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The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




The Second World War



Allied forces propaganda poster, 1943


With its attack on Poland in September 1939, the German Nazi regime under Hitler initiated the most devastating military conflict in world history to date. Before the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, World War II claimed the lives of some 62 million people. The heavily ideological aspect of the war led to incomprehensible crimes against humanity. World War II fundamentally altered the international political situation. The victorious United States and the Soviet Union became the leading world powers.


Germany in 1945

The Allied victors laid out the political and economic framework for the reorganization of Germany at the Potsdam Conference. Reconstruction from the ruins began.


In accordance with the agreements of the Allied war conferences, the victorious powers divided German territory into American, British, Soviet, and French 9 occupation zones.

Concurrently, Berlin and Vienna were subdivided into four city sectors. At the conference in 8 Potsdam in July 1945, new US President Harry S. Truman, Stalin, and Churchill—who was later replaced by the new prime minister Clement Attlee—emphasized their common responsibility for Germany.

An 10 Allied Control Council was to exercise the supreme power of governance.

The German economy would be placed under Allied control. The victors agreed upon demilitarization, denazification, and decentralization as the political principles for rebuilding Germany. The principles were later divergently implemented according to the individual ideology in the occupation zones.

9 Guards on the border between the American and the Soviet occupation zones in Berlin

8 Potsdam Conference in July 1945. Seated from left to right: Attlee. Truman, and Stalin

10 Seat of the Allied Control Council in
Berlin-Schoneberg, 1954

Beginning in November 1945, the leading representatives of the Nazi regime were 12 put on trial in Nuremberg for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace (aggression).

Most of the representatives were hanged. The examination of every individual German as to his or her involvement in the Nazi system was only halfheartedly pursued with the beginning of the East-West conflict.

As planned in the Allied war conferences, the north of East Prussia was permanently annexed to the Soviet Union and the remaining German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were made part of Poland. The resettlement of the German population of Eastern Europe was approved.

More than 16 million Germans were 14 driven out, often brutally; more than two million died while fleeing.

Meanwhile, in the 15 ruins of Germany, reconstruction began.

12 One of the main defendants tried in Nuremberg: Hermann Goring, 1945

14 Refugees arrive in Berlin, 1945

15 Munich in ruins, 1945

Unlike during the period after 1918, the victors supplied fuel and food to the starving.

Women primarily accomplished the heavy labor of clearing the cities of 11 rubble.

The first steps toward democracy were taken under Allied control with the reestablishment of the Social Democratic and other political parties in June 1945.

Culturally there was also a rebirth; newspapers boomed, and the theaters and concert halls were once again overfilled.

16 Women clear the rubble in Berlin, 1945

11 Boy cycling through the rubble, Berlin, 1945

13 Poster for a cafe with dancing,
among the ruins of Hannover, 1946



Potsdam Conference

Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin;
Sitting (from left): Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin,
and behind: William Daniel Leahy, Ernest Bevin,
James F. Byrnes and Vyacheslav Molotov.

World War II

(July 17–Aug. 2, 1945), Allied conference of World War II held at Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. The chief participants were U.S. President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (or Clement Attlee, who became prime minister during the conference), and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.

The conferees discussed the substance and procedures of the peace settlements in Europe but did not attempt to write peace treaties. That task was left to a Council of Foreign Ministers. The chief concerns of the Big Three, their foreign ministers, and their staffs were the immediate administration of defeated Germany, the demarcation of the boundaries of Poland, the occupation of Austria, the definition of the Soviet Union’s role in eastern Europe, the determination of reparations, and the further prosecution of the war against Japan. The amity and good will that had largely characterized former wartime conferences was missing at Potsdam, for each nation was most concerned with its own self-interest, and Churchill particularly was suspicious of Stalin’s motives and unyielding position.

The Potsdam Conference’s Declaration on Germany stated, “It is the intention of the Allies that the German people be given the opportunity to prepare for the eventual reconstruction of their life on a democratic and peaceful basis.” The four occupation zones of Germany conceived at the Yalta Conference were set up, each to be administered by the commander-in-chief of the Soviet, British, U.S., or French army of occupation. Berlin, Vienna, and Austria were also each divided into four occupation zones. An Allied Control Council made up of representatives of the four Allies was to deal with matters affecting Germany and Austria as a whole. Its policies were dictated by the “five Ds” decided upon at Yalta: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization, and deindustrialization. Each Allied power was to seize reparations from its own occupation zones, although the Soviet Union was permitted 10–15 percent of the industrial equipment in the western zones of Germany in exchange for agricultural and other natural products from its zone.

Poland’s boundary became the Oder and Neisse rivers in the west, and the country received part of former East Prussia. This necessitated moving millions of Germans in those areas to Germany. The governments of Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria were already controlled by communists, and Stalin was adamant in refusing to let the Allies interfere in eastern Europe. While in Potsdam, Truman told Stalin about the United States’ “new weapon” (the atomic bomb) that it intended to use against Japan. On July 26 an ultimatum was issued from the conference to Japan demanding unconditional surrender and threatening heavier air attacks otherwise. After Japan had rejected this ultimatum, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The protocols of the Potsdam Conference suggested continued harmony among the Allies, but the deeply conflicting aims of the Western democracies on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other in fact meant that Potsdam was to be the last Allied summit conference.




