Adolf Eichmann, author of the plan to exterminate the Jews, and the Nazi official responsible for its administration, was and remains a figure of mystery. Few men were close to him, none knew him well, and no one knows whether he is now alive or dead. In this article L. Poliakov assembles all that is known of this administrator of mass murder—in the very elusiveness of his personality an archetypal figure of modem history—and makes available for the first time the text of the minutes of the conference initiating the official project to “cleanse the German living-space of Jews.” This article has been translated from the French by Ralph Manheim.
Hitler’s pronouncements on the “Jewish question” were generally regarded as the fantasies of a disordered mind. But Hitler was able, alas, to implement his fantasies so that they had consequences in the world of reality. To work out the practical details of Jewish extermination he required the services of a bureaucrat—a neat and competent administrator. Such a man was Adolf Eichmann, who is said to have told a subordinate: “I will jump into my grave laughing, for to know that I have six million people on my conscience will be a source of extraordinary satisfaction.” Adolf Eichmann did not share in the fame of his superiors Himmler and Heydrich, yet he was more directly involved in the extermination of European Jews than any other single man.
Adolf Eichmann was born in 1907 or 1908 in a small town in Westphalia, but his family soon moved to the Austrian city of Linz and it was there that he spent his childhood and youth. His father was a small manufacturer of electrical equipment. After completing secondary school (he later took pride in having had the same history teacher as Adolf Hider), Eichmann wished to become an engineer; but his father’s business was on the downgrade and he was unable to complete his studies at the Linz technical school.
This was the background common to so many Nazi careers: bourgeois beginnings, the crisis of 1929, the difficulties and increasing bitterness of the semi-intellectual. But it takes a good deal more than this to produce an Adolf Eichmann.
In 1931 Eichmann became salesman for an oil company and at the same time joined the Austrian National Socialist party, where he met Kaltenbrunner. For three years he carried on both these activities. In 1934 he was wanted by the Austrian police and fled to Germany, where he enrolled in the Nazi Austrian Legion which was then being formed in Southern Bavaria. It was not long before he found his true vocation and applied for admission to the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi secret service).
Dieter Wisliceny, one of his subordinates, who was captured by the Americans and testified at length before the Nuremberg Tribunal, described Eichmann as a man of over average height (5 feet 9½ inches), slender, and blond. He was a rather timid man who could never get rid of a certain provincial awkwardness. He shunned all “honors” and later, when he was one of the chiefs of the all-powerful SD, managed to keep away from all official ceremonies, both in Berlin and on his numerous foreign missions. He liked to be the “man in the shadow.” He seems to have been relatively impersonal, living without ostentation at a time when he was disposing of hundreds of millions of marks. He was a good father and family man, at least during the early years of his married life (married in 1936, he had three sons).
These facts are less than astonishing when one recalls that the worst of psychological monsters have flowered amid the petty, middle-class virtues. This is just as true of Fouché, Landru, or Himmler, as of Eichmann. Schoolboy sorrows, a difficult youth may have contributed, but the entire psychological atmosphere of Nazi Germany would seem to be the real cause. One is quite justified in speaking of “bourgeois repressions,” particularly in the case of the Germans. Ancestral habits of obedience and discipline had inhibited the natural violence of the instincts; but once given a field of operation that was both legally and ideologically consecrated, the instincts burst loose, with what ferocity we know. At the same time, the accumulated record of “little virtues” regularly exercised provides an abundance of that self-justification which the vast majority of men require.
Having entered the SD in August 1934, Eichmann started out as a small functionary in charge of the card file on the Free-masons. Here he revealed the qualities of an excellent clerk and organizer. A year later, when Himmler decided to set up a police museum at SD headquarters, it was Eichmann who was appointed to organize it.
