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The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

August 19, 1999

EichmannWhat to do with Eichmann's memoirs?


A RENEWED interest in the documents holed up in the state archives has sparked a controversy over who should publish the papers of the arch-perpetrator of the Final Solution, in what manner, and why.

While sitting in the bowels of Israel's penal system, Adolf Eichmann - arch-perpetrator of the Final Solution - put pen to paper in 1961-1962 and wrote memoirs spanning some 1,200 pages.

Thirty-seven years later, these memoirs, which then prime minister David Ben-Gurion ordered buried in the national archives, are at the center of a debate: who should publish them, in what manner, and why.

"I am certainly in favor of publishing the material," said Evyatar Friesel, the Israel state archivist, and one of just a handful of people to have read the document in its entirety. "It needs to be published as part of an effort to publish all material on the Holocaust."

Eichmann was kidnapped from his refuge in Argentina in 1960 and brought to Israel, where he stood trial in Jerusalem for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. He was found guilty in December 1961 and, after his appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected, was hanged in May 1962.

Ideally, said Friesel, a modern Jewish history scholar, Eichmann's memoirs "should be published in a scientific manner, in their entirety and with explanatory footnotes."

But even if the material was not prepared in this manner, it should still be released, Friesel said.

But Amos Hausner, the 49-year old son of Gideon Hausner, the former attorney-general who prosecuted Eichmann, said the material should not be published if not done so in the "proper manner."


HAUSNER said the document is a grossly sanitized version of history that Eichmann wrote to make himself look good and should only be released if it is accompanied by the trial's verdict and another document in the archives - the Sassen document.

The Sassen document is some 600 pages of interviews Eichmann gave a Dutch Nazi journalist named Willem Sassen in 1957, before his capture by Mossad agents, in which he owned up to his role in the extermination of Jews and expressed regret that he was not more effective at his job.[*]

That document, written while he was still free, is more honest than the one written in jail, when Eichmann thought he could influence the verdict, Hausner said.

The Eichmann memoirs, with which Hausner is familiar through his father's work, is merely a written justification of the Nazi henchman's defense: that he was just a small cog in a giant killing machine, a mid-level bureaucrat merely following orders. In many instances, Hausner said, the memoir is full of lies.

"Eichmann's defense," said Hausner, "is that he was just a small cog. If so, according to this argument, then maybe we should not have convicted him. His memoir is an attempt to support this thesis."

According to Hausner, a Jerusalem lawyer best known for his work taking on the country's tobacco industry as an ardent anti-smoking advocate, if Israel refused to publish the document, then there could arise those claiming that the country is trying to hide something.

"That is the last thing we want," he said. "But that does not have to lead us to the other extreme, to take something that we know in many cases is a lie, and give it publicity." The solution, he said, is to publish the document not as something that stands alone, but rather along with the Sasser document and the verdict which will put the memoir in its proper context.


IT WAS Hausner's father, Gideon, who convinced Ben-Gurion in 1962 to bury the document in the state archives for 15 years. In the Hebrew edition of his book on the trial, Justice in Jerusalem, Hausner writes that he spoke to Ben-Gurion about the document. "I said that his [Eichmann's] desire to publish it at the same time that the verdict was due to be released was an attempt to compete with the verdict and would raise doubts in the world about the justice of the verdict.

"Eichmann was given an opportunity to express his opinion when he was on the witness stand for 30 sessions. We are not obligated to publicize his work and circulate his false version - the law does not obligate this, and there is no justification for it. Ben-Gurion ruled that it be filed away for 15 years."

And so it was. Ben-Gurion's biographer, Shabbtai Teveth, said Ben-Gurion's decision was born of a feeling that by his actions, Eichmann had forfeited his right to express himself outside of the court.

"Ben-Gurion did not make a final determination [on the matter]," Teveth said. "He said, 'I am here in 1960, and as long as I am here, it will not be published. But I do not know what will be in 15 years. Maybe in that time the whole world will view Nazism as I see it. Someone else will come in my place, discuss the matter, and decide again.' "

Teveth disputed claims that Ben-Gurion made his decision lest the document be used by Holocaust deniers, saying the issue was not something that greatly concerned the prime minister.

In fact, said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, the Holocaust deniers would have little use for this document, since Eichmann admitted that the extermination of Jews took place and only denied that he had a key role in it.

"One of the interesting points is that this document can be used against Holocaust denial, because it is an example of someone with such an important role admitting to the Holocaust," Zuroff said.

According to Friesel, the issue of what to do with the document was raised again during prime minister Menachem Begin's tenure, and at one time was scheduled to be brought to the prime minister for a decision. This was around the time that Hausner published his book in Hebrew and added material on the little-known memoirs.

The issue, however, never made it to Begin's desk.

"He had other things to deal with," said Friesel, the country's top archivist for the last six years. The memoirs remained on the shelf until two years ago, when a German journalist asked to see the document, and discussions about what to do with it started anew.

The discussions intensified earlier this year after the screening of a movie about Eichmann called The Specialist.

Following that film, Friesel received a number of requests from historians and journalists to see the memoirs. News of the existence of the memoirs was reported in Germany, and one of Eichmann's four sons, Dieter, decided to petition Israel for the manuscript. This raised the fear that he would then want to publish it himself, thereby making money out of the atrocities his father perpetuated, something Hausner said would be obscene.

On Sunday, Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein received a request from Eichmann for the papers, and on Monday his office released a statement saying that the "inclination is to bring the material to the public for its consideration as soon as possible, by publishing it in its entirety by German researchers, with comments and appropriate accompanying material."


HOLOCAUST historian Yehuda Bauer, while applauding decision to publish the document because "we are under a moral obligation not to hold back the publication or accessibility of any document relating to the Holocaust," added that he would be "very surprised" if there was anything new in the manuscript.

But, he said, "it may be important from the point of view of a psychological investigation of a murderer's mind."

Bauer, who once skimmed the document for "a couple of hours," said he is "not dying to read it, because I don't think there is anything new in it."

Bauer was involved in the recent decision in the Justice Ministry to make the document public and said he favors letting German researchers prepare the final, footnoted version of the text, because "We don't have a group of people specializing in the study of the perpetrators in this country. In Germany, there are a number of reputable and excellent people who have done great work on this and with whom we are in very friendly contact. It has to be a scientific publication and not a sensationalist or commercial one. And it must be stated quite clearly that this is not at all done for profit."

Another leading Holocaust historian, Yisrael Gutman, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, said that although he has known about the memoirs for years, he never made an attempt to read them.

"This is not one of those documents that you say, 'If this appears, it will place everything in a different perspective,'" Gutman said. "I am much less interested in what Eichmann thought and what he told of himself, because he did not have a great philosophical or ideological position inside the Nazi Party. What is of far more interest for us is what Eichmann did."square

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* Website note: The Sassen papers (600 pages) which are referred to appear to be the documents deposited by David Irving in the German Federal Archives in 1992.

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