Nurnberg trials

Nuremberg Trials. Defendants in their dock, circa 1945-1946.
(in front row, from left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel
(in second row, from left to right): Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel

World War II trials
Nürnberg also spelled Nuremberg

series of trials held in Nürnberg, Germany, in 1945–46, in which former Nazi leaders were indicted and tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. The indictment lodged against them contained four counts:

(1) crimes against peace (i.e., the planning, initiating, and waging of wars of aggression in violation of international treaties and agreements),
(2) crimes against humanity (i.e., exterminations, deportations, and genocide),
(3) war crimes (i.e., violations of the laws of war), and
(4) "a common plan or conspiracy to commit" the criminal acts listed in the first three counts.

The authority of the International Military Tribunal to conduct these trials stemmed from the London Agreement of August 8, 1945. On that date, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France signed an agreement that included a charter for an international military tribunal to conduct trials of major Axis war criminals whose offenses had no particular geographic location. Later, 19 other nations accepted the provisions of this agreement. The tribunal was given the authority to find any individual guilty of the commission of war crimes (counts 1–3 listed above) and to declare any group or organization to be criminal in character. If an organization was found to be criminal, the prosecution could bring individuals to trial for having been members, and the criminal nature of the group or organization could no longer be questioned. A defendant was entitled to receive a copy of the indictment, to offer any relevant explanation to the charges brought against him, and to be represented by counsel and confront and cross-examine the witnesses.

The tribunal consisted of a member plus an alternate selected by each of the four signatory countries. The first session, under the presidency of General I.T. Nikitchenko, the Soviet member, took place on October 18, 1945, in Berlin. At this time, 24 former Nazi leaders were charged with the perpetration of war crimes, and various groups (such as the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police) were charged with being criminal in character. Beginning on November 20, 1945, all sessions of the tribunal were held in Nürnberg under the presidency of Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence (later Baron Trevethin and Oaksey), the British member.

Former Nazi leader Hermann Göring stands in the prisoner’s box during the Nürnberg trials.

After 216 court sessions, on October 1, 1946, the verdict on 22 of the original 24 defendants was handed down.

(Robert Ley committed suicide while in prison, and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach’s mental and physical condition prevented his being tried.)

Three of the defendants were acquitted: Hjalmar Schacht, Franz von Papen, and Hans Fritzsche.

Four were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years: Karl Dönitz, Baldur von Schirach, Albert Speer, and Konstantin von Neurath.

Three were sentenced to life imprisonment: Rudolf Hess, Walther Funk, and Erich Raeder.

Twelve of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging. Ten of them—Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Arthur Seyss-Inquart—were hanged on October 16, 1946. Martin Bormann was tried and condemned to death in absentia, and Hermann Göring committed suicide before he could be executed.

In rendering these decisions, the tribunal rejected the major defenses offered by the defendants. First, it rejected the contention that only a state, and not individuals, could be found guilty of war crimes; the tribunal held that crimes of international law are committed by men and that only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced. Second, it rejected the argument that the trial and adjudication were ex post facto. The tribunal responded that such acts had been regarded as criminal prior to World War II.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Nuremberg judges, left to right: John Parker, Francis Biddle, Alexander Volchkov,
Iola Nikitchenko, Geoffrey Lawrence, Norman Birkett


The main trial

The International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and six criminal organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the High Command of the German armed forces (OKW).

The 24 accused were:


Martin Bormann
Successor to Hess as Nazi Party Secretary. Sentenced to death in absentia. Remains found in 1972 and dated to 1945. Death

Karl Dönitz
Leader of the Kriegsmarine from 1943, succeeded Raeder. Initiator of the U-boat campaign. Became President of Germany following Hitler's death. In evidence presented at the trial of Karl Dönitz on his orders to the U-boat fleet to breach the London Rules, Admiral Chester Nimitz stated that unrestricted submarine warfare was carried on in the Pacific Ocean by the United States from the first day that nation entered the war. Dönitz was found guilty of breaching the 1936 Second London Naval Treaty, but his sentence was not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare. 10 years

Hans Frank
Reich Law Leader 1933–1945 and Governor-General of the General Government in occupied Poland 1939–1945. Expressed repentance. Death

Wilhelm Frick
Hitler's Minister of the Interior 1933–1943 and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia 1943–1945. Authored the Nuremberg Race Laws. Death

Hans Fritzsche
Popular radio commentator, and head of the news division of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Tried in place of Joseph Goebbels. Acquitted

Walther Funk
Hitler's Minister of Economics. Succeeded Schacht as head of the Reichsbank. Released due to ill health on 16 May 1957. Died 31 May 1960.

Hermann Göring
Reichsmarschall, Commander of the Luftwaffe 1935–1945, Chief of the 4-Year Plan 1936–1945, and several departments of the SS. Second only to Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy during the last years of the war. Committed suicide the night before his execution. Death

Rudolf Hess
Hitler's deputy, flew to Scotland in 1941 in attempt to broker peace with Great Britain. After trial, committed to Spandau Prison; died in 1987. Life Imprisonment

Alfred Jodl
Wehrmacht Generaloberst, Keitel's subordinate and Chief of the OKW's Operations Division 1938–1945. Subsequently exonerated by German court in 1953, though the exoneration was later overturned, largely as a result of pressure by American officials. Death

Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Highest surviving SS-leader. Chief of RSHA 1943–45, the central Nazi intelligence organ. Also commanded many of the Einsatzgruppen and several concentration camps. Death

Wilhelm Keitel
Head of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 1938–1945. Death

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach
Major Nazi industrialist. C.E.O of Krupp A.G 1912–45. Medically unfit for trial (died January 16, 1950). The prosecutors attempted to substitute his son Alfried (who ran Krupp for his father during most of the war) in the indictment, but the judges rejected this as being too close to trial. Alfried was tried in a separate Nuremberg trial for his use of slave labor, thus escaping the worst notoriety and possibly death.

