equipment, Eichmann looked at me with large, questioning eyes. I said: “I believe we’re going to have our picture taken.” Eichmann buttoned the collar of his shirt, said “Ah, good,” sat up straight as a stick, and put on a serious and thoughtful expression. He was vain enough to want to be remembered as an important historical personage. (I never saw this photograph, incidentally. It seems to have been lost.)
Two months after the last hearing, Eichmann stood trial before his judges in Jerusalem. The state of Israel paid his defense costs. His trial was of exemplary fairness. Not one of his victims received comparable treatment.