It was no doubt this appointment that started him on his way toward those sinister activities in which he was to distinguish himself. For this museum included a collection of old Hebrew coins, of Jewish ritual objects and books—the first fruits of Nazi pillaging expeditions—and these things aroused Eichmann’s curiosity. Though he had never studied any foreign language, he now took up the study of Hebrew, which he learned to read quite fluently, though he could never speak it. Perhaps he thought that in this way he might penetrate the enemy’s secret. He also learned to read in Yiddish. The latter enabled him, in the course of his activities in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, to weave a certain air of mystery around his origins, and to inspire a legend according to which he had been born at Sarona, a colony of the German Templars in Palestine, and had attended Jewish schools as a boy. (This legend was taken up by a number of Jewish newpapers after the German capitulation.) It is also believed in some quarters that these abilities enabled him to avoid punishment after Hitler’s fall by passing as a Jewish survivor and slipping into some displaced-persons camp.
When a section for Jewish Affairs (which had formerly been handled by the Freemason section) was set up at the SD, Eichmann had himself transferred to it. Soon he was appointed specialist in questions relating to Zionism. In his own way, he seems to have felt a certain respect for the Zionists, as is attested by a report of Veesenmeyer, German Ambassador to Hungary. The question had arisen of permitting a certain number of Hungarian Jews to emigrate to Palestine; Eichmann had opposed it, saying: “Almost without exception these people are old Zionists, valuable biological material; their emigration to Palestine is highly undesirable.“ In 1937 Eichmann himself went to Palestine but was expelled after forty-eight hours by the British administration; to make up for it, he spent four weeks in Cairo, where he established close relations with a representative of the Mufti.
Eichmann’s real rise in career dates from 1938. Shortly after the Anschluss he was transferred to Vienna. Here he submitted to Heydrich a plan for a “central bureau of Jewish emigration,“ for the purpose of inducing the Jews to emigrate as quickly as possible. All methods were of course permissible. In this work Eichmann soon revealed astounding resources of cold-blooded brutality and great organizational ability. He was made. He had gained the full confidence of Heydrich; in Vienna he again fell in with Kaltenbrunner. In one year he rose from the rank of Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) to that of Hauptsturmführer (captain); such rapid promotion was rare in the Nazi hierarchy. In the spring of 1939 we find him in Prague, where he pursued the same activities, covering occupied Bohemia and Moravia. Early in the war, the whole German political and criminal police apparatus was consolidated under a single organization, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), with Heydrich at its head. Eichmann, meanwhile promoted to the rank of Sturmbannführer (major), became chief of the section in the RSHA’s Gestapo that dealt with Jewish and ecclesiastical affairs.
Germany was at war. Voluntary or forced emigration after the pattern organized by Eichmann in Vienna and Prague had become impossible. But the Nazis were counting on a quick victory. At that time, Hitler’s great plan for making Europe judenrein, set forth in Mein Kampf, seemed close to fulfilment. A number of Nazi “specialists” were enthusiastic about sending all the Jews of Europe to Madagascar. Why Madagascar? Any attempt to analyze and explain Nazi behavior ultimately encounters a certain irreducible element of the irrational, which almost appears to be specifically German. One recalls the familiar joke in pre-Hitler Germany about a Nazi lecturer who declares: “Who is to blame for Germany’s troubles? Who? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll tell you. It’s the Jews.” A voice in the audience: “The Jews and the bicycle-riders!” The lecturer: “Why the bicycle-riders?” The voice in the audience: “Why the Jews?”
At all events, the Madagascar “solution” was in the air: Eichmann took it up and submitted a memorandum to Himmler, suggesting that the preparatory work be begun at once. Himmler agreed and commissioned Eichmann to draw up a detailed plan. With a few helpers (among them Dieter Wisliceny, who is the source of this information) he set to work. A series of investigations at the Ministry of Colonies in Paris provided certain essential geographical data. Shipping specialists were consulted and formation of a pool of the North German Lloyd and the Hamburg America Line was considered. The expense would be defrayed by the Jews themselves. Of course, it was essential to know how many Jews would have to be deported, and beginning in August 1940, Eichmann sent agents to all occupied countries to collect statistics. (We shall read these figures further on; they were to serve a very different purpose.) Wisliceny assures us that as late as the summer of 1941 this plan was being seriously considered in Berlin. The law of September 26, 1941 providing for the final confiscation of the prop erty of German Jews made the stipulation: “The confiscated assets and holdings will be utilized for all purposes connected with the solution of the Jewish question.”