Robert Ley
Head of DAF, The German Labour Front. Suicide on 25 October 1945, before the trial began.

Baron Konstantin von Neurath
Minister of Foreign Affairs 1932–1938, succeeded by Ribbentrop. Later, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia 1939–43. Resigned in 1943 due to dispute with Hitler. Released (ill health) 6 November 1954 after having a heart attack. Died 14 August 1956. 15 years

Franz von Papen
Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and Vice-Chancellor under Hitler in 1933–1934. Ambassador to Austria 1934–38 and ambassador to Turkey 1939–1944. Although acquitted at Nuremberg, von Papen was reclassified as a war criminal in 1947 by a German de-Nazification court, and sentenced to eight years' hard labour. He was acquitted following appeal after serving two years. Acquitted

Erich Raeder
Commander In Chief of the Kriegsmarine from 1928 until his retirement in 1943, succeeded by Dönitz. Released (ill health) 26 September 1955. Died 6 November 1960. Life Imprisonment

Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ambassador-Plenipotentiary 1935–1936. Ambassador to the United Kingdom 1936–1938. Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs 1938–1945. Death

Alfred Rosenberg
Racial theory ideologist. Later, Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories 1941–1945. Death

Fritz Sauckel
Gauleiter of Thuringia 1927–1945. Plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program 1942–1945. Death

Dr. Hjalmar Schacht
Prominent banker and economist. Pre-war president of the Reichsbank 1923–1930 & 1933–1938 and Economics Minister 1934–1937. Admitted to violating the Treaty of Versailles. Acquitted

Baldur von Schirach
Head of the Hitlerjugend from 1933 to 1940, Gauleiter of Vienna 1940–1943. Expressed repentance. 20 years

Arthur Seyss-Inquart
Instrumental in the Anschluss and briefly Austrian Chancellor 1938. Deputy to Frank in Poland 1939–1940. Later, Reich Commissioner of the occupied Netherlands 1940–1945. Expressed repentance. Death

Albert Speer
Hitler's favorite architect and close friend, and Minister of Armaments from 1942. In this capacity, he was ultimately responsible for the use of slave laborers from the occupied territories in armaments production. Expressed repentance. 20 Years

Julius Streicher
Gauleiter of Franconia 1922–1940. Publisher of the weekly newspaper, Der Stürmer. Death




Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal; Simon Wiesenthal Center; Simon Wiesenthal at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.


born December 31, 1908, Buczacz, Austria-Hungary [now Buchach, Ukraine]
died September 20, 2005, Vienna, Austria

founder and head (1961–2003) of the Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna. Wiesenthal was a longtime Nazi-hunter who, with the cooperation of the Israeli, West German, and other governments, tracked down more than 1,000 war criminals.

Wiesenthal received a degree in architectural engineering from the Technical University of Prague (1932) and settled in Lwów, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine). When the city was seized by the Soviet Union in 1939, he had to close his “bourgeois” architectural practice but avoided being exiled to Siberia by bribing a commissar of the NKVD (Soviet secret police). After the Germans replaced the Soviet occupiers at Lwów in 1941, he was dragooned into forced labour and spent the last three years of the war evading death in a series of labour and concentration camps. Wiesenthal was a prisoner at Mauthausen when the camp was liberated in 1945. Eighty-nine members of his and his wife’s Jewish families were killed by the Nazis, but, after the end of World War II, he and his wife (who had managed to pass as a Pole for much of the war) were reunited.

As soon as he had recovered his health, Wiesenthal began helping the U.S. Army gather evidence with which to prosecute Nazi war criminals. In Linz, Austria, in 1947, he and 30 volunteers opened the Documentation Centre on the Fate of Jews and Their Persecutors for the purpose of aiding Jewish refugees and providing evidence for war crimes trials. In 1954 the Linz office closed and its files were conveyed to Israel, but Wiesenthal continued on his own to ferret out former Nazis. He helped locate Adolf Eichmann, who was arrested in 1960 in Argentina. The following year Wiesenthal opened the Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna and, over the years, sought out Gestapo agents, SS officers, and other Nazis for trials, principally in West Germany. In 1967 he was primarily responsible for locating Fritz Stangl, the former commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps. In 1977 he helped establish the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which sought to preserve the memory of the Holocaust while also combating racism, anti-Semitism, and genocide. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the organization later opened offices around the world. In 2003 Wiesenthal announced his retirement from the Jewish Documentation Centre.

Wiesenthal wrote a number of books, including KZ. Mauthausen (1946; “Concentration Camp Mauthausen”), Ich jagte Eichmann (1961; “I Hunted Eichmann”), Verjährung (1964; “Statute of Limitations”), The Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs (1967), Segel der Hoffnung (1972; Sails of Hope), and Der Fall Jaworska (1975; “The Case of Jaworska”). He received numerous awards, including the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (1980) and the French Legion of Honour (1986). In 2004 he was made an honorary knight.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





The Trial of Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann

German military official
in full Karl Adolf Eichmann

born March 19, 1906, Solingen, Germany
died May 31, 1962, Tel Aviv, Israel

German high official who was hanged by the state of Israel for his part in the Holocaust, the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II.

