The Eichmann Files
Sixty years after Eichmann's capture, the evidence used against him is revealed.
"In all his activities the accused displayed indefatigable energy, verging on overeagerness towards advancing the Final Solution… He was not a puppet in the hands of others; his place was amongst those who pulled the strings... Even if we had found that the Accused acted out of blind obedience, as he argued, we would still have said that a man who took part in crimes of such magnitude as these over years must pay the maximum penalty known to the law, and he cannot rely on any order even in mitigation of his punishment. But we have found that the Accused acted out of an inner identification with the orders that he was given and out of a fierce will to achieve the criminal objective…" – Excerpts from the verdict and sentencing of Adolf Eichmann, December 1961.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo Department for Jewish Affairs known as IV B4, is an integral part of the consciousness of the Jewish people. One of the prevailing memories of the trial sessions in the Beit Ha'am community center in Jerusalem is the chilling testimonies of 121 Holocaust survivors.
But the criminal trial could not only rely on the survivors, only a few of whom actually saw Eichmann in person. Their testimonies were needed to highlight the unfathomable cruelty of the Nazis and the terrors of the Holocaust.
The discussions on Criminal Case No. 40/61 were based on the work of 15 Israel Police detectives, who were part of a special unit, Bureau 06. Their working assumption was that this was a murder trial and thus they needed evidence to prove Eichmann's senior role in organizing and implementing the Final Solution.
The conditions for launching the investigation – which began 60 years ago when Eichmann was captured and brought to Israel on May 21st, 1960 – were complicated. The war had ended 15 years earlier, the murder scenes spread across many states. The Bureau investigators hunted for documents that would speak for themselves and could not be refuted. Documents that could demonstrate Eichmann's infinite desire for the destruction of the Jewish people, and his key status in managing the transports to the death camps.
The investigators managed to get their hands on 400,000 pages of telegrams and letters from archives in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, as well as in the US too – which after the war collected tens of thousands of exchanges between the heads of the Nazi regime.
1,506 documents were filed by the court as "smoking guns" against Eichmann.
Out of all of these, 1,506 documents were filed by the court as "smoking guns" against Eichmann. They show how he insisted on reaching every single Jew, how he tried to cover up the extermination by using the phrase "special treatment," how he fumed that in his opinion, there were too few Jews on the death trains. And how he personally ensured that children were also sent to Auschwitz.
The police files have never been published and were transferred to the National Archives at the end of the trial. Copies were also given to Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Two years ago, Chief Inspector Dr. Yossi Hemi, a historian and the deputy head of the Israel Police Heritage Museum, took the materials: hundreds of boxes of brown files and yellowing paper. Hemi read through them anxiously and with dread, page by page, interrogation after interrogation.
Among the papers was a detailed diagram that Eichmann prepared by his own hand while he was readying for his trial. In them, he describes the structure of the Reich Defense Ministry and the chain of command in order to prove that he was just a cog in the system. The department he headed, the IV B4, is shown in the diagram as just one of many.
Hemi took all the evidence materials and turned them into a book and an exhibition on the police, which will be published soon.
Adolf Eichmann joined the Nazi party in 1932 when he was 26 years old, and was accepted into the SS, the party's paramilitary and intelligence organization. Two years later, he joined the Jewish Department, which became known as IV B4 department of the Central Office for Security of the Reich. At first, he looked into forced migration of Jews out of Germany, and even visited Haifa in October 1937 as part of these efforts, but came to the conclusion that Jews should not be encouraged to migrate to Mandate Palestine as the establishment of a Jewish state was not in the interest of the Third Reich.
Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem (Archives: GPO)
In 1939, Eichmann was appointed to head the Jewish Department, and two years later began to experiment with mass extermination using gas. On January 20th 1942, he attended the Wannsee Conference in the Berlin suburb. It was there that the plan to annihilate Europe's Jews was drawn up. Eichmann prepared the invitations for the various parties and prepared the records of the meeting.
