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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 18:40 GMT
Adolf Eichmann: Architect of evil

By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

The question of what motivates a human being is a deceptively simple one. Yet the answer can be so complicated as to obscure any real meaning. Fear, greed, duty, morality, all have their part to play.

Yet, when we examine the life of Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer who oversaw the logistics of the Holocaust, and whose prison memoirs are finally to be made public, we see a glimpse of the darkness at the soul of a man.
Eichmann in the bulletproof dock in Jerusalem
In the bulletproof dock in Jerusalem
At the end of his trial in 1961, Eichmann, by then a broken man, still defiantly continued to protest his innocence. "I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty", he told the court.

This, after four months in which thousands of pages of damning evidence, and the personal testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, had once again focussed the eyes of the world on the crimes of the Nazi regime.

Eichmann's Life
Born in 1906
Joined the SS in 1932
Head of the Gestapo's Jewish Section, 1935-45
Arrived in Argentina, 1950
Kidnapped by Israeli agents,1960
Hanged in Jerusalem, May 31 1962
Beyond this, though, Adolf Eichmann was, like many of his contemporaries, a rather ordinary man involved in extraordinarily grotesque crimes.

He was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. His father was a manager at an electrical works and the family moved, coincidentally, to Adolf Hitler's home town of Linz in Austria.

After leaving school, Eichmann worked as a vacuum cleaner salesman before employment in an oil company enabled him to see the world.

By now, the heady nationalism which permeated much of Austria was turning into something more sinister. Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi Party and the SS's Austrian Legion in 1932.

He became the SS's pre-eminent expert on Jewish affairs and, almost uniquely, remained in the same post until 1945.
Eichmann in SS uniform
SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann
Eichmann learned Hebrew, visited pre-war Palestine and, after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, he was involved in organising the deportation of the Jews from Germany.

Sometime in 1941, everything changed. Deportation was to be ended. European Jewry was to be exterminated. Despite his later protests, Eichmann was considered senior enough to be charged with managing the logistics of genocide.

Shooting was found to be inefficient and Eichmann sought what he termed "a more elegant solution". Gassing was chosen as the preferred method.

It was he who managed the ghettos and the systematic robbery of the Jews, and oversaw their eventual extermination. Indeed, according to Eichmann himself, it was he who coined the term 'the Final Solution'.

In post-war testimony, the commandant of the Auschwitz extermination camp, Rudolf Hoess, said that Eichmann was "wholly and compulsively obsessed with the Jewish Question and with the Final Solution which had been ordered".

Evading capture in 1945, he eventually fled to Argentina. In an interview given there in the 1950s, he remained unrepentant.

Speaking about his reaction to Germany's defeat, Eichmann said: "Millions of enemies were annihilated, and according to my estimate, the War also cost five million Jews. Now all this is over, the Reich is lost. And should the end come now, I shall also jump into the pit."
Eichmann writing in prison
Eichmann writing in prison
In 1960, Israeli agents kidnapped Eichmann and took him to Israel, where he was tried and hanged. Throughout the court case he claimed that he was a minor figure in a vast machine and only followed orders.

His tearful prison memoirs, which outline his alleged disgust at atrocities which he witnessed, ring as hollow as Eichmann's professions from the dock.

Adolf Eichmann's tragedy lies not in that he willed himself to do evil but that, because of his unquestioning loyalty to the state, he was unable to think for himself, to comprehend the magnitude of his crimes.

His story is as relevant, and as chilling, today as it was 30 years ago.

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29 Feb 00 | Middle East
Israel releases Eichmann diary
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