During World War I, Eichmann’s family moved from Germany to Linz, Austria. His pre-Nazi life was rather ordinary. He worked as a traveling salesman in Oberösterreich (Upper Austria) for an oil company but lost his job during the Great Depression.

Eichmann joined the Nazi Party in April 1932 in Linz and rose through the party hierarchy. In November 1932 he became a member of Heinrich Himmler’s SS, the Nazi paramilitary corps, and, on leaving Linz in 1933, he joined the terrorist school of the Austrian Legion at Lechfeld, Germany. From January to October 1934 he was attached to an SS unit at Dachau and then was appointed to the SS Sicherheitsdienst (“Security Service”) central office in Berlin, where he worked in the section that dealt with Jewish affairs. He advanced steadily within the SS and was sent to Vienna after the annexation of Austria (March 1938) to rid the city of Jews. One year later, with a similar mission, he was sent to Prague. When in 1939 Himmler formed the Reich Security Central Office, Eichmann was transferred to its section on Jewish affairs in Berlin.

In January 1942, at Wannsee, near Berlin, a conference of Nazi high officials was convened to organize the logistics of what the Nazis called the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Eichmann was to coordinate the details; thus, although it was not yet generally known that the “final solution” was mass execution, Eichmann had in effect been named chief executioner. Thereupon he organized the identification, assembly, and transportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to their final destinations at Auschwitz and other extermination camps in Poland.

Following the war, U.S. troops captured Eichmann, but in 1946 he escaped from a prison camp. After dodging in and out of the Middle East for several years, Eichmann settled in Argentina in 1958. He was arrested by Israeli secret service agents near Buenos Aires, Argentina, on May 11, 1960; nine days later they smuggled him out of the country and took him to Israel. After settling the controversy that arose over this Israeli violation of Argentine law, the Israeli government arranged his trial before a special three-judge court in Jerusalem. Eichmann’s trial was controversial from the beginning. The trial—before Jewish judges by a Jewish state that did not exist until three years after the Holocaust—gave rise to accusations of ex post facto justice. Some called for an international tribunal to try Eichmann, and others wanted him tried in Germany, but Israel was insistent. At stake was not only justice but also honour, as well as an opportunity to educate a new generation about the Holocaust.

Under questioning, Eichmann claimed not to be an anti-Semite. He stated that he disagreed with the vulgar anti-Semitism of Julius Streicher and others who contributed to the periodical Der Stürmer. Describing an earlier trip to Haifa, he said that he was more interested in the Jews than the Arabs. He said that he subscribed to Jewish periodicals and had bought the Encyclopedia Judaica. Moreover, he claimed to have read Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State but said that he had never read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf thoroughly or closely and that he had never read the anti-Semitic tract Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

Eichmann presented himself as an obedient bureaucrat who merely carried out his assigned duties. As for the charges against him, Eichmann maintained that he had not violated any law and that he was “the kind of man who cannot tell a lie.” Denying responsibility for the mass killings, he said, “I couldn’t help myself; I had orders, but I had nothing to do with that business.” He was evasive in describing his role in the extermination unit and claimed that he was responsible only for transport. “I never claimed not to know about the liquidation,” he testified. “I only said that Bureau IV B4 [Eichmann’s office] had nothing to do with it.”

Eichmann even professed personal discomfort at hearing about the workings of a gassing installation: “I was horrified. My nerves aren’t strong enough. I can’t listen to such things—such things, without their affecting me." Of his observation of a gassing van in operation at Chelmno, he said, “I didn’t look inside; I couldn’t. Couldn’t! What I saw and heard was enough. The screaming and…I was much too shaken and so on.” He averred that he had continued to oversee the deportation of victims but that he sought to keep his distance from the actual killing.

Eichmann was not the first Nazi defendant to argue obedience and adherence to the law. While he denied his ultimate responsibility, he seemed proud of his effectiveness in establishing efficient procedures to deport millions of victims. However, Eichmann did more than merely follow orders in coordinating an operation of this scale. He was a resourceful and proactive manager who relied on a variety of strategies and tactics to secure scarce cattle cars and other equipment used to deport Jews at a time when equipment shortages threatened the German war effort. He repeatedly devised innovative solutions to overcome obstacles.

His trial lasted from April 11 to December 15, 1961, and Eichmann was sentenced to death, the only death sentence ever imposed by an Israeli court. Eichman was hanged on May 31, 1962, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

While Eichmann’s trial was itself controversial, an even greater controversy followed the trial. Hannah Arendt, a German-born American political philosopher covered the trial for the New Yorker. Later published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her articles’ portrayal of Eichmann as banal rather than demonic provoked a storm of debate that lasted for almost a decade.

Michael Berenbaum

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Adolf Eichmann; Eichmann on trial, 1961; Eichmann in Jerusalem court.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Otto Adolf Eichmann (March 19, 1906 – May 31, 1962), sometimes referred to as "the architect of the Holocaust", was a Nazi and SS-Obersturmbannführer (equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel). Because of his organizational talents and ideological reliability, he was charged by Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich with the task of facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

After the war, he travelled to Argentina using a fraudulently obtained laissez-passer issued by the International Red Cross and lived there under a false identity working for Mercedes-Benz until 1960. He was captured by Israeli Mossad operatives in Argentina and tried in an Israeli court on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was convicted and hanged in 1962.

