Background & History
WWII, the Holocaust,
From Capture to Trial
WWII, the Holocaust, and Eichmann
The beginning of World War II
WORLD WAR II BEGAN IN SEPTEMBER OF 1939, WHEN GERMANY LAUNCHED ITS ATTACK ONPOLAND, HOME TO EUROPE'S LARGEST JEWISH POPULATION. EICHMANN'S OFFICE GAVEGERMAN TROOPS ORDERS TO KILL JEWS THEY CONSIDERED SECURITY THREATS.
EXPULSION AND MURDER WERE INADEQUATE TO DEAL WITH THE 3 MILLION POLISH JEWS. FROM BERLIN, EICHMANN ROUNDED UP AND FORCED THEM INTO GHETTOS AND LABOR CAMPS.
Although he denied it at his trial, official documents indicated that Eichmannhimself suggested ghettoization as an interim method to kill large numbers ofJews. The ghetto was to be Step One in the "Final Solution," which culminated insurvivors being sent to death camps.
In October 1939, Eichmann was put in charge of a newly created office that had asits purpose the deportation of Jews from occupied Poland so that ethnic Germansfrom other countries could return to "Greater Germany." The objective of theoffice was to deport 190,000 Jews, Poles, and Gypsies. Those who survived thedeportations ended up in ghettos. Thousands who ended up in these ghettos died ofstarvation and disease. And those who survived the horrible conditions of theghettos were deported to labor camps, concentration camps, or death camps. Fewsurvived to tell of their experiences.
Although the Nazis were successful in isolating Jews socially and economically,their actual physical isolation did not begin until December 1939. Jews hadknown the ghetto since the Middle Ages, although Jews were then permitted toleave the ghetto during the day and participate in the business of the generalcommunity. The purpose of the Nazi ghetto, however, was to confine the entireJewish population, turning entire neighborhoods into a prison unlike the ghettosof centuries past.
Eichmann hoped that the abominable conditions in the ghettos would deplete theJewish population quickly and naturally through starvation, disease, and cold. The ghetto served as a holding area for eventual transportation to the deathcamps for the hardy ones who survived brutal conditions.
There was no medicine permitted in the ghettos. The food ration allowed toinhabitants was a quarter of that available to the Germans, barely enough topermit survival. The water supply was often contaminated. Epidemics oftuberculosis, typhoid, and lice were common.
IN 1940, HENRYK ROSS, A PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER BEFORE THE WAR, WAS TAKEN INTOCUSTODY AND SHIPPED TO THE JEWISH GHETTO IN THE TOWN OF LODZ. HE SECRETLYPHOTOGRAPHED THE BRUTAL CONDITIONS THERE.
WITH PHOTOS TAKEN BY ROSS AND OTHERS, PROSECUTORS PAINTED A PICTURE OF GHETTOLIFE, INCLUDING THE ONE IN LODZ, WHERE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND PEOPLE WEREPACKED INTO AN AREA SMALLER THAN THREE SQUARE MILES. WHEN EICHMANN FORCEDANOTHER TWENTY-THOUSAND INTO LODZ, THE DISTRICT COMMISSIONER NAIVELY COMPLAINEDTHAT EICHMANN MUST HAVE HAD INACCURATE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CAPACITY OF THEGHETTO. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND JEWS IN THE LODZ GHETTO DIED OFSTARVATION. THE JEWS WHO WERE NOT FORCED INTO GHETTOS WERE CONDEMNED TO POLAND'S300 LABOR CAMPS.
IN JUNE OF 1941, GERMANY INVADED THE SOVIET UNION. SPECIAL GERMAN UNITS CALLEDEINSATZGRUPPEN FOLLOWED IMMEDIATELY BEHIND THE ADVANCING TROOPS. UNDER ORDERSFROM EICHMANN, THESE UNITS HUNTED DOWN THE JEWS AND KILLED THEM.
Eichmann was the supervisor of the these units. THE MAIN AND PRINCIPLE OBJECTIVEOF THE EINSATZGRUPPEN WAS TO KILL JEWS AND ROB THEM OF THEIR PROPERTY. Anestimated 1.4 million Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen. All reportsabout their activities went to Eichmann.
Records of the Gestapo were destroyed after the collapse of Germany. However,one order which survived and was used as evidence at the trial was from Eichmannto several Gestapo officers to deport 50,000 Jews.
A SPECIAL TRIAL OF EINSATZGRUPPEN OFFICERS HAD BEEN CONVENED AFTER THE WAR AND ANAMERICAN JUDGE, MICHAEL MUSMANNO, HAD PRESIDED OVER IT. HE WAS CONSIDERED ANEXPERT ON THESE SPECIAL UNITS AND HAUSNER CALLED HIM AS A WITNESS TO TIE THEM TOEICHMANN.
