The name Adolf Hitler is synonymous with the atrocities of Nazi Germany but there was another Adolf who was equally cruel and ruthless. Adolf Eichmann was one of the most notorious members of the Nazi regime, responsible for the logistics of mass deportation and extermination of millions of Jews and many others who were considered undesirable and so deported to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Eichmann proved to be a dedicated soldier of the Nazi regime and embarked upon his task with missionary zeal. Even when Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler became more ‘moderate’ towards the end of the war, Eichmann ignored his ‘no gassing’ order.
He was a model of bureaucratic industriousness and icy determination even though he had never been an anti-semite fanatic and always maintained that he had nothing against Jews personally. His zeal manifested itself in his constant complaints about obstacles in the fulfilment of death-camp quotas, his impatience with the existence of loopholes such as the free zone in Vichy France or the uncooperativeness of the Italians and other German allies in expediting death to their Jews. He zealously performed his assigned task akin to a sales manager who has been given targets to fulfil. In August 1944, this man proudly reported to Himmler that approximately four million Jews had died in the death camps and that another two million had been killed by mobile extermination units.
After the fall of the Nazi regime, Eichmann was arrested and confined to an American internment camp, but he managed to escape unrecognised and like many Nazis, found a safe haven in South America.
He fled to Argentina where he lived under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement for 10 years. Eichmann presumed that he was safe and could quietly live his life in obscurity but did not contend with the ingenuity, daring and fearlessness of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad.
Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni tracked Eichmann down in Argentina in 1960. He was abducted by Israeli Mossad agents on the streets of Buenos Aires and smuggled back to Israel to stand trial in Jerusalem. The controversial and highly publicised trial lasted from April 2 to August 14, 1961. Eichmann testified from a bulletproof glass booth and displayed no remorse for the heinous crimes he had committed.
The trial was instrumental in bringing Nazi atrocities to the forefront of world news and harrowing testimonies of Holocaust survivors, especially of ghetto fighters, generated interest in Jewish resistance. The trial also prompted many Holocaust survivors to come forward, share their experiences and confront this traumatic chapter in their lives. The televised trial was a landmark in Holocaust history.
Eichmann was charged on numerous counts. After the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, Eichmann coordinated deportations of Jews from Germany and elsewhere in western, southern, and northern Europe to killing centres through his representatives. He chalked out deportation plans down to the last detail and working in tandem with other German agencies, he determined how the property of deported Jews would be seized, while ensuring that his office would benefit from the confiscated assets. He also arranged for the deportation of tens of thousands of the Romani people.
He was charged with membership in criminal organisations — the Storm Troopers, Security Service and Gestapo, all of which had been declared criminal organisations at the 1946 Nuremberg Trial. As head of the Gestapo’s section for Jewish affairs, Eichmann coordinated with Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller on a plan to expel Jews from Greater Germany to Poland, which set the pattern for future deportations.
His statement, ‘To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing’, clearly indicated that he felt no remorse. But he also attempted to make his superiors culpable and tried to give the impression that he was only following orders when he stated, ‘I was one of the many horses pulling the wagon and couldn’t escape left or right because of the will of the driver’.
Eichmann was sentenced to death and executed on May 31, 1962. His body was cremated and his ashes tossed into the sea, beyond Israel’s territorial waters.