How Guilty was Adolf Eichmann?

The trial of Eichmann was the most anticipated trial of the century being televised all over the world with many waiting to see if this prolific nazi commander would be prosecuted for his role in the Holocaust. In this essay, I will be discussing Eichmann as a character as well as his capture from Argentina. I will then discuss his role in the final solution as well as other crimes he committed. I will finally conclude about how guilty he may have been for this role.

Otto Adolf Eichmann was born on the 19th of March 1906 in Solingen Germany and grew up in the Austrian town of Linz. He then became a Miner for his father’s mining company during this time he ‘gave himself to the right-wing ideology of the Nazi Party’ he then joined the local Schutzstaffel or SS in April 1932. In January 1933, Eichmann returned to Germany where he was later assigned to lead a unit to smuggle and spread Nazi propaganda into Austria. Eichmann continued to rise up through the ranks of Nazi officials until he reached the rank of SS-Obersturmfurer or first lieutenant in July 1938. Eichmann was seen as one of the minds behind the final solution and helping the ‘dream’ come to fruition. Eichmann was responsible for the transport of Jews to these concentration camps where they would be ‘exterminated’ by use of the gas Zyklon B, a gas he claimed to have no knowledge about.

On the 11th of May 1960, Eichman was captured from Buenos Aries, Argentina by Israeli Mossad agents which included the famous Jewish Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Eichmann was then interrogated and signed a statement saying he will be extradited to Israel under his “own free will” to answer for his actions. In a letter from the Israeli Prime minister on the 7th of June 1960, the Israeli government declined any prior knowledge of the kidnapping and stated that volunteers seized him. The Argentian president stated that Israel broke Argentinas Sovereign law and the idea of “historical justice” does not make it okay. The council passed Resolution 138 which agreed that Argentina’s sovereignty had been violated and Israel should make reparations. However, Israel argued that if the Argentinian government knew who he was they would have never given him refuge in the first place. This dispute carried on until the 3rd of August where both countries released a joint statement agreeing that although Israel broke sovereign laws they will end the dispute and the trial of Adolf Eichmann can go forward. His trial commenced on April 11 1961, where he was to be prosecuted under the Nazi Collaborators Act 1950 and be indicted on 15 counts of war crimes against the Jewish people which included the ghettoisation, deportation, Forced labour, enslavement, starvation and extermination of the Jewish people. Eichmann maintained he knew nothing and was just a transportation expert and insisted he was just an agent following orders and never personally killed anybody. Despite his defence, the court adjourned on the 14th of August 1961 and the official verdict was read on the 12th of December, Eichmann was found guilty on all 15 counts of crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. He attempted unsuccessful Appeals between the 22nd of March 1962 and 29th of March 1962 but was subsequently hanged for his role on the 1st of June 1962 in Ramla, Israel.

There were many questions surrounding this trial. It has been regularly argued that the trial should not even have gone ahead let alone reach the conclusion of the death penalty. The legality of Eichmann’s kidnapping is very much argued as a reason why this trial should not have gone ahead despite signing a statement saying he would ‘willingly’ come to Israel which very much seemed like forced extradition after days of interrogation in Buenos Aires. Which breaks numerous Argentinian laws in the case of “historical justice” which Israel seemed to pay zero reparations for. The trial itself was based in Israel and the crimes that were committed occurred in Germany and it was stated that “Israel lacked authority to prosecute and inflict punishment on Eichmann for ‘foreign’ offences”. The majority of the trial was based on emotional testimonies and tugging on the heartstrings of the jury with the prosecutor mentioning other atrocities such as the Egyptians against the Jewish people to provoke emotions from the Israeli Jury which in itself is a biased jury who may be swayed by emotional attachment to the court case rather than the facts and figures provided by both sides. Eichmann’s main defence stated that he was just a transportation technician that was just a subordinate to Heinrich Muller, the Head of the Gestapo stating his job was “to obey and comply” (Sess. 68, 1961). Hannah Arendt was at the trial of Eichmann writing about the events that occurred and stated that Eichmann was a conformist who should not be held accountable for his actions. When viewing the trial she suggested that it was just a “show trial” that was built on the suffering of the jews rather than the crimes Eichmann committed due to the number of anecdotal evidence provided by the ‘witnesses’. She also states in defence of Eichmann that although he was a very intelligent person, he was also a thoughtless ideologue who was willing to abandon his independence and latches on to the “stringent locality” of any movement/government including that of a totalitarian state which is what the Nazi party was. Arendt claims that this ideology aims to transform human nature itself and that the law of Hitler’s land was to kill which is significantly different to that of a civilised culture. It was during this argument that she said that the ‘Nazi party corrupted the basis of Moral law’ and that “Good can be radical; evil can never be radical” stating that those carrying out the orders believed what they were doing was ‘right’. In further defence of Eichmann, she stated he became so obsessed with the technical details of the genocide he lost a view of the bigger picture. She also argued that anyone in his position would have carried out the same acts whether they believed it was right or not she labelled this the “The Banality of Evil”.This is “The thought that ordinary people can do monstrous things” which states are not merely just ‘ derived from psychology alone nor history alone but the convergence of the two’. There have been numerous studies to show that Ordinary people are willing to do evil things such as a study completed by Milgram. This study found that all participants went to the danger level of 300v and 65% proceeded all the way to 450v. Milgram then proceeded to ask the participants why they carried on and found they were following orders and believe it was noble of them to do so not necessarily evil (Milgram, 1963, 371). Another study that supports the concept of the banality of evil is Zimbardo’s prison study in which he assigned people the roles of prisoners and guards and found that those people in a place of power tend to be following orders that were strict and fair Zimbardo claimed that ‘acts of guard aggression were emitted simply is a “natural” consequence of being in the uniform of a “guard” and asserting the power Inherent in that role’. (Haney et al, 1973) During this study, Zimbardo constantly referred to the guards as “we” which gave them a sense of equality. In Adolf Hitler’s famous Stalingrad speech, he regularly uses the pronoun of “we” to get his officers to follow orders providing a sense of unity and togetherness which as shown by Zimbardo would increase the chances of following orders and carrying out stricter and more firm punishment. Haslem stated that “People do great wrong, not because they are unaware of what they’re doing but because they consider it right” this shows that Eichmann was only doing what he thought was right. Another study that supports Eichmann’s defence is a study by Christopher Browning called “Ordinary men” in where Reserve police battalion 101 murdered 40,000 Polish Jews. These officers were just ordinary men many with no prior convictions and were just officers with browning arguing ‘If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?’ (Browning, 1992, 189)