The gas chambers
The Eizengruppen's methods of mass murder were considered inefficient, and it wasEichmann's duty to develop and implement methods to hasten the annihilation ofthe Jews under Nazi occupation.
The use of gas to kill the mentally insane had been employed in Germany as earlyas 1939. At an October 1941 meeting where Eichmann was present, a decision wasmade to use poison gas to kill Jews. Auschwitz, a camp in Poland, was chosen totest this new method, and it was Eichmann who met with the Auschwitz commandant,Rudoph Hoess, to accomplish this. By the end of 1941, zyclon B gas, which hadfirst been tested on Russian prisoners of war, was found to be a faster methodthat carbon monoxide poisoning (using the exhaust gas from diesel engines).
Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution
THE EINSATZGRUPPEN KILLED NEARLY A MILLION JEWS IN JUST SIX MONTHS. BUT NAZILEADERS WORRIED THAT CARRYING OUT SO MANY CLOSE UP COLD-BLOODED MURDERS WOULD BETOO MUCH OF A STRAIN ON THEIR TROOPS. EICHMANN BEGAN TO FEEL THE NEED FOR WHATHE CALLED A "MORE ELEGANT SOLUTION," AND IN A SUBURB OF BERLIN CALLED WANNSEE, HEHELPED ORGANIZE A MEETING OF THE NAZI BRASS TO FIND IT. THE NOTORIOUS WANNSEECONFERENCE LASTED ONLY AN HOUR AND A HALF, BUT IT PUT INTO MOTION THE PROGRAM FORTHE SYSTEMATIC EXTERMINATION OF THE JEWS AT THE DEATH CAMPS.
AT THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE, EICHMANN PRESENTED ESTIMATES OF THE NUMBERS OF JEWSTHAT WOULD BE DEPORTED FROM EACH COUNTRY AND GASSED IN THE CAMPS.
Fifteen high-ranking Nazi officials were in attendance, including Heydrich, forwhom Eichmann prepared the conference's opening speech. At this meeting, theThird Reich adopted a plan to deport Jews to death camps, in what became known asthe "Final Solution." Most of the debate centered not on the morality of this,but rather what proportion of Jewish blood would merit this "special treatment" and the methods used to effect genocide. Heydrich made it clear that allorganizational and logistical requirements would be the responsibility of AdolfEichmann.
Throughout most of the war, Eichmann was the top official of a bureaucracydesigned to deport, concentrate, and murder millions of Jews. He would travelfrom occupied country to occupied country and assist in making the arrangementsfor the Jews to be slaughtered.
According to Eichmann, it was he who coined the term "Final Solution" to mean theannihilation of the Jewish people. In 1941, Hitler ordered that all Jews in theReich be killed. A written order to that effect was found to be sent fromGestapo Chief Hermann Goerring to Heydrich. Eichmann, as the Nazi war machine'sJewish expert, was the central instrument in the German War bureaucracy to seethat this order was fulfilled. At his trial in Nuremberg, Goerring denied thatthe words in the directive meant that the Jews were to be killed. In his Sasseninterviews, Eichmann took the credit for drafting Goerring's directive. It isgenerally believed that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust was sixmillion. Five million others also perished as a result of Nazi atrocities.
The end of the war
The Third Reich's initial military victories were overtaken by stunning defeats.BY THE FALL OF 1944, HEAVY ALLIED BOMBING HAD TAKEN A TOLL ON THE EUROPEANRAILROAD SYSTEM, WHICH WAS NEEDED FOR BOTH THE WAR EFFORT AND THE DEPORTATION OFJEWS. THE GERMANS WERE ALSO SUFFERING LOSSES ON THE EASTERN FRONT. HOPING TOINGRATIATE HIMSELF WITH THE RUSSIANS, WHO WERE FAST APPROACHING BUDAPEST, HIMMLERTRIED TO HALT THE FINAL SOLUTION. HE ORDERED EICHMANN TO STOP ALL DEPORTATIONSFROM HUNGARY. EICHMANN IGNORED HIMMLER'S ORDERS, AND ROUNDED UP ANOTHER 50,000JEWS. UNABLE TO DEPORT THEM BY TRAINS, HE DECIDED TO MARCH THEM TO THEIR DEATHCAMPS IN POLAND.
With the war seemingly lost, Eichmann set to work with two goals in mind:destroying all documents he could find which implicated him in the most heinousmass murder in human history, and murdering as many Jews as could be accomplishedbefore the cover of war was lifted.
According to one account, he knew that he would be high on the list of warcriminals who would be dealt with following the inevitable Allied victory.
by Gary Grobman
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