Posts Tagged ‘Eichmann’

Don’t be fooled – Eichmann was a monster

January 19th, 2015

But the idea that Eichmann was a normal, banal bureaucrat who was just doing his job like any one of us is junk history. It is high time that we dismissed the televised image of the halting figure in the bulletproof box as being representative of Eichmann the man, and the system of which he was a part.

Eichmann was not just some cog in an industrialised and depersonalised killing machine, he was a keen instigator of genocide, a zealous bigot who eagerly forged a career out of anti?Semitism and extermination. We only have to read the words he uttered well before his abduction and trial to realise that he loved the job that involved marshalling an entire people to its destruction. He remarked that when he died, he would “jump into my grave laughing, because the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction”.

Eichmann did not just enjoy his work, he really believed in it. When he was hiding in Argentina after the war, he confided in a Dutch former SS man and journalist called Willem Sassen. “If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy,” he said. “I wasn’t only issued orders, otherwise I’d have been a moron, but rather I anticipated – I was an idealist.”

Eichmann on trial in 1961

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was an admirer. “Eichmann is 34 or 35 years old, a very active, adventurous man,” Höss said in April 1946, while he was imprisoned. “He felt that this act against Jews was necessary and was fully convinced of its necessity and correctness, as I was.” And no less a figure than the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, was also a fan. “If we had 50 Eichmanns,” observed Müller, “we would have won the war.”

So how did this come about, this contrast between the perception of Eichmann and the reality of the man? The answer is that when he was on trial, Eichmann was playing a part. He knew that acting the role of the anonymous, dutiful bureaucrat would do him more favours than presenting his true self. Unfortunately, observers such as Arendt were taken in by this performance.

There are many reasons why this error took hold. Perhaps the most important is that there was a strong need for people to believe that the enormity of genocide and anti?Semitism was rooted in something systemic, rather than being the product of a relatively small handful of crazed, but influential, individuals. When the Mossad found Eichmann living in a shack in a crummy part of Buenos Aires, the agents were appalled and even insulted that a man who had eradicated millions was not living in a huge, diabolical lair in the middle of the jungle. Somehow the size of the crime did not match up to the size of the man.

We can see this desire even today, when we look at what lies behind the recent murders of Jews in cities such as Paris and Marseille. Again, it is more palatable to suppose that the enemy is something large and systemic – in this instance, Islamism – rather than an increasing number of violent cranks who have perverted an ideology in an attempt to give their murderousness a sort of respectability.

Ultimately, we should realise that some people are not normal, and that they do not think like us. For want of a better word, the Eichmanns of this world are indeed monsters.

Guy Walters is the author of ‘Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Hunt to Bring Them to Justice’


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The man who shot Adolf Eichmann

January 18th, 2015

Fruchtman himself is now 88 and not strong enough to take part in an interview. But in an email during research for the programme he told Bowen he had been motivated by reading the philosopher George Santayana.

“I had been warned by one of my professors at Columbia University not to have unattainable expectations,” he wrote. “He said it was impossible for one ordinary person to affect the course of history, even in a minor way. But, fortunately, in my philosophy courses, I also heard [the Santayana saying], ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, and this dominated my thinking.”

Difficult as it might be for us to imagine today, in 1961 the world had still not faced up to the sheer scale of the Holocaust. Obviously, since the original newsreel footage of the death camps had played in cinemas in 1945, everyone was perfectly aware of what had happened. There was a sense, though, even in some communities in Israel, that people wanted to shut it out.

Milton Fruchtman (left), and Martin Freeman who plays the US producer in a new drama

Added to this, the Cold War had been freezing over; the authorities of the West were now focusing on their new enemies on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Fruchtman, a father of two young children, had been following closely the news that Eichmann had been tracked down to Buenos Aires and snatched by Mossad agents, then ingeniously smuggled out of the country in an El Al steward’s uniform. And he burned with a personal zeal to tell the world about Eichmann’s horrific crimes.

He also wanted to warn the world that the Nazi evil had not been wholly extinguished. In 1959 he had been in Munich, making a documentary about neo-Nazis for American TV. One evening, he accepted an invitation to a smart brasserie where Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda vehicle The Triumph of the Will was being screened. To Fruchtman’s indescribable horror, whenever Hitler’s image flickered up, there were cries around him in the audience of “Sieg Heil!”

He also visited a local fencing club. Once inside, he saw that portraits of Hitler and various Nazi leaders had been hung within. Club members clicked their heels to them.

So, as Eichmann sat in an Israeli jail, writing thousands of pages of self-justifying notes and memoirs, Fruchtman approached the court and asked for permission to film the forthcoming court case.

The judges were not sure. Would not the television cameras be an intolerable intrusion? Would filming not lead to accusations that Israel was staging a show trial?

But, as the processes of legal technicality ground on, Fruchtman went straight to the top.

He had interviewed David Ben-Gurion on camera on a previous occasion. Ben-Gurion was profoundly suspicious of the medium of television, regarding it as corrupting.

