Adolf Eichmann was a thin little man with bow legs and a hook nose. In the civilian world he had been viewed as of no account, a socially awkward loser with little to redeem himself. Having joined the Nazi party, however, his unquestioning commitment to orders coupled with his need for ruthless efficiency allowed him to carve out a career that see him go down as one of the greatest mass murderers in all of human history. In this week’s Biographics, we trace the life, crimes and death of Adolf Eichmann.
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Adolf Eichmann was a thin little man with bow legs and a hook nose.
In the civilian world he had been viewed as of no account, a socially awkward loser with
little to redeem himself.
Having joined the Nazi party, however, his unquestioning commitment to orders coupled
with his need for ruthless efficiency allowed him to carve out a career that see him go
down as one of the greatest mass murderers in all of human history.
In this week’s Biographics, we trace the life, crimes and death of Adolf Eichmann.
Adolf Otto Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany on March 19th, 1906 to book-keeper,
Adolf Karl Eichmann and his wife Maria.
The oldest of five children, young Adolf was a nervous, shy child with few friends.
When he was seven years old, his father moved to Linz to take a job as a commercial manager
for the city’s electrical provider, with the rest of the family following a year later.
In Linz, Adolf attended the Kaiser Franz Joseph secondary school, the same school that Adolf
Hitler had attended in the 1890’s.
He remained an aloof and lonely child and his parents worried about his lack of social
His dark complexion and distinctive nose and ears led to his schoolmates teasing him with
the nickname ‘der kleine Jude’ – the little Jew.
Adolf proved to be a mediocre student at best.
By the time he became a teenager he had a reputation as being difficult and moody, with
his father having written him off as a no hoper.
With little promise of furthering an education, he quit school at age fifteen and began to
train as a mechanic.
But at this, too, he proved a failure.
After two frustrating years, he gave up on this career and took a job as a sales agent
for a mining company.
This job also lasted for two years, after which he became a district agent for an oil
By the age of twenty-five, Eichmann was a sullen, withdrawn, socially inept little man
who could still be mistaken for a Jew.
He had a stable but uninspiring job that saw him working around Upper Austria and Salzburg.
In 1932, despite never having shown any interest in political affairs, he joined the National
His association with the party began at the urging of a friend by the name of Ernst Kaltenbrunner,
who was a party official.
Becoming a Nazi
For Eichmann the party gave him an opportunity to belong to a group and to advance his station
More than anything he wanted to be somebody and to prove to the world that he had value
as an individual.
In November, 1932 he was accepted into the ranks of the SS, with his duties involving
forming part of the protection squad for speakers at party rallies and guarding the party headquarters
Meanwhile he continued working for the oil company.
A few weeks after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January, 1933, Eichmann lost
his job due to staff cutbacks.
He immediately applied for active SS duty in Germany.
This was accepted and he proved to be a diligent follower of orders, rising to the rank of
Scharfuhrer in just a few months.
In November, 1933 he was appointed to the administrative staff of the Dachau concentration
At Dachau, Eichmann’s job was to keep a detailed catalog of all the items that were
confiscated from incoming Jewish prisoners.
He did the job well but found it to be exceedingly boring.
Around this time, he began to set his mind to studying and inculcating the basic principles
In summing up what he had come to believe he said . . .
If they had told me that my own father was a traitor and I had to kill him, I’d have
In an attempt to break out of his monotonous routine at Dachau, in 1934 Eichmann applied
to join the SD, which was the security service of the SS.
His application was successful and he was transferred to the Nazi Party head office
He was quickly promoted to the rank of Hauptscharfuhrer.
The Jewish Specialist
Eichmann’s job was now to investigate and create reports on the activities of Jewish
organizations in Germany.
He threw himself into the work, learning the basics of the Hebrew language and establishing
himself as the Nazi party expert on the culture and history of the Jews.
Around this time, the perennially shy Eichmann met and fell in love with Veronika Liebl.
After the required vetting to ensure that she had no Jewish heritage, the couple were
married on March 21st, 1935.