In March 1942, the transports of Polish Jews to Auschwitz began, with tens of thousands killed in the gas chambers. Despite this, Eichmann did not give up on personally dealing with Selman Lipski, Moshe Bejman, David Cymermann and Abraham Itzkowicz from the Neuhof Ghetto in Poland.
One of the first documents in the investigation file is a telegram from April 17th, 1942 which shows how dedicated Eichmann was to the Final Solution. In the telegram, which was classified as secret and titled "Special Treatment of Jews", Eichmann writes to the head of the Gestapo in Ciechanow, Poland and says that under orders of the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, "the Special Treatment is to be carried out" on these four, without giving details of what that is precisely.
The explanation comes in another letter which he sends five weeks later, on May 23, when he again asks for "special treatment," this time for seven more Jews in the Ghetto: Szmerek Goldberg, Tasiemka Eliacz, Rafael Braun, Mendel Rubensztayn, Moszek Lewin, David Bryszkowski and David Zamiadyn. This time he explicitly writes that they "are to be hanged in the ghetto of Neuhof, in the presence of persons of their race. I request an implementation report."
These two letters, which proved Eichmann's direct involvement in the extermination and his unimaginable cruelty, were presented to him by Chief Inspector Avner Less, the only one of the investigators who was allowed to question him and whose mother tongue was German.
The response of the Nazi criminal was rambling and unintelligible. "It can clearly be understood from reading – an instruction to the Ciechanow Gestapo post, which had presented a suitable proposal to the Central Office for Security of the Reich. This proposal was sent onwards, by order of the Reichsfuehrer SS and Head of the German police [Himmler]. In this case, the IV B4 acted as was expected by all central agencies. An order was requested from higher up."
Less insisted on hearing what the "special treatment" was. "They were put to death," Eichmann responded, "but this issue, as I have already said – it was never in the hands of the IV B4 to give the orders to put them to death."
April and May of 1942 saw a turning point in the Nazi treatment of the Jews. It was no longer just Polish Jews; the first transports started to arrive from Holland, Belgium and mainly France. The Vichy puppet government, which ran France under the patronage of the Nazis, turned its Jewish citizens over to the Germans and helped send them to the extermination camps.
The Jews were put in the Drancy concentration camp, north of Paris. Documents found in the French government's archives show that the Vichy regime adhered to the Nazi narrative that the Jews were being transported to labor camps. On July 22nd 1942, the first deportation train from France left for Auschwitz, with 1,000 Parisian Jews on board.
But the Bureau 06 investigation uncovered previously unknown details. On July 14th, around 1900, Adolf Eichmann placed an angry call to Drancy following the cancellation of the first transport, which was supposed to go out the next day. The reason for the cancellation: It "only" had 150 Jews on it.
Eichmann spoke with Heinz Röthke, chief of the Department of Jewish Affairs in France. In his record, Röthke says he explained to Eichmann that he hadn't managed to find more Jews due to a lack of time, and that the transport was delayed because Eichmann told him he must have 1,000 Jews on the train "since it was a matter of prestige."
"[Eichmann says that]… nothing like this has happened to him before. It's very embarrassing," Röthke sums the main points of the call. "He didn't want to tell his superiors, to avoid embarrassing himself, and has to consider whether he wants to give up on France as a country that is marked for deportations. I asked him for this not to happen, and added that it wasn't our bureau's fault. I informed him that the rest of the trains would leave as planned."
A diagram of the Nazi chain of command, which Eichmann sketched in an attempt to prove that he only followed orders (Archives: GPO)
Röthke didn't disappoint his boss. Over the following months, after July 22nd, he sent dozens of trains from Drancy to Auschwitz, packed with Jews.
Bureau 06 investigators understood that the memorandum they were holding showed Eichmann's evil motivation and his intent to carry out the Final Solution. Less showed him the document but Eichmann continued with his evasive answers. "The content shows that the matter with the Transport Ministry of the Reich managed through much effort to get three transports. The transport was inserted into the schedule of the German Reich trains, and here is the transport that was canceled. Did I say 'This has never happened to me?' It's possible I said that. It's possible, it's possible."
