Adolf Eichmann was a member of the Nazi Party, the SS, and the SD during Hitler’s reign of terror during the 1930s and 1940s. He was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. He was tasked by SS-Obergruppenführer (Lieutenant General) Reinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II.
After the war, Eichmann escaped prosecution and fled to Argentina where he lived until 1960. There, he was discovered by members of the Israeli Mossad and arrested and smuggled out of the country to Israel where he stood trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1961. He was found guilty and was hanged in an Israeli prison on May 30, 1962.
Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany on March 19, 1906, and soon afterward moved to Austria. He was an indifferent student and never finished his studies. He drifted from job to job in the late 20s and early 1930s before he joined the Nazi Party and shortly after the SS.
In 1934, with the rank of SS-Scharführer (Sergeant) Eichmann joined the Security Service Main Office (Sicherheitsdienst (SD) working on surveillance of Jewish organizations. In 1937, he took an inspection trip to Palestine and Egypt for the purposes of facilitating a Zionist emigration of German Jews to Palestine.
He personally oversaw the forced emigration of Austrian Jews after Hitler took over. His system was deemed so “worthy” by the Nazi hierarchy that it was deemed a template for the Nazis to use elsewhere. Once Germany overtook Czechoslovakia, Eichmann oversaw the forced deportation of Jews in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and created a further Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Prague, on the pattern of his Viennese model.
Once World War II began Eichmann began to not only continue with the forced emigration of Jews from Germany and occupied territories, but the forced movement of Jews to the death camps. Eichmann during this time was responsible for the movement of nearly 1.5 million Jews to the death camps located in Poland and later parts of the occupied Soviet Union.
By the autumn of 1941, Eichmann had been promoted SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) and the chief of Reich Security Office (RSHA) which, took part in the planning of the annihilation of the European Jews. Since Eichmann was to be in charge of transporting Jews from all over Europe to the death camps, RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich asked Eichmann to prepare a presentation for the Wannsee Conference. At the conference, RSHA officials advised the appropriate government and Nazi Party agencies on the implementation of the “Final Solution” to what the Nazis called the “Jewish Question.” Eichmann also relayed these plans to his network of officials who would help him to carry out deportation efforts in German-occupied areas and in Germany’s Axis allies in the murder of the Jews.
Eichmann and his underlings organized the deportation of Jews from Slovakia, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium. In 1943 and 1944 they deported the Jews of Greece, northern Italy, and Hungary. It was in Hungary where Eichmann involved himself directly in the deportation of the Jews. From late April 1944, six weeks after Germany occupied Hungary, until early July, Eichmann and his aides deported some 440,000 Hungarian Jews. Of these 75-90 percent were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after arriving in the death camps.
At the end of World War II, Eichmann changed his name to “Otto Eckmann” and had forged papers as such to avoid detection. He was captured by the Americans but when they found out his true identity, he escaped and with the help of the Catholic Church eventually made his way to Argentina.
But Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal learned he along with the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele were in the South American country. The Israelis dispatched intelligence gathering teams from the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services and they confirmed Eichmann’s location. Under the supervision of Mossad agent Isser Harel, the Mossad kidnapped Eichmann and smuggled him out of Buenos Aires to Israel to stand trial. Harel’s tale was eventually written into a fine book on the capture, “The House on Garibaldi Street” which is highly recommended.
The Mossad knew his routine and planned on abducting him when he passed an open field near his home after getting off a bus in his town. As he approached the field, a Mossad agent spoke to him in Spanish but Eichmann sensed danger and quickly two other Mossad agents jumped him as a well and the three subdued him as the agents whisked him to a Mossad safe house where he was held for nine days until they snuck him out via a flight from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem via Dakar, Senegal.
Eichmann protested his innocence and used the well-worn “following orders” alibi which was discounted at the Nuremberg Trials. “There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders”, Eichmann said. “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”
Eichmann’s trial before a special tribunal of the Jerusalem District Court began on April 11, 1961. The legal basis of the charges against Eichmann was the 1950 Nazi and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, under which he was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people, and membership in a criminal organization.
The Nazis were meticulous in their record keeping and this was part of the reason that so many Nazis were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Eichmann was no exception to this rule. His own words were the most-damning toward his case when the prosecution brought forth a statement he made in 1945 that the Nazis had been responsible for over 5 million dead Jews. “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction”
Any hope the defense had of receiving clemency from the Israeli courts were quickly extinguished over this statement. Eichmann tried to say that he was speaking about the Russians and enemies of the Reich but later admitted that he was speaking about the Jews.
The verdict was read on December 12, 1961. The judges declared him not guilty of personally killing anyone and not guilty of overseeing and controlling the activities of the Einsatzgruppen (SS Mobile Extermination Units). He was found responsible for the deplorable conditions on board the deportation trains on which the Jews were transported to the death camps. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against not only the Jews but the Poles, Slovenes, and Gypsies. He was also found guilty of membership in three organizations that had been deemed criminal at the Nuremberg trials: the Gestapo, the SD, and the SS.
When considering the sentence, the judges concluded that Eichmann hadn’t been just following orders, but believed in the Nazi cause wholeheartedly and had been a key perpetrator of the genocide of the Jewish people. On 15 December 1961, Eichmann was sentenced to death by hanging.
Eichmann appealed his sentence but on May 31, 1962, the judges rejected his appeal. He was put to death several hours later around midnight on May 31-June 1, 1962.
His final words were about one would expect:
Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We’ll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God.
After his death, his body was immediately cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean outside of Israel’s territorial waters.