They would go on to have four sons.
In 1937, Eichmann, who now held the rank of SS Untersturmfuhrer (second Lieutenant) was
sent on an important mission to the British Mandate of Palestine.
Along with his superior officer, he was there to investigate the feasibility of German Jews
being forcibly made to migrate to Palestine.
But the mission never got off the ground with the British refusing them entry into the country.
In the wake of the annexation of Austria, Eichmann moved to Vienna, with the job of
organizing the local SS.
His efficiency in doing so earned him another promotion, this time to the rank of SS Obersturmfuhrer
He was also selected to initiate the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, whose express
purpose was to force the expulsion of all Jews from Austria.
Expelling the Jews
Eichmann threw himself into this new role with his usual zeal.
Within eight months, he had stripped the vast majority of Jews in the country of all of
their lands and possessions and forced forty-five thousand to get out.
Ominously, a further one hundred and fifty thousand simply disappeared.
His efficiency greatly impressed his superiors.
With the invasion of Poland on September 1st ,1939 and the subsequent outbreak of war,
Hitler’s policy towards the Jews changed.
No longer would they be encouraged to leave Germany – from now on they would be forcibly
Jews were to be herded together and sent to concentration camps situated in newly acquired
parts of the Reich.
In October, 1939, Eichmann was posted to Berlin, where he worked directly under Gestapo chief,
Heinrich Muller in establishing the nationwide Central Office for Jewish Emigration.
His first job was to clear specified areas of Poland of Jews.
At the same time, he continued his pet project of ridding his beloved Vienna of the Jewish
He selected Nisko, in the far north of Poland, as the site for a transit camp where the expelled
Jews would be gathered before sending them into the harsh Russian wilderness to fend
Meanwhile, ethnic Germans were being moved into the areas of Poland that the Jews had
been evicted from.
On December 19th, 1939, Eichmann received yet another promotion.
He was now the overall coordinator of Jewish affairs and evacuation for the entire German
All deportations to camps in Poland were now under his ultimate control.
Many thousands of Jews were also being sent to an area in the east of Poland known as
the General Government.
Eichmann immediately drew up plans to send 600,000 Jews into the General Government,
but these plans were pushed back due to complaints by authorities in the east who were worried
that too many Jews would ruin the economy.
In the end some 63,000 people were relocated to the area, with many others dying in transit.
All over occupied Europe, Jews were crowded into ghettos as they waited to be sent away.
The conditions in the ghettoes were appalling, and many people died before they ever set
foot on a train carriage.
In 1940, Eichmann released a plan to resettle a million people each year in Madagascar.
His plan had relied on the Luftwaffe conquering the British in the Battle of Britain, which
would have enabled the Germans to take control of the skies over the Atlantic.
When this failed to happen, the plans for Operation Madagascar were shelved indefinitely.
Killing the Jews
In September of 1941, Eichmann was called to a meeting with head of the SD, Reinhard
Heydrich, in which he was informed that the Fuhrer had ordered that all Jews in countries
occupied by Germany were to be put to death.
The timeline for this was to swing into action after the conquest of the Soviet Union.
However, the entry of the United States into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor forced a rethink.
The extermination of the Jews was to be given maximum priority.
In January, 1942, Heydrich called a meeting of the major players in the Nazi organization
at Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin.
It was during this meeting that an official policy of Jewish genocide was laid out.
Heydrich called it the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
Eichmann had prepared for the meeting by creating lists of the numbers of Jews in each country
who had to eliminated.
Heydrich then appointed him as his right-hand man, responsible for coordinating all of the
trains that would be used to carry Jews to Polish concentration camps.
As a result of the constant supply of human fodder that Eichmann was responsible for,
the Death Camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and Buchenwald became 24 hour killing machines.
Eichmann funnelled Jews and Gypsies from Austria, Holland, France, Holland, the Baltic States
and Yugoslavia to their slaughter.
Often, they were sent first to Warsaw and other ghettoes in Poland for ‘resettlement’
In a gross example of distorted perception, Eichmann wrote the following about his work
. . .