Police investigators found a telegram that Röthke sent to Eichmann on 14 August 1942, marked urgent and secret and "for immediate delivery". In the telegram, he updates that on train number 901/14 which left that day from Drancy there were also children on board for the first time. He does not indicate their age or how many.
"The train left Drancy for Auschwitz at 8:55, and onboard there were 1,000 Jews, including children for the first time," Röthke reports dryly. "The detainees are per the guidelines we received. The head of the transport was given two copies of the list."
Röthke did not send the urgent telegram for no reason. The investigation showed that on July 10th, 1942 Eichmann was approached by Theodor Dannecker, Röthke's predecessor, who at the time was the commanding officer of the Final Solution in Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Dannecker wanted to ask his boss what the policy was on deporting children, since according to his calculations, 4,000 Jewish orphans would remain in France and the community facilities would not be able to take care of them all.
Eichmann noted the query and quickly implemented his monstrous policy. Children were included in every transport to Auschwitz.
Eichmann noted the query and quickly implemented his monstrous policy. After Röthke's letter, children were included in every transport to Auschwitz. In Poland, by comparison, children were put on the transports from the start.
Less: "Do you still claim that the destination of these transports, meaning Auschwitz, was only given to you at the last minute?"
Eichmann continues with his lies: "Chief Inspector, sir, I had to, of course, find it out for myself where these transports were headed. This is where the head of the transport gets a list, that he must present in Auschwitz. It was all planned, therefore. It wasn't decided by IV B4 under its authority. Here we received a principled order or instruction from Himmler."
Less: "So what then is the role of Jewish Affairs Department?"
"Chief Inspector sir, IV B4 never received orders to kill. Never. It never dealt with this issue, it was only about transport, that is what it dealt with."
Eichmann's fervor for exterminating the Jews broke new records over time. The investigation team was surprised to find the evidence showed his obsessiveness more than anything else. At least five telegrams told the story of the French engineer Avraham Weiss, a radar expert, who even had a few patents to his name:
In a secret telegram that Rothke sent to Eichmann on 12 November 1942, he states the name of 41-year-old Weiss, a resident of Nice. It was later learned that Rothke dealt with this at the request of a German army general.
"The aforementioned Jew was sent from Nice to the Jewish camp in Drancy," wrote Rothke. "When he entered the camp a file with written material was handed over, which showed that Weiss, an engineer, invented a new light bulb with four electric wires that can be operated, and patented them. The documents show that the invention may be used."
"The Jew himself believes it can be used during wartime, in a blackout during an aerial attack, for night lighting of trains, hospitals, signal stations, planes and airfields, and so on. I am sending the written documents separately, today. I await an order, if indeed the invention is valuable I need to know whether to send Weiss to Bergen Belsen, or to keep holding him in Drancy?"
These were the days when the Nazis completed the occupation of France, and Rothke wanted to check if he could keep the engineer Weiss from the transport, and use him for military needs. On December 17th Eichmann wrote Rothke: "Seeing as how, after checking the documents that were sent, it seems that the Jew Weiss has already handed his invention over to the patent office of the Reich. There is no need to discuss further. I ask to include him according to the guidelines for Jews."
A transcript of a telephone call between the general and Eichmann reveals a heated exchange between the two. The general shouts at Eichmann: "How dare you? I am a general in the Wehrmacht!" To which Eichmann responds: "And I am in the Obersturmbannführer of the SS [a rank parallel to Lieutenant Colonel]."
The engineer Weiss was put on the next transport from Drancy, and on January 20th,1943 arrived in Auschwitz. A few hours later he was murdered in the gas chambers.
In the first months of 1943, the Final Solution was at its peak. Hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over Europe were sent to the extermination camps in Poland – Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek, Treblinka, Chełmno and Bełżec. At the same time, Soviet forces had overcome the German army in the battle of Stalingrad.
Eichmann was searching for where there were more Jews so that he could continue his killing spree. He looked towards Norway, where there were just 2,170 Jews. Transferring Jews to Poland from the Scandinavian country in northern Europe necessitated special logistics, including the use of ships.