Early life
Born in Solingen, Germany, Adolf Eichmann was the son of a businessman and industrialist, Adolf Karl Eichmann, and Maria née Schefferling. In 1914, his family moved to Linz, Austria, after his mother died. During the First World War, Eichmann's father served in the Austro-Hungarian Army. At the war's conclusion, Eichmann's father returned to the family and had a business in Linz. Eichmann left high school—Realschule—without having graduated and began training to become a mechanic, which he also discontinued. In 1923 he started working in the mining company of his father, from 1925 to 1927 he worked as a salesclerk for the Oberösterreichische Elektrobau AG and then until spring 1933 Eichmann worked as district agent for the Vacuum Oil Company AG, a subsidiary of Standard Oil. In July 1933 he moved back to Germany.

Eichmann married Veronica Liebl (1909–1997) on March 21, 1935. The couple had four sons: Klaus Eichmann (b. 1936 in Berlin), Horst Adolf Eichmann (b. 1940 in Vienna), Dieter Helmut Eichmann (b. 1942 in Prague), and Ricardo Francisco Eichmann (b. 1955 in Buenos Aires).

Work with the Nazi Party and the SS
On the advice of family friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Eichmann joined the Austrian branch of the NSDAP—member number 889 895—and of the Schutzstaffel (SS). He enlisted on April 1, 1932, as an SS-Anwärter (Candidate). He was accepted as a full SS member that November, appointed an SS-Mann (Man), and assigned the SS number 45326.

For the next year, Eichmann was a member of the Allgemeine SS and served in a mustering formation operating from Salzburg. In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, Eichmann returned to Germany and submitted an application to join the active duty SS regiments. He was accepted, and in November 1933, was promoted to Scharführer (Squad Leader) and assigned to the administrative staff of the Dachau concentration camp.

By 1934, Eichmann requested transfer into the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) which had, by that time, become a very powerful and feared organization. Eichmann's transfer was granted in November 1934, and he was assigned to the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in Berlin. In 1935, Eichmann was promoted to Hauptscharführer (Head Squad Leader) and later commissioned as an SS-Untersturmführer in 1937.

In 1937, Eichmann was sent to the British Mandate of Palestine with his superior Herbert Hagen to assess the possibilities of massive Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine. They landed in Haifa but could obtain only a transit visa so they went on to Cairo. There, they met Feival Polkes, an agent of the Haganah, who discussed with them the plans of the Zionists and tried to enlist their assistance in facilitating Jewish emigration from Europe. According to an answer Eichmann gave at his trial, he had also planned to meet Arab leaders in Palestine, but this never happened because entry to Palestine was refused by the British authorities. The British objected against a Jewish state in Palestine, so the idea of deporting all the European Jews to Palestine was abandoned.

In 1938, Eichmann was assigned to Austria to help organize SS Security Forces in Vienna after the Anschluss of Austria moved into Germany. Through this effort, Eichmann was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lieutenant) and, by the end of 1938, Eichmann had been selected by the SS leadership to form the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, charged with forcibly deporting and expelling Jews from Austria.

World War II
At the start of World War II, Eichmann had been promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and had made a name for himself with his Office for Jewish Emigration. Through this work Eichmann made several contacts in the Zionist movement, which he worked with to speed up Jewish emigration from the Third Reich.

Eichmann returned to Berlin in 1939 after the formation of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office). In December 1939, he was assigned to head RSHA Referat IV B4, the RSHA department which dealt with Jewish affairs and evacuation. He was Heinrich "Gestapo" Müller's subordinate. In August 1940, he released his Reichssicherheitshauptamt: Madagaskar Projekt (Reich Main Security Office: Madagascar Project), a plan for forced Jewish deportation that never materialized. He was promoted to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) in late 1940, and less than a year later to Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel).

Heydrich disclosed to Eichmann in autumn 1941 that all the Jews in German-controlled Europe were to be exterminated. In 1942, Heydrich ordered Eichmann to attend the Wannsee Conference as recording secretary, where Germany's anti-Semitic measures were set down into an official policy of genocide. Eichmann was given the position of Transportation Administrator of the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", which put him in charge of all the trains which would carry Jews to the death camps in the territory of occupied Poland.

In 1944, he was sent to Hungary after Germany had occupied that country in fear of a Soviet invasion. Eichmann at once went to work deporting Jews, sending 430,000 Hungarians to their deaths in the gas chambers.

By 1945, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had ordered Jewish extermination to be halted and evidence of the Final Solution to be destroyed. Eichmann was appalled by Himmler's turnabout, and continued his work in Hungary against official orders. Eichmann was also working to avoid being called up in the last ditch German military effort, since a year before he had been commissioned as a Reserve Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS and was now being ordered to active combat duty.

Eichmann fled Hungary in 1945 as the Soviets entered, and he returned to Austria, where he met up with his old friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Kaltenbrunner, however, refused to associate with Eichmann since Eichmann's duties as an extermination administrator had left him a marked man by the Allies.


