Nazi's memoirs reveal banal bureaucrat

FRAGMENTS OF the memoirs of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official in charge of the Final Solution, surfaced mysteriously in Germany yesterday, whetting historians' appetite for a document seen until now by only a few researchers.

But if the excerpts published by the German paper Die Welt are anything to go by, there will be few revelations. The 1,300 pages seem to be filled with self-justifying trivia. Eichmann comes through almost as a parody of all those Nazi war criminals who were "only following orders".

It was while awaiting his trial in Israel that Eichmann penned his recollections. They had been locked up in an Israeli vault ever since his execution in 1962.

Earlier this week, Israel took a decision to hand over the documents for publication, and then suddenly photocopies of 127 pages were discovered in Germany's Nazi war crimes archives in Ludwigsburg. It is these excerpts that found their way to Die Welt.

The paper itself is unimpressed by its scoop. Eichmann's trial in Israel had led to the coining of the phrase: "the banality of evil". The Holocaust mastermind gleamed at in his own memoirs is clearly no genius. His rambling account, written in an excruciatingly pedantic language, faithfully documents staff movements in his office, memos in circulation, and the efficient zeal with which he handled his job.

One would hardly guess that this bureaucrat was not only pushing paper around, but was co-ordinating the extermination of the Jews. At one point in his account, Eichmann even congratulates himself for honestly reporting to his bosses.

He undertook "business trips" - to the death factories of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other concentration camps. That shook him up a bit, judging by the account of what he saw. "Corpses, corpses, corpses. Shot, gassed, corpses in a state of decomposition, and blood fantasies pressing up from the mass graves. An Inferno, a Hell, and I did not know at first whether I was mad, or if everything was, after all, unreal."

Eichmann was there to make sure the orders to kill all Jews were being carried out. The Fuhrer's orders, he informs posterity.

There is a particularly chilling passage about the promotion he received in March 1944. Hitler was exasperated with the situation in Hungary, where the mass murder of the Jews had still not begun. So Eichmann was sent there to get things moving. But Eichmann had doubts. "It was my fate, to start anew something I could not complete," he wrote.

It is this sense of personal failure that pervades Eichmann's oeuvre: the bitter after-taste of a job not quite done. There are few indications that he was aware, or willing to acknowledge, the evil he wrought.

Except that, after the war, he was touched by "cosmopolitan ideas". Not in Argentina, where he had been living it up until the Israelis kidnapped him in 1960, but in a prison in Israel. He talks about his old beliefs collapsing within him "like a house of cards". But to the end, he remained convinced that Germany had been wronged during the war. As he points out in his memoirs, "no one has yet been punished for the expulsion and murder of millions of Germans, and I am sure no one ever will". Clearly, Eichmann died believing himself to be a victim.

Eichmann: In His Own Words

On his visits to camps:

"There followed further business trips, on which I had to ascertain, by order of my boss, what happened as a consequence of the Fuhrer's order that 'All Jews (or the Jews) are to be physically eliminated'."

On what he saw there:

"Corpses, corpses, corpses. Shot, gassed, corpses in a state of decomposition, and blood fantasies pressing up from the mass graves."

On his changed outlook after the war:

"Cosmopolitan ideas have manifested themselves to me during my repeated incarceration, and I have found them clear, simple and a cause for rejoicing. At the same time, everything I had worshiped in the past ... has collapsed inside me like a house of cards."