On the evening of February 25th, 1943, Eichmann sent a secret telegram to the Secret State Police in Szczecin, a port city in northwest Poland, headlined: "Dispatching Jews from Norway." In bold letters, it is made clear that this was an urgent matter that must be brought immediately to the police chief. Eichmann stressed in the telegram that 160 Jews from Norway will arrive in Szczecin the following day on their way to Auschwitz.
"I ask to transfer these Jews to Berlin, through communication with the state police chief in Berlin, to a place where they will be grouped with one of the next dispatches of Jews to Auschwitz. The transfer will be carried out using a few special carriages which will join on to a regular train. I ask that the proper security be ensured. I request that these Jews be added to the transfer of Jews to Auschwitz planned for March 1st 1943."
This document was presented at Eichmann's trial and demonstrates his eagerness to exterminate every Jew, even if it means transferring them at high cost via the sea. According to this document, Eichmann checked the quotas, set the dates and specified what type of carriages they would be in. And thus managed to exterminate 765 people – one-third of Norway's Jews.
When Less presented him with the telegram, Eichmann insisted that he was only a transport officer. "I didn't have all the authorities, but only permission to supervise the evacuation efforts of the security police in different countries and to report on every case … I received the order, but not everyone I deported was put to death. It was never brought to my attention who was put to death and who wasn't … as head of the IV B4, I wasn't authorized for everything, only for my area of responsibility which was quite narrow and limited."
On the eve of the Second World War, around 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands, most of them in Amsterdam. Almost all of them were well-off financially and held key positions in the economy. After the Nazi occupation in May 1940, their position deteriorated and in 1941, they started to be sent to concentration camps in Germany.
In the summer of 1942, their deportation to extermination camps began. On June 26th, the first 2,000 Jews were sent from Holland to Sobibor, under the guise of employment by the police. The transports left daily.
One of the most important documents uncovered by Bureau 06 was a two-page telegram sent to Eichmann on May 10th, 1943 by Wilhelm Zoepf, Referat IV B4 of the Department of Jewish Affairs for the Nazi occupiers in the Netherlands. The telegram, titled "Filling the Trains to the East," Zoepf reveals his plight: "the Reich Main Security Office has set the transfer of 8,000 Jews for May. On the first train for this month, on May 4th, 1,200 Jews were sent for departure. From May 1st, 1,450 Jews were ready (old and sick Jews from the Vught area). 1,630 Jews are ready in Westerbork for the third train.
"By adding prisoners and a campaign of premium headhunters, the maximum possible number by the end of the month will be 1,500 more Jews in Westerbork. Thus the total number of Jews for deportation in May will be 5,780. We are therefore missing at least another 2,200 Jews [to fill the quota] for the monthly obligation. The presented number must, however, be obtained at any cost by some sort of operation by the last week of May."
Zoepf, the telegram shows, feared Eichmann's wrath. He suggested making up the numbers by searching for Jews in Amsterdam who had yet to be caught, and with Jews who weren't yet meant to be sent to Auschwitz as they were working in munitions.
When this telegram was shown to Eichmann during his interrogation, he again portrayed himself as one who simply obeyed orders. "Of course I had an order from the Reichsführer [Himmler], who wanted the Reich's Transport Ministry to allow the largest number possible for shipping volume, one that would be cleared without delay and on time. If I was allotted eight trains for Holland, that means there were 8,000 for Holland. Now I read that on one train 1,200 were gotten rid of and on May 1st, 1,450 old and sick Jews. This, again, I don't understand. There are 2,200 more Jews missing. Well, they didn't get to it. I didn't ask for the numbers."
The story of Hungary's Jews is a painful example of Eichmann's determination. Throughout the war, Hungary was part of the Axis Powers, allies of Nazi Germany. In March 1944 Hungary asked to leave the pact, and turned to the Allies. In response, the German army invaded Hungary and occupied it. The Jews were marked with yellow stars, their possessions confiscated, and they were put into ghettos.