On June 22, 1941 the Germans invaded Russia. After first successes, however, the highest political circles began to realize that the war would be a long-drawn-out encounter. The Madagascar Plan would have to be postponed indefinitely. Some other solution was required. On July 31, Goering commissioned Heydrich “to take all the preparatory measures of an administrative, economic, and financial nature, required for a general solution of the Jewish question in the European territories under German influence.” And Goering continued: “I commission you moreover to submit to me as soon as possible an over-all project comprising the preparatory measures of a technical and financial nature required for the definitive solution of the Jewish question, which remains our objective.”
Charged with the actual drawing up of the project, Eichmann, the bureaucrat and organizer, worked out the details of the most monstrous scheme in human history. Eichmann’s plan was read by Heydrich at an interministerial conference held in his office on January 20, 1942, and attended by rep resentatives of all the ministries of the Third Reich. (The date had originally been set for December 9, 1941, but had been postponed “in view of the circumstances”—the entry of the United States into the war. No one could have foreseen that Pearl Harbor would gain a few weeks time for the Jews of Europe.)
It is worthwhile to quote extensively from the minutes of the conference at which Eichmann’s plan was presented. The aim—the total physical extermination of the Jews—is expressed quite plainly. Yet it should be noted that throughout even Heydrich and Eichmann found it necessary to speak in veiled terms. The text of the minutes of the conference follows:
I. Present at the conference which occurred on January 20, 1942 at Berlin, am Grossen Wannsee No. 56-58, concerning the definitive solution of the Jewish problem: Gauleiter Dr. Meyer and Reichsleiter Dr. Leibbrand, Reich Ministry for Occupied Territories in the East; State Secretary Dr. Stuckart, Reich Ministry of the Interior; State Secretary Neumann, Four Year Plan; State Secretary Dr. Preisler, Reich Ministry of Justice; State Secretary Dr. Buchler, Office of the Governor General; under-Secretary of State Luther, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; SS-Oberführer Klopfer, Office of the NSDAP; Chief of Cabinet Krictzinger, Reich Chancellery; SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Hofmann, Central Bureau for Race and Immigration; SS-Gruppenführer Müller, SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Eichmann, Reichs-sicherheitshauptamt (RSHA); SS-Ober-führer Dr. Schaugarth, Commandant of Security Police and SD in the Gouvernement Général; and SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Lange, Commandant of Security Police and SD for the District General of Latvia, acting as representative of the commandant of Security Police and SD for the Reich Commissariat for Eastern Territories.
II. SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich, head of the Security Police and the SD, first informed the conference of his appointment, signed by the Reichsmarshal, as executive in charge of preparing the definitive solution of the Jewish problem in Europe. He then indicated the aim of the conference as being:
To clarify questions of principle. The Reichsmarshal had expressed his desire of having submitted to him a draft project covering the technical and economic questions involved in the definitive solution of the Jewish problem in Europe. Accordingly, these questions should be discussed by all the central bureaus, with a view to coordination of procedure.
By order of the Reichsmarshal, a central bureau for Jewish emigration was set up in January 1939 at Reich echelon. The head of the Security Police and the SD was placed in charge of it. The principal functions of this bureau were: (a) To take all measures necessary to increase Jewish emigration. (b) To direct this flow of emigration, (c) To accelerate emigration in special cases.
The aim was to cleanse the German living-space of its Jews by legal methods.
In spite of all difficulties, a sum total of 537,000 Jews were induced to emigrate between the seizure of power and October 10, 1941, as follows: after January 30, 1933, from the old Reich: 360,000; after March 15, 1938, from Austria: 147,000; after March 15, 1939, from the protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia: 30,000.
This emigration was financed by the Jews themselves, that is, by the Jewish political organizations. In order to prevent the proletarianized Jews from remaining in the countries of emigration, we operated on the principle that the wealthy Jews according to their means should finance the emigration of those without resources; all wealthy Jews were required to pay an emigration indemnity into a fund that went to meet the financial obligations of the poor Jews, which had to be settled prior to emigration.
