Source: Life, Vol. 49, No. 22, November 28, 1960
Comment: Kind of interesting. At times Eichmann seems like he is taking the piss
The final solution: liquidation
The continuance of the war finally changed out attitude on emigration entirely. In 1941 the Führer himself ordered the physical annihilation of the Jewish enemy. What made him take this step I do not know. But for one thing the war in Russia was not going along in the Blitz fashion the High Command had planned. The ruinous struggle on two fronts had begun. And already Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the world Zionist leader, had declared war on Germany in the name of Jewry. It was inevitable that the answer of the Führer would not be long in coming.
Soon after the order General Heydrich called me to his office in the Prinz Albrecht Strasse. He told me about Reichsführer Himmler's order that all emigration of Jews was to be prohibited - with no more exceptions. He assured me that neither I nor my men would have anything to do with the physical liquidation. We would act only as policemen; that is, we would round up the Jews for the others.
By this time the formula "Final Solution for the Jewish Question" had taken on a new meaning: liquidation. In this new sense we discussed it at a special conference on Jan. 10, 1942 in the Wannsee section of Berlin. It was I who had to bustle over to Heydrich with the portfolio of invitations on which he scribbled his "Heydrich", stroke for stroke. So we sent out the whole thing. A few people declined to participate, on grounds principally of other duties.
After the conference, as I recall, Heydrich, Müller and your humble servant sat cozily around the fireplace. I noticed for the first time that Heydrich was smoking. Not only that, but he had a cognac. Normally he touched nothing alcoholic. The only other time I had seen him drinking was at an office party years before. We all had drinks then. We sang songs. After a while we got up on the chairs and drank a toast, then on the table and then round and round - on the chairs and on the table again. Heydrich taught it to us. It was an old North German custom.
But we sat around peacefully after our Wannsee Conference, not just talking shop but giving ourselves a rest after so many taxing hours.
It is not true that Reichsführer Himmler set down in writing anything ordering the annihilation of the Jews. Do you think he sat down to write, "My dear Eichmann, the Führer has ordered the physical annihilation of the Jews"? The truth is that Himmler never put a line in writing on this subject. I know that he always gave his instructions orally to Lieut. General Oswald Pohl, in charge of the economic administration which ran the concentration camps. I never received any order of this sort.
I would like to stress again, however, that my department never gave a single annihilation order. We were responsible only for deportations. In every European country under our jurisdiction it was the job of the Jewish Adviser (the representative of my office) to work through local officials until he had attained our goal: a roundup of the Jews and their delivery to the transports. I had Captain Richter sitting in Bucharest, Captain Wisliceny in Pressburg [Bratislava], Dannecker in Paris, etc. All these Jewish Advisers enjoyed the greatest respect, for each of them was really the long arm of Himmler himself. Although I myself had a relatively low rank, I was the only department head in the Gestapo with my own representatives in foreign countries. If one of my specialists got in trouble with a local commander, I would then have my bureau chief, General Müller, give the necessary orders. Müller was more feared than Reichsführer Himmler.
I carefully set up my timetables for the transports with the Ministry of Transportation, and the trains were soon rolling. But through the years we met many difficulties. In France the French police helped only hesitantly. After its initial enthusiasm for the project, the Laval government itself became more and more cautious. Italy and Belgium were by and large failures. And in Holland the battle for the Jews was especially hard and bitter. The Dutch, for one thing, did not make the distinction between Dutchmen and Jews with Dutch citizenship. A person was either Dutch, they said, or he wasn't. Denmark posed the greatest difficulties of all. The King intervened for the Jews there, and most of them escaped.
Yet we managed after a struggle to get the deportations going. Trainloads of Jews were soon leaving from France and Holland. It was not for nothing that I made so many trips to Paris and The Hague. My interest here was only in the number of transport trains I had to provide. Whether they were bank directors or mental cases, the people who were loaded on these trains meant nothing to me. It was really none of my business.
In general, I found that there were fewer problems with local authorities the farther east you went - with the exception of the assimilated Jews in Hungary. The Romanian operations went off without friction. Captain Richter in Bucharest was a good man. Eager to strike against these parasites, the Romanians astonishingly enough liquidated thousands and thousands of their own Jews. Slovakian officials offered their Jews to us like someone throwing away sour beer. Tiso, the Catholic priest who ran the government there, was an anti-Semite.
Tiso's attitude contrasted with mine. I am no anti-Semite. I was just politically opposed to Jews because they were stealing the breath of life from us.
