Authority After Adolph Eichmann and
the Endlösung [final solution]
by Stephen Hand
On March 21, 1960, at approximately 2 PM, Ricardo Klement got off the bus in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In his hands was a bouquet of flowers. He was greeted at the door of 16 Garibaldi Street by his wife and children who appeared dressed for a special occasion. Little did Klement know that this action / event would uncover him as Otto Adolph Eichmann, one of the prime principals of what the Germans of the Third Reich called the Endlösung [or 'Final Solution' of the Jewish Problem which ended in the deaths of some 6 million Jews during World war II.]
Long tested elite members of the Israeli Mossad ( Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks ) or Intelligence Agency, had been keeping that house and its occupants under intense surveillance. They knew that March 21 was Eichmann's Silver Wedding anniversary. All residual doubt now dissipated (2). They had their man in their scopes.
It was only a year or so earlier that the Mossad had learned that Eichmann had changed his name to Klement, the man who lived a relatively humble, careful, and punctual life, who worked for a water company, and who nervously lived a life looking over his shoulder, knowing he was hunted by Israeli Intelligence. Earlier one of his sons, Nicholas, who was reported to sometimes use the family name, Eichmann, had made the fatal error of dating an Argentine woman whom he did not know was Jewish. He apparently boasted to her that his father was involved in the killing of the Jews of Europe during the War. This boasting was an Eichmann trait. It was reported back through channels to the Israeli authorities who dispatched their crème de la crème spy agents who had each been tested by risking their lives in pressure cooker contexts and situations in Arab countries on previous assignments. This was another high intensity dangerous mission since it clearly broke Argentine law by attempting the kidnapping of an Argentine resident and removing him under cover to another country. It was also sure to rattle the nerves of those Argentine officials who had helped make Argentina a safe haven for such Nazi criminals.
Less than two months later, on May 11, the Israeli agents were ready to pounce. They had arrived in different locations at different times under the pretext of celebrating Argentina's 150th year of independence. Many Jews lived in Argentina, so this, in itself, would not necessarily arouse suspicion.
As Eichmann got off his bus about a half hour later than usual on May 11, tense Mossad agents in various cars, some who were pretending to be trying to fix the engine of a "broken down" vehicle, were waiting on Garibaldi Street near the Eichmann residence. When Klement-Eichmann approached the "broken" car the Israeli agents jumped him and Eichmann let out a blood curdling scream. He was shoved into one of the cars.
Eichmann then was gagged, tied, and pressed to the floor. From that point on Adolph Eichmann bizarrely cooperated fully, completely, both before and after he was taken to a predetermined safe house, a man apparently resigned to his fate, possibly relieved, even to the point of helping remind the agents of little neglects that could jeopardize their mission.
Eichmann's family did not announce his sudden disappearance, probably to avoid attracting attention to themselves. Israeli agents and government officials had been divided over what the family response would be. Now they knew.
An El Al plane had been booked for Israel on May 20. Eichmann, on the day of departure, was drugged and dressed in an El Al uniform to keep him from talking and arousing suspicion. At a final checkpoint the agents pretended to be laughing and hungover from a (faked) previous nights partying---which also, it was hoped, would explain Eichmann's intoxicated countenance.
On May 24, 1960, David Ben-Gurion, prime minister and founder of Israel, stood and made a startling announcement before the Knesset:
"I have to inform the Knesset that, some time ago, Israeli security forces found one of the greatest Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who, together with other Nazi leaders, is responsible for what they termed the Endlösung [Final Solution] of the Jewish question, in other words, the extermination of six million European Jews. Adolf Eichmann is already in this country under arrest and will shortly be brought to trial."
The nation of Israel, indeed the world, was stunned. Adolph Eichmann walked off a bus after a regular day's work and a short time later found himself behind a glass booth on trial in ---of all places--- Jerusalem, the disputed capitol of the state which is home to the Jewish people---the people he cooperated in trying to exterminate by his own admission, even if he denied liking the idea, much less conceiving it.