In addition to the sums in Reichsmarks, it was necessary to obtain sums in foreign exchange for deposits and landing fees. In order to economize the Reich’s limited supply of foreign exchange, the Jewish financial organizations abroad were summoned to provide the Jewish organizations in the country of emigration with the necessary foreign exchange.
By October 31, 1941, foreign Jews had placed at the disposal of their coreligionaries a sum total of 9,500,000 dollars, all by way of donation.
At that date, the Reichsführer-SS and Head of the German Police, considering the dangers which emigration would present in time of war, and in view of the possibilities offered by the Eastern territories, prohibited all Jewish emigration.
III. Since then emigration has been replaced by another possible solution which has been approved by the Fuhrer: evacuation of the Jews to the East.
These solutions can only be regarded as palliatives. But they have given us much practical experience indispensable for the definitive solution of the Jewish problem.
It will be necessary to apply the definitive solution of the Jewish question to approximately eleven million persons, distributed as follows:
|Territories of the East||420,000|
|Gouvernement Général of Bialystok||2,284,000|
|Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia||74,200|
|Estonia (already cleansed of Jews)||000|
|France (occupied zone)||165,000|
|Italy (including Sardinia)||58,000|
|Rumania (including Bessarabia)||342,000|
|White Russia (excluding Bialystok)||446,484|
|Total in excess of||11,000,0001|
In line with the definitive solution of the Jewish problem, the Jews will be transferred under suitable escort to the Eastern territories and there enrolled in the labor service. Formed into large labor detachments, those Jews able to work, both men and women, will work at road building as they move into these territories; it goes without saying that a large percentage of them will be eliminated by the natural death rate.
The survivors—who will inevitably be those with the greatest powers of resistance—will be treated in accordance with the logic of the situation. For history has shown that, once liberated, this natural elite would embody the germ of a new Jewish revival.
The minutes of the proceedings before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg show that three months later this plan was confirmed by an explicit order from Himmler to Eichmann. The witness Wisliceny testified that he saw the confirming order with his own eyes, Eichmann having shown it to him.
The order itself has not yet been found. From the fact that it was classified as the German equivalent of “top secret” and that Eichmann made Wisliceny swear not to speak of it to anyone, the German attorneys for the defense attempted to prove that the SS, the SD, and their clients taken individually did not know the meaning of the words “definitive solution.” The document reproduced above, which was unknown at the time of the Nuremberg trial, tends to prove the contrary.
In any event Eichmann was invested with unlimited powers, “independent of geographical frontiers.” The Emperor Caligula is said to have cried out: “If only the Roman people had but one head, so that I might cut it off at a single blow!” Modern administrative techniques enabled Eichmann to realize Caligula’s dream. Eichmann’s role consisted of organizing the deportations to Poland from the various occupied countries. This work was carried on in his office at the RSHA in Berlin, and in the course of frequent trips to the occupied countries. Thus he was direcdy responsible for the deportation and death of 1,300,000 Jews.
Within Poland, he had no direct jurisdiction. Auschwitz was readily available and Gruppenfuhrer Globocznik was quite equal to his task. However, in his capacity as chief of the Jewish section of the RSHA, Eichmann had a voice in drawing up general directives. In this sense his claim to having six million persons on his conscience was not an idle boast.
What reactions, what changes take place in the mind of a man engaged in so strange and monstrous a task?
His behavior—as much as we know of it—was that of most criminals in all times and countries. First he surrounded himself with a group of lost souls, missi dominici, who traveled through the whole of Europe and rendered accounts to him alone: among these were: Dannecker (France, Bulgaria), Wisliceny (Slovakia, Hungary), Alois Brunner (Slovakia, France), the brothers Rolf and Hans Giinther (Czechoslovakia), Novak, Hrosinek, Rahn, etc. All except Dannecker, Wisliceny, and the two Günthers were Austrians like himself. He insisted that members of his team should never leave it, not even to go to the front or to join the Waffen-SS: “We are all in the same boat, no one can leave it. For anyone working with me there is no return.”