The chambers at Maidenek
It was in the latter part of 1941 that I saw the first preparations for annihilating the Jews. General Heydrich ordered me to visit Maidanek, a Polish village near Lublin. A German police captain showed me how they had managed to build airtight chambers disguised as ordinary Polish farmers' huts, seal them hermetically, then inject the exhaust gas from a Russian U-boat motor. I remember it all very exactly because I never thought that anything like that would be possible, technically speaking.
Not long afterward Heydrich had me carry an order to Major General Odilo Globocnik, SS commander of the Lublin district. I cannot remember whether Heydrich gave me the actual message or whether I had to draw it up. It ordered Globocnik to start liquidating a quarter million Polish Jews.
Later that year I watched my first execution. It was at Minsk, then recently come under German occupation. I was sent by my immediate superior, General Müller. Müller never stirred from behind his desk at Gestapo headquarters but he knew everything that went on in Europe. He liked to send me around on his behalf. I was in effect a traveling salesman for the Gestapo, just as I had once been a traveling salesman for an oil company in Austria.
Müller had heard that Jews were being shot near Minsk, and he wanted a report. I went there and showed my orders to the local SS commander. "That's a fine coincidence, " he said. "Tomorrow 5,000 of them are getting theirs."
When I rode out the next morning, they had already started, so I could see only the finish. Although I was wearing a leather coat which reached almost to my ankles, it was very cold. I watched the last group of Jews undress, down to their shirts. They walked the last 100 or 200 yards -- they were not driven -- then they jumped into the pit. It was impressive to see them all jumping into the pit without offering any resistance whatsoever. Then the men of the squad banged away into the pit with their rifles and machine pistols.
Why did the scene linger so long in my memory? Perhaps because I had children myself. And there were children in the pit. I saw a women hold a child of a year or two into the air, pleading. At that moment all I wanted to say was, "Don't shoot, hand over the child...." Then the child was hit.
I was so close that later I found bits of brains spattered on my long leather coat. My driver helped me remove them. Then we returned to Berlin.
The Gestapo chauffeurs did not like to drive me, principally because I rarely spoke more than 20 words during a 12-hour trip, as for instance the long haul from Berlin to Paris. On this trip back from Minsk I spoke hardly a word. I was thinking. Not that I had become contemptuous of National Socialism after watching this previously unimaginable event. I was reflecting on the meaning of life in general.
Having seen what I had in Minsk, I said this when I reported back to Müller: "The solution, Gruppenführer, was supposed to have been a political one. But now that the Führer has ordered a physical solution, obviously a physical solution it must be. But we cannot go on conducting executions as they were done in Minsk and, I believe, other places. Of necessity our men will be educated to become sadists. We cannot solve the Jewish problem by putting a bullet through the brain of a defenseless women who is holding her child up to us."
Müller did not answer. He just looked at me in a fatherly, benevolent fashion. I never could figure him out.
Later in that same winter Müller sent me to watch Jews being gassed in the Litzmannstadt [Lodz] area of central Poland. I must stress that the gassing was not done on his orders, but Müller did want to know about it. He was a very thorough government official.
Arriving at Litzmannstadt, I drove out to the designated place where a thousand Jews were about to board buses. The buses were normal, high-windowed affairs with all their windows closed. During the trip, I was told, the carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe was conducted into the interior of the buses. It was intended to kill the passengers immediately.
A doctor who was there suggested that I look at the people inside one bus through a peephole in the driver's seat. I refused. I couldn't look. This was the first time that I had seen and heard such a thing and my knees were buckling under me. I had been told that the whole process took only three minutes, but the buses rode along for about a quarter of an hour.
We reached our destination and hell opened up for me for the first time. The bus in which I was riding turned and backed up before a pit about two meters deep. The doors opened. Some Poles who stood there jumped into the buses and threw the corpses into the pit. I was badly shaken by what I then saw. Another Pole with a pair of pliers in his hand jumped into the pit. He went through the corpses, opening their mouths. Whenever he saw a gold tooth, he pulled it out and dumped it into a small bag he was carrying.
When I reported back to Müller in Berlin, he chided me for not having timed the procedure with a stop watch. I said to him, "This sort of thing can't go on. Things shouldn't be done this way." I admitted I had not been able to look through the peephole. This time, too, Müller behaved like a sphinx. He forgave me, so to speak, for not having looked. Perhaps "forgive" sounds like an odd expression here.