In 1961 Eichmann stood on trial for his life for such cooperation, even if the Jewish prosecutors believed that Eichmann's actual role rose to the level of "architect". Such an indictment proved to be controversial. Not a few objective scholars, biographers and lawyers thought Eichmann was what he claimed to be: a cowardly cog in a vast lethal, paranoid, killing machine headed by madmen. Eichmann never made it in rank beyond Lieutenant-Colonel. But his genocidal efficacious cooperation is undisputed. His official role was that of "expert," or "specialist" in transportation / deportation / emigration matters, which meant 'Jewish matters' more and more as the war went on. His has been called the first "administrative crime against humanity". A distinctly modern kind of infamy.
By his own testimony he was, curiously, an "idealist" to the extent that he favored the non-lethal Zionist solution of deporting Jews from the "Fatherland" to "Palestine" (or maybe Madagascar) until that idea was considered unfeasible to Nazi hierarchs. Eichmann said that when he attended by unexpected invitation the infamous Wannsee Conference in January 1942 (to write the minutes, he claimed) he was shocked to hear in the most brutal terms that the deportation of the Jews---what today we would call 'ethnic cleansing', horrible enough to be sure---- had by then evolved in Hitler's mind to the "extermination" of the Jews; and concentration camps, originally considered by Eichmann primarily as deportation points and work centers, were redesignated as death camps.
Eichmann was by many accounts of the Jews themselves, who had to deal with him during the War, a man they could do business with, a man who, strange to say, seemed to see some dignity in them as human beings and who even extended courteous comforts and consolations to them, who never shouted like other Gestapo or the Waffen SS, and who, he said, tried to help and even save some when he could do so. He later came to blame all of Germany's crimes on exaggerated nationalism which he said at the time of the trial he could "now" see was extremely dangerous, since it has an inherent tendency to egoism and from there finally to "radicalism".
As previously suggested, Adolph Eichmann was also a braggart----something like the Colonel Klink character in certain respects on the TV show Hogans Heroes, only with lethal efficacy by virtue of his real office----- and it was that strange trait that helped get him captured. Before his capture he had begun work in Argentina on his memoirs, as if these remembrances would become the memoirs of a great man who was already famous. Describing himself therein as an "idealist," he claimed that his great virtue lay in obeying orders, even though such orders vexed him and, when the Final Solution was announced, "sapped all of the joy" out of him. This seems a vicious postulation. Likewise his distinguishing a "human" guilt from a soldiers guilt, a man who was "guilty before God but not before the law". In his own mind he was merely a soldier who was "at war" fighting for his homeland. And all war, every soldier knows, is hell.
More than once Eichmann told the court and prosecutors that he accepted responsibility for that human failure / guilt, even to the point of saying he would, at a moments notice, voluntarily hang himself in public as a "warning to future antiSemites"! He said he believed the physical extermination plans of the Jews which developed was a shocking development and insane.
Yet Eichmann made the trains run on time, knowing full well eventually that these trains were destined for the crematoria and the deaths of "millions of Jews" (note: let all Holocaust revisionists take note that Eichmann did not object to the numbers of Jews who were murderered by the Nazis but candidly admitted them). He also admitted during his initial police interrogation that if ordered he "would send his own father to his death" even if it meant quashing his own feelings. This was the darkest side of his "idealism" he said. We would call it idolatry.
Hannah Arendt, herself Jewish, no friend of the Nazis, who later taught at the University of Chicago, and who, ironically, was a lover of the German existentialist philosopher---and Nazi--- Martin Heiddegger, and whose reports on the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker eventually became a best selling book (Eichmann in Jerusalem, Viking Press, 1965) wrote:
"Despite the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a "monster," but it was difficult indeed to suspect that he was not a clown." [ibid]
He looked so "ordinary". Rather pathetic. Frail. Nervous facial tics made one almost feel bad for him. Polite to a fault. Snapping to his feet when the court asked him questions. Apologizing and promising to improve his recollection even when it was not in his own self interest. He did not appear to be lying like so many other of the cocky infamous Nazis. He spoke of a "split" in consciousness which reflected the split between duty and human feelings. And yet this "clown" knew and saw so much, which makes the prosecutor's damning point.
In the film archives of his trial it is eery in the extreme to see Eichmann describe a trip to a death camp and watching human beings by the thousands waiting in spread to be shot into their burial grave, en masse, which the Jews themselves dug.