Jewry was grateful for the chance I gave it to learn community life at the ghetto.
It made an excellent school for the future in Israel – basically most Jews feel well
and happy in their ghetto life.
As the months passed, the demands placed on Eichmann to speed up the killing machine increased.
He was responsible for supplying victims to a total of 164 camps spread throughout eastern
In attempts to make the process more efficient he oversaw the enlargement of the death trains.
Still, he gave no thought to supplying those who were crammed into the carriages for weeks
on end with food or water and many of them died on the way.
Eichmann’ organizational ability was also employed to improve the efficiency of the
actual killing process.
He designed the huge windowless rooms and suggested that they be disguised as shower
units in order to allay panic.
He also pushed for the replacement of the relatively inefficient carbon monoxide gas
with the cyanide-based insecticide Zyklon-B.
We can get an insight into Eichmann’s ruthless efficiency by an incident which occurred during
a roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942.
Seven thousand people were rounded up, 4051 of them being children.
However, the city powers objected to the deportation and managed to secure talks with Eichmann.
The Jews were holed up in a warehouse without food or water.
For six days, Eichmann stared down the French officials, insisting that every single Jew
had to be sent east to their deaths.
In 1944, Eichmann was transferred to Hungary, which had recently been overrun by the Nazis.
He was tasked with fast tracking the transportation of Hungarian Jews to the death camps, which
he did with ruthless efficiency.
In just a few months he had condemned more than 400,000 of them.
By early in 1945 it was obvious to many in the Nazi hierarchy that the game was up.
With the Russians coming at them from one side and the Allies closing in from the other,
the priority for many became personal survival.
Reinhard Heydrich decided that the time had come to put an end to the mass extermination
of the Jews and to set about destroying any evidence of the crimes against humanity that
he had authorized.
When Eichmann head about this, however, he was not happy.
He decided, of his own volition, to continue, and even speed up, the killings.
But finally, even he saw the writing on the wall.
His biggest fear seemed to be the prospect that he, having been commissioned as a reserve
Untersturmfuhrer in the Waffen-SS which made him eligible for combat duty, would be sent
out to the front lines to fight the Russians or Americans.
In March, with the Russians pouring into Hungary, he fled to Austria where he tried to get his
old friend Ernst Kaltenbrunner to help him evade capture by the Allies.
But the intimate involvement that Eichmann had had with the Jewish slaughter had made
him a dangerous man to associate with and Kaltenbrunner, who was trying to save his
own skin, wanted nothing to do with him.
Shortly thereafter, Eichmann was captured by the US Army.
Having given a false name, he was transferred between several POW camps.
He was part of a work detail in Cham, Germany when he escaped.
Managing to secure new identity papers, he took on the identity of Otto Heninger and
relocated to Luneburg Heath in Lower Saxony.
He found work in the forestry sector.
Other members of the Nazi hierarchy were not as fortunate as Eichmann in their attempts
to evade justice.
Many of them ended up at the Nuremburg War trails where they gave detailed evidence about
the role that Eichmann had played in the systematic planning and execution of the extermination
of the Jew of Europe.
As a result, he became one of the most sought after Nazi war criminals.
In 1950, Eichmann relocated to Italy.
Here he received the assistance of Alois Hudal, a Roman Catholic bishop who was a Nazi sympathizer
and had already helped many to get out of Europe.
Hudal helped Eichmann obtain a humanitarian passport from the International Committee
of the Red Cross, along with a fake identification and landing permit for Argentina.
With these documents he was able to secure an international passport from the Red Cross.
He now had everything needed to sail for South America.
He departed from Genoa on June 17th, 1950 and arrived in Buenos Aires on July 14th.
For the next two years, under the name of Ricardo Klement, Eichmann worked for a government
contractor in Tucuman Province.
After two years he felt secure enough to bring over his wife and sons.
They moved to Buenos Aires, where Eichmann worked in a series of menial jobs before finding
employment with Mercedes Benz.