After World War II
At the end of World War II, Eichmann was captured by the U.S. Army, who did not know that this man who presented himself as Otto Eckmann was in fact a much bigger catch. Early in 1946, he escaped from U.S. custody and hid in various parts of Germany for a few years. In 1948 he obtained a landing permit for Argentina, but did not use it immediately.

At the beginning of 1950, Eichmann went to Italy, where he posed as a refugee named Riccardo Klement. With the help of a Franciscan friar who had connections with Bishop Alois Hudal, who organized one of the first postwar escape routes for Axis personnel, Eichmann obtained an International Committee of the Red Cross humanitarian passport in Geneva and an Argentine visa. Both of these issued to "Riccardo Klement, technician." In early May 2007, this fake passport was discovered in court archives in Argentina by a student doing research on Eichmann's abduction. The passport has been handed to the Argentina Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires. He boarded a ship heading for Argentina on July 14, 1950. For the next 10 years, he worked in several odd jobs in the Buenos Aires area—from factory foreman, to junior water engineer and professional rabbit farmer. Eichmann also brought his family to Argentina.


CIA inaction
In June 2006, old CIA documents about Nazis and stay-behind networks dedicated to anti-communism were released. Among the 27,000 documents was a March 1958 memo from the German BND agency to the CIA, which stated that Eichmann was reported to have lived in Argentina since 1952 using the alias "Clemens". However, the CIA took no action on this information, because Eichmann's arrest could embarrass the US and Germany by turning public attention to the former Nazis they had recruited after World War II. For example, the West German government, headed by Konrad Adenauer, was worried about what Eichmann might say, especially about the past of Hans Globke, Adenauer's national security adviser, who had worked with Eichmann in the Jewish Affairs department and helped draft the 1935 Nuremberg Laws.

At the request of Bonn (the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990) the CIA persuaded Life magazine to delete any reference to Globke from Eichmann's memoirs, which it had bought from his family. By the time the CIA and the BND had this information, Israel had temporarily given up looking for Eichmann in Argentina because they could not discover his alias. Neither the CIA nor the US government as a whole at that time had a policy of pursuing Nazi war criminals. In addition to protecting Eichmann and Globke, the CIA also protected Reinhard Gehlen, who recruited hundreds of former Nazi spies for the CIA. The low key attitude toward Nazi war criminals, and more concentration on the Soviet Union even possibly allowed Eichmann to be a member of a private American golf club and travel freely without being discovered.

Throughout the 1950s, many Jews and other victims of the Holocaust dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann and other notorious Nazis. Among them was the Jewish Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. In 1954, Wiesenthal received a postcard from an associate living in Buenos Aires, saying Eichmann was in Argentina. The message read in part:

Ich sah jenes schmutzige Schwein Eichmann. ("I saw that dirty pig Eichmann.") Er wohnt in der Nähe von Buenos Aires und arbeitet für ein Wassergeschäft. ("He lives near Buenos Aires and works for a water company.")

With this and other information collected by Wiesenthal, Israel had solid leads about Eichmann's whereabouts. However, Isser Harel, the head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, later claimed in an unpublished manuscript that Wiesenthal "'had no role whatsoever' in Eichmann's apprehension but in fact had endangered the entire Eichmann operation and aborted the planned capture of Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele."

Also instrumental in exposing Eichmann's identity was Lothar Hermann. He was a worker of Jewish descent who fled from Germany to Argentina following his incarceration in the Dachau concentration camp, where Eichmann had served as an administrator. By the 1950s, Hermann had settled into life in Buenos Aires with his family. His daughter Sylvia became acquainted with Eichmann's family and romantically involved with Klaus, the eldest Eichmann son. Klaus made boastful remarks about his father's life as a Nazi and direct responsibility for the Holocaust. Hermann knew he had struck gold in 1957 after reading a newspaper report about German war criminals—of whom Eichmann was one.

Soon after, he sent Sylvia to the Eichmanns' home on a fact-finding mission. She was met at the door by Eichmann himself. She asked for Klaus, and, after learning that he was not home, asked whether she was speaking to his father. Eichmann confirmed this fact. Hermann soon began a correspondence with Fritz Bauer, chief prosecutor for the West German state of Hesse, and provided details about Eichmann's person and life. He contacted Israeli officials, who worked closely with Hermann over the next several years to learn about Eichmann and to formulate a plan to capture him.

In 1959, Mossad was informed that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires under the name Ricardo Klement (Clement) and began an effort to locate his exact whereabouts. Through relentless surveillance, it was concluded that Ricardo Klement was, in fact, Adolf Eichmann. The Israeli government then approved an operation to capture Eichmann and bring him to Jerusalem for trial as a war criminal. The Mossad agents continued their surveillance of Eichmann through the first months of 1960 until it was judged safe to take him down, even watching as he delivered flowers to his wife on their 25th wedding anniversary on March 21.

Eichmann was captured by a team of Mossad and Shabak agents in a suburb of Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960, as part of a covert operation. The Mossad agents had arrived in Buenos Aires in April 1960 after Eichmann's identity was confirmed. After observing Eichmann for an extensive period of time, a team of Mossad agents waited for him as he arrived home from his work as foreman at a Mercedes Benz factory. One kept lookout waiting for his bus to arrive, while two agents pretended to be fixing a broken down car. An unconfirmed fourth would ride on the bus to make sure he would leave. Once Eichmann alighted and began walking the short distance to his home, he was asked by the agent at the car, Zvi Aharoni, for a cigarette. When Eichmann reached in his pocket he was set upon by the two by the car. Eichmann fought but team member Peter Malkin, a Polish Jew and a black belt in karate, knocked Eichmann unconscious with a strike to the back of his neck and bundled him into the car and took him to the safe house.