The executions at Litzmannstadt and Minsk were a deep shock to me. Certainly I too had been aiming at a solution of the Jewish problem, but not like this. Of course, at that time I had not yet seen burned Germans, Germans shrunken like mummies in death. I had yet to see the heavy, imploring eyes of the old couple in a Berlin air raid shelter who lay crushed beneath a beam, begging me to shoot them. I couldn't bear to shoot them, but I told my sergeant to do so, if he could. If I had known then the horrors that would later happen to Germans, it would have been easier for me to watch the Jewish executions. At heart I am a very sensitive man. I simply can't look at any suffering without trembling myself.
Shipments to Auschwitz
All told, we succeeded in processing about half a million Jews in Hungary. I once knew the exact number that we shipped to Auschwitz, but today I can only estimate that it was around 350,000 in a period of about four months. But, contrary to legend, the majority of the deportees were not gassed at all but put to work in munitions plants. That is why there are thousands of Jews happily alive today who are included in the statistical totals of the "liquidated." Besides those we sent to Auschwitz, there were thousands and thousands who fled, some secretly, some with our connivance. It was child's play for a Jew to reach relative safety in Rumania if he could muster the few pengö to pay for a railroad ticket or an auto ride to the border. There were also 200,000 Jews left in a huge ghetto when the Russians arrived, and thousands more waiting to emigrate illegally to Palestine or simply hiding out from the Hungarian Gendarmerie.
It is clear from statistics, then, that our operation was not a battle fought with knives, pistols, carbines or poison gas. We used spiritual methods to reach our goal. Let is keep this distinction clear, because physical liquidation is a vulgar, coarse action.
Soon after we arrived in Budapest I met a Dr. Lászlo Endre, then a Budapest country official, who was eager to free Hungary of the Jewish "plague," as he put it. One evening he arranged a little supper for me and my assistant, Captain Deiter Wisliceny. Tow or three other Hungarian officials were present and an orderly in livery who stood at Dr. Endre's side. On this evening the fate of the Jews in Hungary was sealed.
As I got to know Dr. Endre, I noticed his energy and his ardent desire to serve his Hungarian fatherland. He made it clear that in his present position he was unable to do positive work toward solving the Jewish question. So, I suggested to Major General Winkelmann, the ranking SS officer in Hungary, that Dr. Endre be transferred to the Ministry of the Interior. The transfer took several weeks, which I spent conferring with various Jewish officials and learning about Jewish life in Hungary. Then one day Dr. Endre became second secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, and a certain Lászlo Baky became first secretary.
Over the years I had learned through practice which hooks to use to catch which fish, and I was now able to make the operation easy for myself. It was clear to me that I, as a German, could not demand the Jews from the Hungarians. We had had too much trouble with that in Denmark. So I left the entire matter to the Hungarian authorities. Dr. Endre, who became one of the best friends I have had in my life, put out the necessary regulations, and Bakay and his Hungarian Gendarmerie carried them out. Once these two secretaries gave their orders, the Minister of the Interior had to sign them. And so it was no miracle that the first transport trains were soon rolling toward Auschwitz.
The Hungarian police caught the Jews, brought them together and loaded them on the trains under the direct command of Lieut. Colonel Lászlo Ferenczy of the Gendarmerie, who came from an old, landed family. If I may digress for a moment, I remember that he invited me once to his country estate, where we had a little Hungarian snack of slices of bacon and onion stuck on sticks and roasted over a fire. We ate them with wine from the lieutenant colonel's vineyards. I since have read that he was hanged after 1945.
I never watched the Jews being loaded onto the trains. It was a minor matter for which I had no time. Since the job was the responsibility of the Gendarmerie, it would have constituted an interference with the internal affairs of Hungary if I had even observed the loadings. After all, the Hungarian government was still a sovereign power, although it had reached certain agreements with the Reich.
Himmler's instructions were for me to comb the Jews out of eastern Hungary first. The two secretaries gave the appropriate orders to the Hungarian police. I was also instructed to send almost all transports to the railroad station at Auschwitz, and I ordered Captain Novak to draw up a timetable and arrange for the necessary trains from the Reich's transportation ministry. To each train I assigned a squad of Orpos - uniformed German police - from the several hundred assigned to me.
My men had as one of their basic orders that all necessary harshness was to be avoided. This fundamental principle was also accepted by the Hungarian officials. In practice they may not have adhered to it 100%. But that did not and could not interest me, because it was not my responsibility.
