Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann on Trial. Getty Images / Getty Images

Summary of Adolf Eichmann:

Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi official and chief organiser of the mass execution of Jews known as the Holocaust; he applied his business and organisational skills to the deportation and killing of people. He was executed in 1962.

Early Life of Adolf Eichmann:

Karl Adolf Eichmann was born in 1906 in Solingen, a small German city, although the family moved to Austria in 1913 because of the promotion of his father, who worked for a power company.

Eichmann did poorly at school and left without any qualifications, first finding work in the employ of his father, who had started an oil extraction company. Eichmann the moved onto an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, before starting work with a different oil company thanks to his father’s influence in 1927.

The Development of an Organiser:

Eichmann’s work with the oil company is often described simply as being a travelling salesman in Upper Austria, and while it’s true he did travel around selling oil based supplies, he also identified sites for petrol stations, set them up, arranged deliveries and completed all the relevant paperwork. It was during this job that Eichmann learned, apparently very well, to organise and timetable movements and use key points in a network. It was these skills which he used to mastermind the organisation of the Holocaust. Success saw Eichmann transferred to Salzburg.

Adolf Eichmann Joins the Nazi Party and the SS:

Eichmann first joined a right wing paramilitary organisation and considered joining the Masons. Instead, in 1932, he joined the Nazi party partly as a result of a strong German-nationalist upbringing. In April 1932, while at a Nazi rally, Eichmann was approached by an SS man whose father knew Eichmann’s father through business, and recruited him into the organisation.

In 1933 Eichmann was made redundant from his job and the Nazi party was banned in Austria, so he travelled to Germany.

Eichmann Joins the SD:

Back in Germany, Eichmann spent some time at an SS training camp before being posted to a concentration camp at Dachau, run by the Nazi government (which was now in power). He then applied to join the SD, the Security Service of the Nazi party, and was accepted to a post in Berlin. At first Eichmann was monitoring the activities of Freemasons, but his potential was spotted by the head of the department “monitoring” Jews, and Eichmann moved. An adept organiser and an apparent quick learner, Eichmann rose through the ranks of the SD.

Adolf Eichmann Organises "Forced Emigration":

At first Eichmann’s branch of the SD tackled the "Jewish question" – the anti-Semitic Nazis wished to "remove" all Jews - by advocating a scheme of emigration to other countries. Eichmann was sent to Austria, which joined with Germany, and put in charge of the Office for Jewish Emigration. Eichmann organised a bureaucratic assembly line whereby Jews could begin at one end of the emigration office – the only place authorised to give them passports - and leave at the end with the required passport and exit visa but having surrendered all their property and rights.

150,000 Jews left through this process of extortion.

Eichmann was then moved to Department IV D 4 of the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. This department still handled emigration, and Eichmann was in charge of organising the shipping of Jews east to designated locations in Poland, although the plan was soon scrapped. Instead Jews were crowded into ghettoes. An equally abortive attempt was made to plan the deportation of millions of Jews to Madagascar. Instead a new, different, plan emerged: the Final Solution.

Adolf Eichmann and the Final Solution:

After the German invasion of Russia in 1941, Eichmann’s office (now known as IV B 4), was tasked with finding a new solution to the Jewish question: death. Jews were already being killed, by execution units in Russia and ad hoc in the Jewish ghettoes and concentration camps, and Eichmann toured some of the sites, seeing gassings and shootings to gain an idea of what was possible, formulating a plan.

He was made an SS Lieutenant Colonel. At the Wannsee Conference in 1942, SS officer Reinhard Heydrich outlined the "Final Solution", the execution of all Jews.

Eichmann, the regime’s expert on the “Jewish question” was in charge of organising the Final Solution. He arranged the identification of Jews from across Nazi held territory and their transport to death camps, which he also set up, where Jews were executed on mass. He was very pro-active, quickly overcoming difficulties and bottlenecks to ensure the transport and executions would not be delayed, hurrying subordinates to meet targets.

In 1944, after Germany occupied Hungary, he went in person to organise the deportation of over 430,000 Jews in a little under eight weeks; they went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most were executed.

Post-War: Arrest and Trial:

Although Eichmann was captured by US troops at the close of World War 2, in which the Nazi regime was defeated, Eichmann escaped in 1946 and eventually settled in Argentina in 1958. In 1960 he was abducted and illegally smuggled out of the country by Israeli secret service agents, taken to Israeli and put on trial. The proceedings were controversial – there were demands for an international court, or a court in Germany – but Israel stayed firm, tried him, convicted him and hanged him on May 31st 1962. Eichmann received the only death sentence ever given by an Israeli court.

Adolf Eichmann’s Mindset: "The Banality of Evil":

Eichmann wasn’t the central figure in the Nazi regime, and he made none of the "key decisions" which propelled the policy behind the Holocaust forward, but once involved he did arrange, and continued to arrange, the deaths of millions of people. But Eichmann was not, as other Nazi leaders’ were, particularly anti-Semitic. Instead his dislike for Jews was learnt when Hitler made them his - and Germany’s - enemy. What he did do was apply the practices of business to the organisation of people, dehumanizing Jews to the extent they could be treated like just another product to be transported and delivered on time.

Eichmann was not, as media sources during the trial tried to portray him, a demonic, barely human, figure.

Instead, one reporter, Hannah Arendt, saw something else, and she coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann, a term which has become widely accepted to describe the way apparently ordinary people could lay the groundwork for killing thanks to both accepting what their state told them and believing their actions were normal. Professor David Cesarani summaries his mindset thus: "in his mind there was little difference between setting up a petrol station or a death camp." (Cesarani, 'Adolf Eichmann: The Mind of a War Criminal', retrieved from on 23rd November 2008).