The main argument put forward in defending Eichmann is the fact Israel broke Sovereign law and wrongfully kidnapped Eichmann as potentially forced an agreement to be extradited. However, The District Court ruled that “an individual prosecuted for an offence against the laws of a State may not oppose his trial by reason of the illegality of his arrest or of the means whereby he was bought within the jurisdiction of that State”. Hannah Arendt also states that the Israelis had few alternatives to kidnapping him since extradition would be impossible with the Argentinians due to them refusing to cooperate (Lippman, 2002), Eichmann was one of the central architects of the final solution often carrying out commands in a more vicious way than intended. His hatred for the jews and his loyalty to the Nazi party knew no bounds. In 1942 Eichmann cancelled a train from Bordeaux because the local authorities only managed to arrest 150 jews, he then ordered the deportation of 4000 children to Auschwitz. His fellow officers including Rudolf Hoss the commander of Auschwitz described Eichmann as an active and largely independent administrator suggesting he acted on his own order on occasion. His chief assistant stated that he would leap with joy at being responsible for slaughtering 5 million Jews (Pearlman, 1963). Eichmann’s defence claimed he knew nothing about the gas Zyklon B however, official documents show that he participated in the selection of individuals for the gas (Lippman, 2002) as well as overseeing the burning bodies.

Hannah Arendt is seen to excuse Eichmann for his role in the ‘final solution’ putting the reasoning down to the Banality of evil and ‘anybody in his position would do the same thing’ However her analysis is only based on her limited viewing of the trial Cesarani claims that of she would have stayed through the whole trial she would have seen an Eichmann that strongly identifies with Anti Semitic views and Nazi Propaganda (Cesarani, 2004). Hannah Arendt states that Eichmann could be seen as only following orders due to him being an Ideologue however Sofsky claims that very few Nazis could claim to be seen as ‘simply following orders’due to the commands being given are usually very vague. So you had to use your imagination in order to interpret what they meant. Sofsky found that “Individuals demonstrated commitment by acting, on their own initiative, with greater brutality than their orders called for” (Sofksy, 1993, p.228). Stangneth used Eichmann’s personal journal and confirmed that Eichmann may have been an Ideologue but he she described him as an evil and commanding ideologue. Stangneth discovered various taped conversations where he said numerous things such as “if 10.3 million Jews that Korherr identified as we now know, we had killed 10.3 million, I would be satisfied” she also stated that “he reflected people’s fears and expectations, Like a mirror”.

Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s study on how the average person reacts to following orders are often used in defence of Eichmann however if both of these studies were put under scrutiny for how they were done they are found “wanting”. The way both Milgram and Zimbardo picked their participants was through advertising in a Newspaper. Carnahan and McFarland placed to advertisements in a Newspaper like both Milgram and Zimbardo. The first advert was an invitation for individuals to participate in a standard psychological experiment. The second followed the wording of the original advert for Zimbardo’s Stanford study — calling for people to participate ‘in a psychological study of prison life’. Those who responded to the second advert were very different from those who responded to the first and were more likely to get involved with the harsh life they believe exists in Prison. This study shows that both the Zimbardo and Milgram studies used people who want to participate in a more extreme way. Eichmann can therefore not be seen as just an ordinary man being forced to carry out order but a willing participant trying to please the Nazi leaders taking the matter into his own hands.

In Conclusion, Eichmann’s main defence was that he was just following orders however findings show that not only was he following orders he also carried them ou to a larger degree with more viciousness than intended to impress the Nazi Officials. Eichmann also lied and stated he knew nothing about Zyklon B but was very much a willing participant in the selection and cleaning up the process of this use. His fellow officers testified that he witnessed the gas being used and spoke about him as a character and his very apparent hatred for the Jewish people. Eichmann was guilty of not only his knowledge of the final solution but his willingness to carry it out due to his loyalty to the Nazi regime.

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