Adolf Eichmann


eichmann vienna

Adolf Eichmann (Facing the camera, on the right) SS Raid on Jewish Gemindhaus – Vienna in March 1938


Adolf Eichmann was born in Solingen on 19 March 1906. He was born into a solid middle-class Protestant family, which moved to Linz in Austria, where Eichmann spent his youth. He failed to complete his engineering studies and worked briefly as an ordinary labourer in his father’s small mining enterprise and then he found employment in the sales department of an Upper Austrian electrical construction company. Adolf Eichmann became a travelling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company between 1927 and 1933. On 1 April 1932 he joined the Austrian Nazi Party at the suggestion of his friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Eichmann lost his job and sought employment across the border in Bavaria in July 1933, joining the exiled Austrian legion and undergoing fourteen months’ military training.

In September 1934 he found an opening in Himmler’s Security Service, - the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) which provided him with an outlet for his bureaucratic talents. By the beginning of 1935 he was the official responsible for ‘Jewish questions’ at the Berlin head office of the SD, specialising in the Zionist movement. He acquired a smattering of Hebrew and Yiddish, and briefly visited Palestine in 1937 to explore the possibilities of Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany to Palestine. Eichmann was appointed assistant to the SD leader of the SS main region, Danube and his first big opportunity arose when he was sent to Vienna by the Gestapo to prepare the ground for the forthcoming annexation (Anschluss) of Austria by the German Reich.

From August 1938 he was in charge of the ‘Office for Jewish Emigration’ in Vienna set up by the SS, as the sole Nazi agency authorised to issue exit permits for Jews from Austria; later this office was established in Prague, to cater for the Czech Jews and in Berlin, for the Jews in the Reich. Eichmann acquired expertise in ‘forced emigration’ – in less than eighteen months – approximately 150,000 Jews left Austria – and extortion was to prove an ideal training-ground for his later efficiency in masterminding ‘forced evacuation’ in other European territories overrun by the Nazis. By March 1939 he was already handling forced deportations to Poland and in October of the same year, he was appointed ‘special advisor’ on the ‘evacuation’ of Jews and Poles. In December 1939 Eichmann was transferred to Amt IV (Gestapo) of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) where he took over Referat IV B4 dealing with Jewish affairs and evacuation.


For the next six years Eichmann’s office was the headquarters for the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’, though it was not until the summer of 1941 that his ‘resettlement’ department began the task of organising the system of convoys that were to transport European Jewry to their deaths. It was in August 1941 that Eichmann first visited Auschwitz concentration camp, to discuss with Commandant Höss the establishment of a gas chamber by converting a peasant farmstead in the northwest corner of Birkenau. In November 1941 Eichmann was promoted to the rank of SS – Obersturmbannnführer (Lieutenant – Colonel) and he was involved in organizing the mass deportation of Jews from Germany and Bohemia, in accordance with Hilter’s order to make the Reich free of Jews as quickly as possible. Adolf Eichmann attended the Wannsee Conference in Berlin on 20 January 1942, which consolidated his position as the ‘Jewish Specialist’ of the RSHA and Reinhard Heydrich, the head of RSHA, now formally entrusted him with implementing the ‘Final Solution’. In this task Eichmann proved to be a model of bureaucratic industriousness and icy determination even though he had never been a fanatical anti-Semite and he always claimed that ‘personally’ he had nothing against Jews. His zeal expressed itself in his constant complaints about obstacles in the fulfillment of quotas for the death-camps, his impatience with the existence of loopholes, such as the Free Zone, in Vichy France or the lack of co-operation by the Italians and other allies of the Nazi regime in handing over their Jews.


When even Heinrich Himmler became more moderate towards the end of the war, Eichmann ignored his ‘no gassing’ order, as long as he was covered by Heinrich Mueller his immediate superior and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had succeeded Heydrich as the head of RSHA. Only in Budapest after March 1944 did the desk –murderer become a public personality, working in the open and playing a leading role in the deportation and eventual massacre of Hungarian Jewry. He even issued a proposal to Joel Brand to deliver a message in person to the Allies, exchanging Hungarian Jews for heavy lorries. Whilst Joel Brand left Vienna for Istanbul on 19 May 1944, he was eventually arrested on the Turkish – Syrian border and then held prisoner in a villa near Cairo. The Allies refused the proposal. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz – Birkenau.   

Though arrested at the end of the war, Adolf Eichmann name was not yet widely known and he was able to escape from an American internment camp in 1946 and flee to Argentina. He was eventually tracked down by Israeli secret agents on 2 May 1960, living under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement in a suburb of Buenos Aries.Nine days later he was abducted in secret to Israel to be tried in public in Jerusalem. The trial which aroused enormous international interest and its share of controversy took place between 2 April and 14 August 1961. On 2 December 1961 Eichmann was sentenced to death for crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity. On 31 May 1962 he was executed in Ramleh prison.


Sources


R.S. Wistrich, Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, published by Routledge, London and New York 1995


Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, published by Henry Holt and Company, New York 1989.


G. Reitlinger, The Final Solution, published by Sphere Books Ltd, London 1971


Photograph – Bundesarchiv  


© Holocaust Historical Society 2014