In the archives of the SD in Paris, there is a document that indicates the mentality of Eichmann’s team. It is dated July 15, 1942—deportations from France were then in full swing—and is a report submitted by Rothke, liaison man between Dannecker and his chief. A transport from Bordeaux to Auschwitz had been scheduled; the German railway administration had provided the train—but the transport did not take place. Eichmann telephoned from Berlin to demand an explanation. Röthke tried to explain: “I replied that originally all those who wore the star were to be arrested, even in the provinces, but that then an agreement was made with the French government that only stateless Jews were liable to arrest. The train of July 15, 1942, had to be cancelled in view of the fact that, according to the information furnished by the SD in Bor-deaux, there were only one hundred and fifty stateless Jews in that city. There was not sufficient time to make up the deficiency and one hundred and fifty Jews would not have sufficed to fill the train.”
Eichmann flew into a rage: “SS-Ober-sturmbannführer Eichmann reminded me that it was after all a question of prestige. It had been necessary to enter into laborious negotiations with the Reich Transportation Ministry. The negotiations had been successful, and here we were canceling a train in Paris. It was the first time such a thing had ever happened to him. It was a disgrace! He had no desire to inform SS-Ober-gruppenführer Müller for fear of compromising himself.”
And here is the sanction with which Eichmann threatened the Paris SD: “He said he was obliged to consider whether France should not be dropped as a source of deportations.”
To put it succinctly: if you don’t do your work properly, I won’t take the Jews off your hands in the future!
One of the few Jews who met Eichmann personally and came off with a whole skin was Rezso Käsztner, Hungarian journalist and Zionist leader. In 1944 Dr. Kasztner entered into an amazing game of poker with the Nazis. He suggested that if they stopped deportations he would procure for them certain amounts of foreign exchange and American merchandise. He kept up this bluff for an amazingly long time and actually succeeded in partially retarding the deportations. This is unquestionably one of the most astonishing chap ters in the struggle of European Jewry for survival. Dr. Käsztner made the following entry in his notebooks under October 17, 1944; it gives us a close-up of Eichmann in his “professional” attitude. Regent Horthy had just been deposed after the failure of his attempt at a separate peace, and the Arrow Cross had taken power; Eichmann had just returned from Berlin by plane. “So you see I’m back. You thought it was going to be like in Rumania or in Bulgaria, didn’t you? You’ve forgotten that Hungary is in the shadow of the Reich’s ruins. And our arm is still long enough to reach the Hungarian Jews. Now listen to what I say: this government is taking orders from us. The Budapest Jews are going to be deported and they’re going to be deported on foot. We need our transportation for other things. Or if you prefer, you can get us some trucks. . . . You’re scared, eh? I’ve had enough of your American fairytales. Now we’re going to get to work. And I expect to see things hum, get me?”
“At that moment he seemed to be the happiest man on earth,” Dr. Käsztner observed.
In his private life Eichmann, who had been a model husband and father, began to neglect his family. He entered into sentimental relationships, first of a passing nature, then more serious. In 1944, he became acquainted with Ingrid von Ihume in Budapest, and this aristocratic connection seems to have bewitched the petty-bourgeois Eichmann. He became a chain smoker and began to drink immoderately. He lived in continuous fear of assassination, ceased to use airplanes for his trips, kept two loaded sub-machine guns and a number of hand grenades in his car, and saw to it that his lodgings were under constant guard. He took the greatest care to avoid having his picture taken, and even had the photographs he needed for his official identification papers prepared in a special laboratory.
This is as much as we have been able to learn about the private life of Adolf Eichmann. Six million human lives on his conscience. One is tempted to seek some special grandeur in such wickedness. But has arithmetic any meaning here? Is there after all any great difference between Eichmann and the sons of Cain down through the ages: “And now thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. . . a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be. . . .”
Eternal mystery of guilt and retribution. But beside it Eichmann presents another, lesser mystery: what has become of him personally?
Some of his staff who fell into the hands of the Allied authorities have reported that, beginning in the fall of 1944, Eichmann, foreseeing an Allied victory, spoke of suicide. They state that he prepared poison for himself and his family. It is true that a good many Nazis chose this way out; but an even greater number contented themselves with speaking of it; obviously the mere fact that no trace of Eichmann has been found since the debacle is not much of an argument for the suicide thesis.