Since time was running out and losing the war seemed closer, Eichmann led the campaign for the quick annihilation of Hungary's Jews, with the help from those nicknamed in the Gestapo "the Eichmann Commando." He left his office in Berlin and traveled to Budapest to oversee the operation himself.
An urgent telegram dated April 24th, 1944, was sent to him by the Ambassador of Nazi Germany in Hungary, Edmund Veesenmayer. It describes the urgent preparations: "On 15 April the ghettoization began, and so far 150,000 thousand Jews are included. The operation will probably end next week, and according to estimates will eventually encompass 300,000 Jews.
"Next, the same type of work is planned for Transylvania, and other provinces near Romania. This is currently in the preparation stage. 250,000 – 300,000 more Jews must be included there. The planned destination is Auschwitz. Negotiations for transport have begun, and we are planning to begin them on May 15th by sending 8,000 Jews a day, mainly from the Carpathians. Afterward, and at the same time, the transports from the other ghettos will take place."
Between May 15th and July 7th, 1944 – a period of seven weeks – 147 trains containing 435,000 Jews were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. The cramped journey took 3-4 days, while the sick and elderly died en route. Whoever was left was exterminated in gas chambers shortly after arrival at the camp.
On June 30th, 1944, at the peak of the transport operation, Veesenmayer updated Eichmann and proudly stated that he had finished transporting 340,620 Jews – a record number for one and a half months. Every day more than 10,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in Auschwitz, in addition to the extermination of transports from other countries.
"On 29 June, all at once, a smaller operation began in the suburbs of Budapest, as a means of preparation," Veesenmayer continued to boast to Eichmann. "There are more special transports of 'diplomatic' Jews, educated and with many children, and professional workers."
During interrogation, Eichmann was asked about his personal involvement in Hungary, and he got tangled up with his answers: "As I said, I myself was there. I would not allow myself to ever dream that the difficulties in France and Holland, which are known from the files, and certainly Himmler and the head of the Security Police thought that in Hungary things would be even more difficult. That they [the difficulties – TA] would become enormous. I myself, Chief Inspector sir, as I traveled to Hungary, had nothing but worries in my head. I said in my heart, how should I do this, where should I start? Because there was no time to prepare, I didn't have any time to contact the authorities, to get any details."
Later on, Eichmann puts the blame on the heads of Budapest district. "I didn't have anything else to do, Chief Inspector sir. I needed to put the brakes on at times … the role I played and that my subordinates played in Hungary was in fact inactive. I never even saw one transport, I didn't have the authority to. The operation, I have to say, took place by itself."
Chief Inspector Less didn't give up and asked Eichmann again about his part, but the latter continued to deny: "My mission in Hungary was to assure the quick evacuation of all Jews to Auschwitz … The horrible discipline of the Hungarian Gendarmerie made my unit basically worthless. We only had to do routine things, like making connections with the authorities, who dealt with transport problems."
Less didn't give up: "And who oversaw the list of Jews who were deported to Auschwitz?"
Eichmann lied: "IVB4 didn't evacuate. The authority had to do that, meaning the independent authorities of the general government. In western Europe, the authority of the commander of the police security had to do it. In France – the French police, in Slovakia – the Slovakian authorities, in Romania – the Romanian authorities, and in Hungary – the Hungarian authorities."
Less: "Did you put together the transports?"
Eichmann: "Chief Inspector sir, of course. The transport schedule. The transports themselves were put together by the evacuating authority."
Up until May 31st, 1961, the day Eichmann was executed by hanging, he continued to maintain that he was just a cog in a system that only dealt with transportation and followed rules of his commanders, with Himmler at the top. But documents retrieved by Bureau 06 show that Eichmann received from Himmler the Iron Cross, a German medal for acts of heroism. In a personal letter sent to him on September 29th, 1944 it was noted that Eichmann earned this honor due to his excellent leadership over his "commando" in Hungary.
During his interrogation, Eichmann was shown the letter, and without blinking an eye he lied, saying the Iron Cross was given to him for the work he did for a hospital of the Wehrmacht.
