BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
EICHMANN: His Life and Crimes, by David Cesarani
, January 29, 2005
EICHMANN: His Life and Crimes
By David Cesarani
Hardback. Rec price: $59.95Adolf Eichmann remains one of the more controversial figures to emerge from Nazi Germany. Unlike Hitler, Himmler and Goering, his name meant little to the general public until he was abducted by the Israeli secret service from Argentina, brought to Israel where he was tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity, and executed.
Author David Cesarani argues that much of what was written in the wake of the abduction and trial did not fully analyse the career and complex character of Eichmann. This biography was written to explore comprehensively Eichmann's character and role in the Holocaust, utilising documents previously unavailable.Nazi personality type
Some commentators at the time of the trial argued that Eichmann had what they described as a Nazi personality type: he came from a dysfunctional family, had an unhappy childhood, failed to achieve success as a young adult and therefore turned to Nazism.
Others, in particular the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, argued that Eichmann was a mere functionary who fulfilled administrative tasks of the Holocaust in the same detached, efficient manner that other white-collar clerks fulfil their responsibilities.
In exploring Eichmann's life, in particular looking at his character and attitude towards the Jews, Cesarani contends that both interpretations are inadequate.
He argues that, in contrast to Hitler's childhood, there was little in Eichmann's childhood to suggest the formation of a monster.
Born in 1906, Eichmann was raised in Austria and described his own childhood as happy. The anti-Semitism of his youth and his right-wing nationalism were not atypical of that of his contemporaries. Joining the Nazi Party in Austria, just prior to its coming to power in Germany, he was sent to work for the party in Germany in 1934 where he held minor administrative posts.
Although he was given an early brief on Freemasonry, Eichmann soon specialised in Jewish affairs. In 1938 he was sent to Vienna where he was involved in Jewish emigration from the Reich. It was during this period that his prejudice against Jews deepened.
Whereas Eichmann at his trial tried to argue that, as a Nazi, he was merely a "career anti-Semite" as opposed to an "ideological" anti-Semite, Cesarani argues that his attitude and treatment of Jews changed at this time as, for the first time, and without any regrets, he took responsibility for the detention and deaths of Jews.
In his subsequent career, as Cesarini demonstrates, Eichmann's anti-Semitism hardened. Once the Nazi regime had determined to murder Europe's Jews, he relentlessly and zealously pursued Jews, expressing frustration when faced with logistical difficulties and the opposition of those, particularly in satellite states, who took steps to save Jewish lives.
This trait is particularly manifest in his work in Hungary in 1944 where he took all possible measures to have a Jewish population that had hitherto been largely spared from the Holocaust, deported. He played a pivotal role in rounding up Jews for deportation.
That he was personally determined to see Jews exterminated is all the more evident when his behaviour at the time is contrasted with other Nazis, who, foreseeing Germany's inevitable defeat, took a softer approach, fearing they would be implicated in postwar trials.
Cesarani also explores Eichmann's postwar life. Assuming a different identity, Eichmann lived in Europe until 1949, when he emigrated to Argentina, living in obscurity under the name of Ricardo Klement.
In 1960, however, he was abducted by the Israeli secret service and smuggled to Israel. The incident caused an international furore. The lengthy trial - particularly the problems with evidence - is examined at length by Cesarani. Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962.
Cesarini also examines Eichmann's legacy. His trial in Israel renewed interest in the Holocaust. The ensuing years saw many works by Jewish Holocaust survivors written and published and many memorials, study centres and university chairs established to perpetuate the memory of the victims.MacabreEichmann: His Life and Crimes
is a very well researched and interesting, albeit macabre, biography of one of the worst perpetrators of mass murder in history.
The author concludes by saying that that "the key to understanding Adolf Eichmann lies not in the man but in the ideas that possessed him ... Anyone subject to these processes might have behaved in the same way, be it in a totalitarian state or a democracy".
Nevertheless, Eichmann learned to hate and "learned so well that he was never able to understand that he acted wrongly."