The last person known to have seen him is Sturmbannführer Willy Höttl, who met him at the beginning of May in Alt Aussee, Austria. It was in this little summer resort that Kaltenbrunner had set up his last headquarters: Eichmann had just arrived with almost his entire team; he believed, no doubt, that the chief of the SD intended to carry on the struggle and wanted to join him. But Kaltenbrunner refused to receive him and sent him orders to leave Alt Aussee. Eichmann then informed Höttl that, having provided his family with false papers, he was going to hide out in the mountains with his men.
Wisliceny recalls a conversation that took place in September 1944 between Eichmann and Standartenfiihrer Plobel, commander of an extermination team in Poland. Considering the possibility of a German defeat, Eichmann was even then thinking of hiding out in the mountains of Lower Austria with his men, of forming a group of partisans “and waiting for the final conflict between East and West.” This region where he had spent his childhood and where he had acquired a small estate in 1939 was his real home, and he thought he could count on the cooperation of the peasants. Thus there is evidence that he conceived this plan at an early date. But there is no positive ground for supposing that he succeeded in carrying it out.
We have already mentioned another hypothesis: profiting by his knowledge of Hebrew and of Jewish life in general, he may have passed as a Jew escaped from a concentration camp. Perhaps he is now in a displaced-persons camp, or he may even have succeeded in emigrating under his new identity, perhaps even to Palestine. It is known that a number of Germans attempted this stratagem at the time of the German defeat in France. Eichmann was in a position to supply himself with a thoroughly credible identity, and he had the knowledge required for an expert impersonation. Moreover, plastic surgery was widely practiced in Germany.
Still another possibility is that Eichmann merely assumed the identity of some harmless German, as others managed to do. As for his team, a few, like Dieter Wisliceny and Kurt Kecher, surrendered to the Allied authorities; Alois Brunner was captured by the Russians. Nothing is known of Dannecker, of the Günther brothers, or the others. This has made it more difficult to fol-low the trail of Eichmann, whose fate is still shrouded in perfect mystery.
All the materials in this article originate from the archives of the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine in Paris. Most of the biographical details on Eichmann came from reports prepared in jail by SS Obersturmführer Dieter Wisliceny, condemned to death and executed in 1948 in Bratislava (Czecho-slovakia).—L. P.
1 These statistics furnished by Eichmann reveal a certain element of fantasy. The figures for France supplied by the Paris office of the SD were much closer to reality (occupied zone: 70,000; unoccupied zone: 200,000).
Eichmann himself set the extermination figures at six million. Sturmbannfuhrer Wilhelm Höttl, chief of the Balkan section of Bureau VI (Information) of the RSHA, has furnished some interesting details in this connection:
At the end of August 1944, I had an interview with SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann whom I had known since 1938. This conversation took place at my apartment in Budapest. At that time Eichmann, to the best of my knowledge, was chief of Section IV (Gestapo) of the RSHA and had, moreover, been charged by Himmler with rounding up the Jews in all European countries in order to transfer them to Germany. Rumania’s entrance into the war—which occurred at this time—had made a great impression on Eichmann. He had come to see me to ask about the military situation, since information was transmitted to me daily by the Hungarian War Ministry and also by the Commanding General of the Waffen-SS in Hungary. He expressed his belief that Germany had lost the war, and that consequently there was no more chance for him. He knew that he was regarded by the Allies as one of the top war criminals, as he had millions of Jewish lives on his conscience. I asked him the figure. He answered that this was a high state secret but that he was willing to disclose it to me, since these details were bound to interest me as an historian, and besides he did not expect to return from his mission to Rumania. He had recently drawn up a report for Himmler, who had wished to know the exact number of Jews exterminated. He summed up the figures as follows: ‘Roughly four million Jews killed in various extermination camps. Two millions exterminated by other means—for the most part shot by action groups of the Security Police during the Russian campaign.’” (Affidavit of Wilhelm Hottl, dated November 28, 1945, prepared for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.)