Eichmann never admitted the real reason he got the medal, and never apologized for his crimes.
Only once, in an interview he gave to a Dutch Nazi journalist named Willem Sassen in 1958, he boasted: "I didn't just follow orders. If I was that kind of person, I would have been an imbecile. I thought and wondered about the essence of the orders given to me. I was an idealist."
This article, which was found by Bureau 06, was used as evidence against him.
Nine months of investigation, thousands of documents
From among those who took part in the Eichmann affair, from the Mossad agents who kidnapped him in Argentina, to the Holocaust survivors who testified in the trial, to the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, and the judges, Moshe Landau, Benjamin Halevy, and Yitzhak Raveh – the role of Bureau 06, whose work helped in convicting the Nazi criminal, was pushed aside.
The unit began working on May 25th at the Al Jalame detention center (Kishon prison in northern Israel today), where Eichmann was held. It was given its name because it was a sort of sixth department in the police headquarters, and also since the name symbolized the number of the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Deputy Commissioner Avraham Zelinger was appointed head of the unit, after heading the Northern Command, and his deputy was Commander Efraim Hofstatter, who had previously been head of investigations for the Tel Aviv Police Force.
The bureau was made up of three branches: Branch 1, which oversaw the gathering of evidence and documents and had 14 investigators; Branch 2, which comprised solely of the investigator, Chief Inspector Avner Less; and Branch 3, which managed the archive material brought to the country, and was made up of typists, translators, and citizens who dealt with sorting and photography of the documents.
The investigators worked for nine months on gathering the material. Thousands of documents came from Europe, from the Yad Vashem archives and the late Nazi hunter, Tuviah Friedman. The investigators wanted to prove through legal means that Eichmann was not a cog in the system, but managed a well-oiled extermination mechanism and was an integral part in the circle of decision-makers.
Every day the investigators analyzed dozens of documents, and in the evening convened for a meeting called "the reading of psalms." Each investigator presented the evidence he found and Hofstatter decided what would go into the investigation file.
Eichmann's questioning began on May 29th, 1960. After he told his life story, he was confronted with the evidence. Every signature of his on a document, every order to deport Jews, every telegram that dealt with transports – became evidence against him. The interrogation was conducted in German, and the video recording was transcribed and printed, and was given to Eichmann to verify. Only afterward were they translated into Hebrew.
Chief Inspector Dr. Yossi Hemi has been completely invested in the Eichmann affair for four years. As a historian at the Israel Police Heritage Centre & Museum, in the Israel National Police Academy near the city of Beit Shemesh, Hemi has lectured extensively about Bureau 06 and the Eichmann interrogation. If he hadn't decided to dive into the evidence files, much of the material may have been kept in the state archives.
"My job is to teach the legacy of and conduct historical research into Israel Police," he says. "We found out that the largest investigation the police ever conducted had not yet been researched properly. At first, we thought a lecture would suffice, but the more we learned about the case, and the Sisyphean work of the investigators, the manuscripts of the Nazi criminal, the banality of evil that arose from the documents – we felt as if we were traveling through time.
Out of the 400,000 pages, I read about half in the past four years.
"Out of the 400,000 pages, I read about half in the past four years. Two years ago, I understood that lectures would not be enough to tell the story of the Bureau, so the police decided to gather all the investigative material into a research book and to also have an exhibit. I chose specific countries, where the Holocaust was less told about, and not in Germany or Austria."
The book, titled Bureau 06: The Interrogation of Adolf Eichmann by Israel Police, was set to be published on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. "Much can be learned from the authentic investigative materials on the Final Solution and the way the transports were managed," says Hemi. "We understood we had to tell the story of the Bureau, of the investigators through their work, and I got a lot of help from an investigator at the Bureau, Micky Goldman.
"The book is the first academic research work about them. It sheds a light on the role of Bureau 06 after so many years. It is doubtful if Eichmann's conviction would have been so decisive without the letters and telegrams found and analyzed by those investigators."
This article originally appeared at https://www.israelhayom.com/2020/04/20/the-eichmann-files/