When the Holocaust, or the persecution of the Jews around World War 2, is mentioned there is one name that immediately comes to mind: Adolf Hitler of course. And sure, he was the chief culprit, but he had many collaborators. One of them was Karl Adolf Eichmann.
Born in 1906 in Cologne, Germany into a middle-class protestant family, as a boy he was teased and nicknamed “the little Jew” by classmates, because of his dark complexion. At age 26 he joined the growing Austrian Nazi Party at the suggestion of a friend.
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A year later he took a job in Heydrich’s SD, the powerful SS security service. He was assigned to the Jewish section, which was at this stage collecting information on all prominent Jews. At this point in time began Eichmann’s almost obsessive interest in the Jews. He studied all aspects of Jewish culture and gradually became the acknowledged Jewish specialist. In 1939, Eichmann was appointed Head of the Gestapo, the secret state police of Germany, and became one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich.
In Poland, Heydrich and Eichmann ordered all Jews to be rounded up and forced into ghettos and labour camps. Methods of execution used at this time involved gathering Jews to a secluded location and then shooting and burying them. SS leader Heinrich Himmler witnessed such killing and nearly fainted. He then ordered more “humane” methods of killing to be found, mostly to spare his SS men the ordeal of such a direct method. The Nazis then turned their attention to gassing. At Auschwitz, the gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, could accommodate 2000 people at a time.
In 1941, Eichmann was told to prepare “a general plan for carrying out the desired Final Solution of the Jewish question”. With boundless enthusiasm for his task and fanatical efficiency, Eichmann travelled throughout the Reich coordinating the Final Solution and victim numbers tallied into the millions as the war dragged on.
Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May of 1945, Eichmann was arrested and confined to an American Internment Camp, but he managed to escape because his name was not yet well known. In 1950 he fled to Argentina and lived there under an assumed name for ten years until Israeli Mossad agents abducted him in 1960.
You may have noticed that the name Eichmann appears in Billy Joel’s song around 1961. That is the time he went on trial in Jerusalem for his crimes. He was found guilty on all counts, sentenced to death and hanged at the Ramleh Prison, May 31, 1962.
During the trial over 100 witnesses testified against him. He took the stand and used the defence that he was just obeying orders. “Why me?” he asked. “Why not the local policemen, thousands of them? They would have been shot if they had refused to round up the Jews. Why not hang them for not wanting to be shot? Why me? Everybody killed the Jews.”
During his trial he described the initial method of killing Jews, shooting and burying them. “The execution ditch had been covered with dirt, but blood was gushing out of the ground like a geyser due to the pressure from the bodily gasses of the deceased.”
You may be at this point be wondering why I chose such a morbid topic to talk about. I would be lying if I said it didn’t interest me a little, but the truth is that I think Eichmann is an extreme example of certain trends of human behaviour that are of relevance to us today.
Eichmann was gradually drawn into the Nazi Movements and the Gestapo, and he disregarded his sense of morality more and more. Eventually, he did not even think about what he was doing. It seemed right to him because everyone around him was doing the same thing and he saw his doings as simply carrying out orders. His story reveals how evil can be justified because it is organized and widely accepted. It taught me that no matter what people tell you to do, and no matter what everyone else is doing, you should do what you know is right for yourself. The Eichmann story is definitely a warning to every member of the human family.
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