Over the next few years he would employ his natural organizational skills to rise to the
position of department head.
Beginning in 1956, a neo-Nazi fanatic began interviewing Eichmann at his home with the
goal of writing a fawning biography.
For this project, a large and damning collection of tapes, transcripts and notes were produced.
Meanwhile a handful of determined Nazi-hunters were hot on Eichmann’s trail.
Prominent among them was former concentration camp inmate Simon Wiesenthal.
In 1953, Wiesenthal had found a postcard in which a former Nazi victim had mentioned seeing
‘that pig Eichmann’ in Buenos Aires.
He passed this information on to the Israeli Consulate in Vienna.
The American CIA were also aware that Eichmann was in South America.
However, the were unwilling to act on the information for fear of embarrassing themselves.
In the post-war years the Americans had employed a number of Nazis to work on the Manhattan
atomic bomb project.
They didn’t want to go near anything that would allow that information to leak to the
Meanwhile Wiesenthal was working with the Israeli Intelligence Service, MOSSAD, to build
a picture of Eichmann’s life in Argentina.
A break came when Eichmann’s second oldest son got involved with the daughter of a Holocaust
survivor who had relocated to Argentina.
The boy began to boast that his father had worked for Hitler and was, in fact, the brains
behind the final solution of the Jewish question.
The girl promptly reported this information back to her father, who, in turn, informed
the Israeli authorities.
MOSSAD sent an operative to Buenos Aires to confirm Eichmann’s location and identity.
It was now up to Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to decide whether to proceed diplomatically
or to simply seize Eichmann and bring him back to Israel to face the music.
Knowing that the Argentinians had a record of declining extradition requests involving
former Nazis, Ben Gurion decided to take Eichmann by force.
An eight-man team of MOSSAD operatives was sent to Argentina to carry out the mission.
The operation was carried out on May 11th, 1960 as Eichmann was walking home from work.
Two agents pretended to be working on a car as he walked past.
A third agent approached and asked him for a cigarette.
Eichmann eyed the man nervously and, in that moment, all three agents sprang upon him.
One of them, a karate black belt, delivered a blow to his neck which rendered him unconscious.
Eichmann was bundled into a car and taken to a safe house where he was stripped naked
Under his right armpit the agents found a partially removed tattoo which confirmed that
he was member of the SS.
On May 21st, a heavily sedated Eichmann was smuggled out of Argentina on a commercial
flight bound for Israel.
When Prime Minister Ben Gurion announced that the most wanted Nazi in the world had been
captured it caused an international sensation.
The Argentinians strongly protested the manner of the abduction, claiming that it had been
a violation of Argentinian sovereignty.
Ben Gurion replied that Eichmann had been captured, not by agents of the Israeli government,
but by individual citizens.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann began on April 11th, 1961 in Israel’s Beth Ha’am (House
of the People).
Fifteen charges were levelled against him, including crimes against humanity.
The charges encompassed the view that he was the man in direct control of the entire Nazi
bureaucratic structure responsible for the deaths of millions of people before and during
Eichmann’s trial was broadcast live on TV stations around the globe.
After listening to the emotional testimony of Holocaust survivors and others, Eichmann
didn’t try to deny the facts.
His sole defense was that he was simply carrying out orders.
He stated that he . . .
never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions
from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors.
The trial took fourteen weeks, at the end of which Eichmann as convicted on all counts.
The sentence was death by hanging.
His defence team made an unsuccessful appeal for clemency which was turned down by new
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
The execution was carried out on June 1st, 1962 at Israel’s Ramla prison.
Eichmann refused the black hood that was offered to him on the gallows.
His final words were . . .
Long live Germany.
Long live Austria.
Long live Argentina.
These are the countries with who I have been most closely associated and I shall not forget
I had to obey the rules of war and my flag.
I am ready.’
Eichmann’s body was cremated and his ashes scattered in international waters
in the Mediterranean Sea.
This post was previously published on YouTube.
Photo credit: Screenshot from video.