But Fruchtman persuaded him that the trial needed to be recorded and broadcast as widely as possible, not just to show a blood-soaked criminal being brought to justice – Eichmann was hanged the following year in 1962 – but also for the new embattled state of Israel to grab the world by the neck and force it to really listen to the horrors inflicted on Europe’s Jews.

And no one in Israel save him and his director, Leo Hurwitz, knew how to do it.

“In Israel they only knew how to shoot with film, and I wanted to use video,” he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2011. “The light in the courtroom was insufficient for film. Aside from this, at a trial you must work with four cameras. There is a huge amount of raw footage. It was impossible for the Israeli studios, from both economic and technical standpoints.”

Fruchtman, who successfully resisted an attempt by the NBC network to wrest the rights away from him, allayed one of the fears of the judges by building holes into the walls of the courtroom. Cameras were then placed in these holes to ensure they were as unobtrusive as possible.

And when the trial broadcast, which featured on the nightly news bulletins in 37 countries (including the UK), finally began, it had an instantaneous impact.

More than 100 Holocaust survivors appeared in the witness box. Each gave their searing personal testimony: of cattle trucks, dark winter forests, degrading brutality, starvation, torture, the decaying stench of death ever-present.

It thereafter became accepted throughout the West that the Holocaust should be discussed, loudly, its victims properly remembered, not hushed away into the shadows through shame. West Germany became galvanised to track down other war criminal fugitives.

The broadcast also changed the way the world saw wickedness. Eichmann, the architect of death on a scale that is still almost impossible to absorb, did not look like a mass murderer. Fifty-five years old, with receding hair, thick horn-rim spectacles, suit and tie, he projected an air of stolid dullness, summarised by writer Hannah Arendt’s haunting description: “The banality of evil.”

Viewers were transfixed by Fruchtman’s black and white video images that zoomed in on the defendant. They observed him, standing behind bullet-proof glass, every twitch of his face, every rolling “r’” of his deep-voiced self-serving responses. It was the first time such a figure had been held up to such public microscopic inspection.

The trial, for which Fruchtman won a Peabody award for excellence in broadcasting, still chills today, and the BBC drama uses real footage.

Eichmann had, from the earliest years of Hitler’s regime, been in charge of the forced movement of Jews. At first, via intimidation and violence, Jews were encouraged to leave Germany, then Austria, their goods and money stolen from them as they went. Then the anti-Semitism intensified step by step to a more terrifying frenzy: the yellow stars, the ghettoes, then the death trains, of which Eichmann was in charge.

His implacable logistics created the timetables of slaughter, the transportation of Jews to death camps. He was there at the 1942 Wannsee conference in Berlin where “the final solution” was discussed. He was responsible, among many other atrocities, for sending 400,000 Hungarian Jews to their deaths.

After the war, Eichmann hid himself; at first in Austria, where his wife attempted via the courts to have him declared dead, and then, in 1947, across the Atlantic to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where he worked in a water supply company and called himself Ricardo Klement.

And then, a year after Eichmann’s capture, came the trial (or quasi-trial, since it was a foregone conclusion – he would hardly have skipped out of that courtroom a free man). Eichmann never denied, like some, that he was there close to the heart of the Nazi regime; but his defence of his actions, under the unblinking scrutiny of Fruchtman’s cameras, was couched in such a way to suggest that he was powerless before the workings of a mighty regime.

He described his original Nazi role as “emigration specialist”. “Everything was geared to the idea of emigration,” he said. “But constant difficulties were caused by various offices in a bureaucratic manner.”

He claimed that he had supported the idea of a Jewish state to be established in Madagascar. His wider claim was that manifold obstructions and complications, which he was powerless to remove or solve, somehow resulted in a chain effect that led via cattle truck to the death camps. He was only one cog in an inexorable machine; responsibility lay elsewhere.

“Where there is no responsibility,” he said in a later session, “there can be no blame and no guilt.”

But he was lying about his ideological blankness. The German historian Bettina Stangneth, in her recent book Eichmann Before Jerusalem, examined more evidence, deemed inadmissible in that Jerusalem court: tape-recordings from the Fifties when, in Buenos Aires, Eichmann had socialised with Nazi Willem Sassen.

The quality was fuzzy, but Stangneth transcribed them more clearly. What they revealed was the essential Eichmann.

“I have to tell you quite honestly,” he declared to his friend, “that if… we had killed 10.3?million, I would be satisfied and say good, we have destroyed an enemy… what’s good for my volk is. for me, a holy command and a holy war.’”

One of the (many) shocking aspects of the televised trial was that Eichmann, who was found guilty of 15 charges of crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity, could not even feign remorse. Yet in a sense, how could he? His hatred of the Jews was at the core of him. How could such a man ever be ‘“de?Nazified”?

Yet this is also one of the reasons the televised Eichmann trials still fascinate. They force us to confront the central mystery of evil. Not so much that it is “banal”, precisely, but that it can look and sound so reasonable, like us.

And is there any conceivable way that men such as Eichmann could ever find redemption? By asking us all to look at him squarely, as opposed to simply reading his words, or his self-edited diaries, the television cameras challenged viewers to look into darkness deeper than they had wanted to admit existed.

The Eichmann Show is on BBC Two on January 20 at 9pm


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