Even more horrific is when one watches as Eichmann describes something that even made the color drain from his own face: he descibes a huge "fountain of blood" gushing up from the ground like a geyser apparently by some underground "gasses" or "pressure" as he rode by. This was the blood of those, he told the prosecution, who had been shot by the tens of thousands in the areas he had just visited.
Eichmann said he knew and felt his dilemma (whether or not he felt it to be a dillemma at the time I would wager against). He compared himself explicitly to Pontius Pilate: carrying out orders but not approving them morally. He had no choice but to obey, he said. He was a soldier. Orders were orders. Soldiers obey orders. He used to quote (out of context) the German philosopher Immanuel Kant on Practical Reason, the Kantian precept, in "the little man's version," that "a law is a law, there could be no exceptions" (Arendt, ibid P. 137).
When, he told the court, it was all beginning to get to him at one point he asked to be relieved of his duties but was reminded that a soldier at the front could not ask for a change but must remain at his post. It would have to be the same for him he said he was told.
Why didn't he shoot himself if there was no way out? Or accept his fate as a political enemy of the Third Reich? He said that he was indeed in a situation where many a man would "reach for the pistol," but he rationalized that he was "only carrying out orders," orders that he protested within.
There was nothing he could do, he said.
Meanwhile the trains ran on time. Full of human cattle headed for the slaughter. He was a disciplined soldier. He conceived his plight as a tragedy: "guilty before God, but not before the law". Born in a bad time. "Not guilty in the sense of the indictment". The indictment meant murder, unspeakable genocide.
With respect to the deaths of millions of Jews, he said:
"With the killing of the Jews I had nothing to do. I never killed any human being. I never gave an order to kill either a Jew or a non-Jew; I just did not do it..." Hence he could only be accused of aiding and abetting the annihilation of the Jews which he declared in Jerusalem to have been "one of the greatest crimes in the history of humanity. " (Eichmann in Jerusalem, Viking Press, 1965 p. 22)
Meanwhile, there was another man who was also born in that bad time.
Franz Jäggerstätter, an isolated Austrian farmer and sacristan of his local Catholic church. After Austria was incorporated in the Third Reich and Franz was called up, he refused to fight on grounds of religious conscience. Only when he was in prison did he discover that there were other objectors like him; he was hugely encouraged. He knew (he wrote) that he wouldn’t change world affairs, but was ‘glad to be another sign that not everyone let themselves be carried with the tide... And if I must write this with my hands in chains, that’s better than having my will in chains.’ He was sentenced to death by a military court for refusing ‘to fulfil his patriotic duty in Germany’s hard struggle for survival’, and executed on August 9, 1943, aged 36. ( Nonviolence in World War Two; What happened in Germany)
It takes courage to die. Grace to resist being "carried with the tide," especially when the tide is one gigantic insane killing machine. Most of us will likely not be called to die. But all human beings are called to resist evil by love ---which often must take the form of non-cooperation with evil. We are, like Franz Jäggerstätter, called to be "another sign".
Yesterday it was Nazism, Leninism-Stalinsim, and other lethal philosophies and exaggerated nationalism. How many other "administrative crimes" are being conducted in our time? How many others think to themselves, "I never killed anybody. I have a desk job and work for my country?"
Or for science, religion, democracy...
Today it is other forms of imperialism, dominance over others, materialism, hedonism, abortion, pornography, perversions and false ideologies in schools, euthanasia, eugenics, contempt for the health and welfare for the world's poor, and other ideologies inimical to the dignity of the human person. Resisting often means persecution, from the community frequently enough, from family and friends and employers all too often.
We need what Adolph Eichmann certainly lacked: convictions regarding the dignity of every human being, courage, and a fearless attachment to Truth. The conviction also that human laws are only good and holy when they are in harmony with the Good and the Holy, that is God Himself who is above mere human laws. In dry martyrdom, and in wet martyrdom we need courage and love. The old bumper sticker is ever true which says:
Actually the real point is to question authority at the right time which is when obeying it would conflict with God. It is not often remembered, but the Nazis were a petty terrorist group before they became-The Nazis. If Germans had been more willing to respect established authority ten years before, the Nazis wouldn't have taken over.