There a preliminary interrogation was conducted and it was proved that Klement (Clement) was undoubtedly the Nazi Eichmann. The agents kept him in a safe house until they judged that he could be taken to Israel without being detected by Argentine authorities; then smuggled him out of Argentina on board an El Al Bristol Britannia air flight from Argentina to Dakar and then to Israel on May 21, 1960, heavily sedated and disguised, like the agents, in the uniform of the El Al crew.

There was a backup plan in case the apprehension did not go as planned. If the police happened to intervene, one of the agents was to handcuff himself to Eichmann and make full explanations and disclosure. For some time the Israeli government denied involvement in Eichmann's capture, claiming that he had been taken by Jewish volunteers who eagerly turned him over to Israeli government authorities. Negotiations followed between Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Argentine president Arturo Frondizi, while the abduction was met from radical right sectors with a violent wave of anti-Semitism, carried on the streets by the Tacuara Nationalist Movement—including assaults, torture and bombings.

Ben-Gurion then announced Eichmann's capture to the Knesset—Israel's parliament—on May 23, receiving a standing ovation in return. Isser Harel, head of the Mossad at the time of the operation, wrote a book about Eichmann's capture entitled The House on Garibaldi Street. The book has since been made into a movie of the same name. Some years later, Peter Malkin, a member of the kidnapping team, wrote Eichmann in My Hands, which explores Eichmann's character and motivations, but its veracity has been attacked.

Josef Mengele
Isser Harel, Chief Executive of the Secret Services of Israel (1952–1963), who headed the successful capture of Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960 feels they almost apprehended Josef Mengele, too. As he claims to have told the co-pilot that transported Eichmann at the time: "had it been possible to start the operation several weeks earlier Mengele might also have been on the plane." When they checked on the last known location for the "murderous doctor" in Argentina, he had apparently moved on just two weeks prior.

International dispute over capture
In June 1960, after unsuccessful secret negotiations with Israel, Argentina requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, to protest what Argentina regarded as the "violation of the sovereign rights of the Argentine Republic". In the ensuing debate, the Israeli representative Golda Meir argued that the incident was only an "isolated violation of Argentine law" since the abductors were not Israeli agents but private individuals. Eventually the Council passed a resolution which requested Israel "to make appropriate reparation", while stating that "Eichmann should be brought to appropriate justice for the crimes of which he is accused" and that "this resolution should in no way be interpreted as condoning the odious crimes of which Eichmann is accused."

After further negotiations, on August 3, Israel and Argentina agreed to end their dispute with a joint statement that "the Governments of Israel and the Republic of the Argentine, imbued with the wish to give effect to the resolution of the Security Council of June 23, 1960, in which the hope was expressed that the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries will be advanced, have decided to regard as closed the incident that arose out of the action taken by Israel nationals which infringed fundamental rights of the State of Argentina."

In the subsequent trial and appeal, the Israeli courts avoided the issue of the legality of Eichmann's capture, relying instead on legal precedents that the circumstances of his capture had no bearing on the legality of his trial. The Israeli Court also determined that because "Argentina has condoned the violation of her sovereignty and has waived her claims, including that for the return of the Appellant, any violation of international law that may have been involved in this incident has thus been remedied."

Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem during his trial in 1961.

Eichmann's trial before an Israeli court in Jerusalem began on April 11, 1961. He was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed organization. In accordance with Israeli criminal procedure, the trial was presided over by three judges: Moshe Landau, Benjamin Halevi and Yitzhak Raveh. The chief prosecutor was Gideon Hausner, the Israeli attorney general. The three judges sat high atop a plain dais. The trial was held at the Beit Ha'am—nowadays known as the Gerard Behar Center—a new auditorium in downtown Jerusalem. Eichmann sat inside a bulletproof glass booth to protect him from victims' families. This image inspired the novel, stage play and film, The Man in the Glass Booth, although the plot of the drama has nothing to do with the actual events of the Eichmann trial.

The legal basis of the charges against Eichmann was the 1950 "Nazi and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law".

The trial caused huge international controversy as well as an international sensation. The Israeli government allowed news programs all over the world to broadcast the trial live with few restrictions. The trial began with various witnesses, including many Holocaust survivors, who testified against Eichmann and his role in transporting victims to the extermination camps. One key witness for the prosecution was an American judge named Michael A. Musmanno, who was a U.S. naval officer in 1945 who questioned the Nuremberg defendants. He testified that the late Hermann Göring "made it very clear that Eichmann was the man to determine, in what order, in what countries, the Jews were to die."

When the prosecution rested, Eichmann's defense lawyers, Robert Servatius and Dieter Wechtenbruch, opened up the defense by explaining why they did not cross-examine any of the prosecution witnesses. Eichmann, speaking in his own defense, said that he did not dispute the facts of what happened during the Holocaust. During the whole trial, Eichmann insisted that he was only "following orders"—the same Nuremberg Defense used by some of the Nazi war criminals during the 1945–1946 Nuremberg Trials. He explicitly declared that he had abdicated his conscience in order to follow the Führerprinzip. Eichmann claimed that he was merely a "transmitter" with very little power. He testified that: "I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors."