A corporal named Barth
I gave myself up to the Americans under an assumed name. I knew the Allied investigators were searching for Eichmann, but luckily I was always just a shade more clever than the CIC officer who interrogated me. I started off in one small American prison camp, posing as a Luftwaffe corporal named Barth.
After studying the psychology of the American CIC, however, I changed my rank from corporal to second lieutenant in the SS. Lieutenant Eckmann, Otto Eckmann, became my name. I moved my birthday back one year to March 19, 1905, and the place to Breslau. I did this so I could remember the figures more easily, avoiding the fiasco a momentary lapse of memory when I was filling out their forms.
Ultimately I was transferred to the large POW collection center at Weiden. By coincidence, my former aide, Lieutenant Jaenisch, had been sent to the same place. I volunteered to head a work detail and in this capacity I was moved to Oberdachstetten in Franconia. It was then August, 1945. I remained there until the beginning of January, 1946.
In these months we were being interrogated by the CIC office in Anbach. I knew that if the interrogations continued I might come under suspicion. So I decided to escape. Due to the fear of reprisals there existed an unwritten code of honor that no officer would escape from a camp without his fellow officers' approval. Since there were about ten officers in the camp, I asked the camp leader, a major, to call an officers' meeting.
I had revealed to the major my real name, rank, and official position. "My dear comrade Eckmann," he said, "I have known that for a long time. Your Lieutenant Jaenish told me about it in confidence. As long as you said nothing to me, I kept the information locked in my heart."
At the officers' meeting I explained merely that I was probably wanted by the Americans because I had been politically active. Nobody asked many questions in those days and the major, as camp leader, gave his approval. It was simply a matter of form. After all, I could hardly imagine that my group of SS officers would have withheld their approval knowing one of their leaders found it necessary to get away.
After leaving the prison camp I managed to procure papers which gave my name as Otto Henninger. I lived on one of the wooded heaths in the Celle area. I was shown a pile of newspapers with articles about me. They were under headlines like "Mass-murderer Eichmann" or "Where is Lieutenant Eckmann hiding out?" The articles noted that I had escaped from the camp.
I started to think about who could have given the name Eckmann to the CIC. There seemed to be only two possible sources for the information. One was my Lieutenant Jaenisch. The other possibility, which seemed highly unlikely, was that the CIC had interrogated the major, who probably reasoned that I was far enough away by then to be safe. I rather think it was Jaenisch who told them. He had a type of pigheadedness peculiar to Lower Saxons.
Through the intervening years since then people searched for me in vain. I would like to find peace with my former opponents. And I would be the first to surrender myself to the German authorities if I did not always feel that the political interest in my case would be too great to lead to a clear, objective way out.
If there had been a trial in 1945, I would have had all my subordinates with me. Today I am not so sure. Some of them maybe serving with the new police. Others may have had a hard life through these years, each damning the stupidity that led him to become a Nazi in the first place. And prosperity and democratic re-education have borne their fruit in Germany, so I would not know today what witness an attorney for the defense might properly call. I believe, in fact, that if I brought on Jews as witnesses for the defense, I would come out almost better than with my own men as witnesses, sad though it may sound. Dr. Kastner, Dr. Epstein, Dr. Rottenberg, Br. Baeck, the entire Council of Elders in Theresienstadt ghetto, all of them I would have to summon. After all, there were also relatively harmless actions which took place under the general heading "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem."
But to sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing. Adolf Hitler may have been wrong all down the line, but one thing is beyond dispute: the man was able to work his way up from lance corporal in the German army to Führer of a people of almost 80 million. I never met him personally, but his success alone proves to me that I should subordinate myself to this man. He was somehow so supremely capable that the people recognized him. And so with that justification I recognize him joyfully and I still defend him.
I will not humble myself or repent in any way. I could do it too cheaply in today's climate of opinion. It would be too easy to pretend that I had turned suddenly from a Saul to a Paul. No, I must say truthfully that if we had killed all the 10 million Jews that Himmler's statisticians originally listed in 1933, I would say, "Good, we have destroyed an enemy." But here I do not mean wiping them out entirely. That would not be proper - and we carried on a proper war.
Now however, when through the malice of fate a large part of these Jews whom we fought against are alive, I must concede that fate must have wanted it so. I always claimed that we were fighting against a foe who through thousands of years of learning and development had become superior to us.
I no longer remember exactly when, but it was even before Rome itself had been founded that the Jews could already write. It is very depressing for me to think of that people writing laws over 6,000 years of written history. But it tells me that they must be a people of the first magnitude, for lawgivers have always been great.