During cross-examination, prosecutor Hausner asked Eichmann if he considered himself guilty of the murder of millions of Jews. Eichmann replied: "Legally not, but in the human sense ... yes, for I am guilty of having deported them". When Hausner produced as evidence a quote by Eichmann in 1945 who stated: "I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction." Eichmann countered the claim saying that he was referring only to "enemies of the Reich".

Witnesses for the defense, all of them former high-ranking Nazis, were promised immunity and safe conduct from their German and Austrian homes to testify in Jerusalem on Eichmann's behalf. All of them refused to travel to Israel, but they sent court depositions. None of the depositions supported Eichmann's "following orders" defense. One deposition was from Otto Winkelmann, a former senior SS police leader in Budapest in 1944. His memo stated that "(Eichmann) had the nature of a subaltern, which means a fellow who uses his power recklessly, without moral restraints. He would certainly overstep his authority if he thought he was acting in the spirit of his commander [Adolf Hitler]". Franz Six, a former SS brigadier general in the German secret service, said in his deposition that Eichmann was an absolute believer in National Socialism and would act to the most extreme of the party doctrine, and that Eichmann had greater power than other department chiefs.

After 14 weeks of testimony with more than 1,500 documents, 100 prosecution witnesses (90 of whom were Nazi concentration camp survivors) and dozens of defense depositions delivered by diplomatic couriers from 16 different countries, the Eichmann trial ended on August 14. At that point, the judges began deliberations in seclusion. On December 11, the three judges announced their verdict: Eichmann was convicted on all counts. Eichmann had said to the court that he expected the death penalty. On December 15, the court imposed a death sentence. Eichmann appealed the verdict, mostly relying on legal arguments about Israel's jurisdiction and the legality of the laws under which he was charged. He also claimed that he was protected by the principle of "Acts of State" and repeated his "following orders" defense.

On May 29, 1962 Israel's Supreme Court, sitting as a Court of Criminal Appeal, rejected the appeal and upheld the District Court's judgment on all counts. In rejecting his appeal again claiming that he was only "following orders", the court stated that, "Eichmann received no superior orders at all. He was his own superior and he gave all orders in matters that concerned Jewish affairs ... the so-called Final Solution would never have assumed the infernal forms of the flayed skin and tortured flesh of millions of Jews without the fanatical zeal and the unquenchable blood thirst of the appellant and his associates." On May 31, Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi turned down Eichmann's petition for mercy. A large number of prominent persons sent requests for clemency.

Eichmann was hanged a few minutes before midnight on May 31, 1962, at a prison in Ramla, Israel. This remains the only civil execution ever carried out in Israel, which has a general policy of not using the death penalty. Eichmann allegedly refused a last meal, preferring instead a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine. He consumed about half of the bottle. He also refused to don the traditional black hood for his execution.

According to an official account, there were two people who would pull the lever simultaneously, so neither would know for sure by whose hand Eichmann died.

There is some dispute over Eichmann's last words. One account states that these were, "Long live Germany. Long live Austria. Long live Argentina. These are the countries with which I have been most closely associated and I shall not forget them. I had to obey the rules of war and my flag. I am ready." However, according to David Cesarani, a leading Holocaust historian and Research Professor in History of the Royal Holloway, University of London, the order of countries (Austria and Argentina) was inverted and he also spoke of his wife, friends and family, as well as his belief in God. Any mention of obedience to the rules of war or flag is omitted in Cesarani's account in which Eichmann is quoted thus:

Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family, and my friends. I am ready. We'll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God.

Shortly after the execution, Eichmann's body was cremated in a specially designed furnace. The furnace was so hot that no one dared to go near it, but a stretcher on tracks was used to put the body in. The next morning, on June 1, his ashes were scattered at sea over the Mediterranean, in international waters. This was to ensure that there could be no future memorial and that no nation would serve as his final resting place.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew who fled Germany before Hitler's rise to power, and who reported on Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, a book formed by this reporting, Arendt concluded that, aside from a desire for improving his career, Eichmann showed no trace of an antisemitic personality or of any psychological damage to his character. She called him the embodiment of the "Banality of Evil", as he appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality, displaying neither guilt nor hatred. She suggested that this most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi criminals were manifestly psychopathic and different from ordinary people. Eichmann himself said he joined the SS not because he agreed or disagreed with its ethos, but because he needed to build a career.

Stanley Milgram interpreted Arendt's work as stating that even the most ordinary of people can commit horrendous crimes if placed in certain situations and given certain incentives. He wrote: "I must conclude that Arendt's conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine." However, Arendt did not suggest that Eichmann was normal or that any person placed in his situation would have done as he did. According to her account, Eichmann had abdicated his will to make moral choices, and thus his autonomy. Eichmann claimed he was just following orders, and that he was therefore respecting the duties of a "bureaucrat". Arendt thus argued that he had essentially forsaken the conditions of morality, autonomy and the ability to question orders .

In Becoming Eichmann, David Cesarani claimed that Eichmann was in fact extremely anti-Semitic, and that these feelings were important motivators of his genocidal actions.

Eichmann's son, Ricardo, who was born after the War, has condemned his father's actions and claims to harbour no resentment toward Israel for executing his father.



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