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Posted Friday, August 13, 1999

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Friday, August 13, 1999

Eichmann's 'Defense Notes' Come to Light

BERLIN -- "Obeying an order was the most important thing to me. It could be that is in the nature of the German."

So, early on in memoirs published Thursday by the German daily Die Welt, does Adolf Eichmann seek to explain his central role in the killing of 6 million European Jews by the Nazis.

The statement, part of an attempt by Eichmann to portray himself as a man driven by a visceral sense of duty, rather than hatred, to organize the mass murder of Jews, appears on page 6 of 127 pages of handwritten reflections that Die Welt said it found at the Center for Research on Nazi Crimes in the southern German town of Ludwigsburg.

The Israeli Justice Ministry announced this week that 1,200 pages of notes by Eichmann, who was captured in Argentina by Israeli agents in 1960 and executed in Israel two years later, would be released to German researchers for scholarly publication.

The photocopied pages in Ludwigsburg -- whose authenticity was confirmed by several German historians and has not been contested by Eichmann's family -- appear to be a synopsis of, or an introduction to, the larger body of Eichmann's writings that Israel has said it intends to release.

"The precise relationship of these pages to the rest of his writing in Israel is not entirely clear," said Johann-Michael Moeller, the editor at Die Welt responsible for the publication

"What is clear is that they are genuine."

Hans Mommsen, a respected historian, said: "There is no question that these papers are authentic. They are a shorter autobiographical outline of what is still in Jerusalem."

In the outline of his life published Thursday, Eichmann wrote: "From my childhood, obedience was something I could not get out of my system. When I entered the armed services at the age of 27, I found being obedient not a bit more difficult than it had been during my life to that point. It was unthinkable that I would not follow orders."

He continued: "Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one's own need to think."

The remarks appear likely to prove sensitive here because the question of the responsibility for the Holocaust of Germans who, at a far lower level than Eichmann, merely "obeyed orders," remains controversial.

Moreover, the appropriate relationship between order and freedom, and between initiative and obedience, remains an open question in a highly regulated German society still marked at times by the rigid mentality of the "Beamte," or functionary, for whom duty has greater value than enterprise.

The pages appear to have been handed to Germany by Israeli officials as part of the summary of Eichmann's trial in 1961 and lodged in the judicial archives at Ludwigsburg, one of two large German legal archives dealing with Nazi war crimes. The other is in Duesseldorf.

Germany had an official observer at the Eichmann trial, Diedrich Zeug, and it appeared likely that a copy of the memoir was brought by him to Ludwigsburg, where it languished in the archives, historians said. Moeller of Die Welt said he had learned of the existence of the writings through an anonymous tip.

Eichmann, a traveling salesman in his youth, began dealing with "Jewish questions" for the Nazi regime two years after Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Rising through the ranks of the SS, he was entrusted in early 1942 with carrying out the "final solution," a goal of annihilation he pursued with unrelenting bureaucratic zeal.

After the war, he escaped to Argentina in 1946, before being brought to Israel in 1960. At his trial the next year, he showed the same determination to portray himself as no more than an obedient servant of orders from on high as he does in the pages published by Die Welt.

"These pages are genuine, but they amount to a legal defense more than a memoir," said Irmtrud Wojak, a prominent historian of the Nazi years. "And in them he defends himself, as he always did, as an innocent because he did no more than obey orders."

Eichmann begins the memoir by noting that he is starting to write on May 9, 1960. This was seven days after Israeli agents tracked him down in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and two days before his abduction to Israel. Ms. Wojak said the writings were completed on June 16, 1960, before he embarked on the larger body of notes still in Israel.

From the outset, the overarching theme of obedience is struck.

His father, Eichmann wrote, raised him "in a strict manner that none of my siblings would experience." He was not a difficult child, but an "agreeable and obedient boy."

So deep was the instinct for obedience in him, he wrote, that when the Nazis were defeated in 1945, he was in a panic at the prospect of living an existence not dictated by orders. "I found myself completely incapable of living as my own person and fell into a deep depression."

Eichmann first went to Auschwitz in 1941, the year he was promoted to an SS lieutenant colonel. He made later visits there, and to other death camps in Poland, to analyze progress in the elimination of the Jews.

"I was to report on the Fuehrer's plans to destroy the Jews," Eichmann writes on page 109. "I was sent to Treblinka, Minsk, Lemberg and Auschwitz. When I see the images before my eyes, it all comes back to me."

He continues: "Corpses, corpses, corpses. Shot, gassed, decaying corpses. They seemed to pop out of the ground when a grave was opened. It was a delirium of blood. It was an inferno, a hell, and I felt I was going insane."

In fact, Eichmann showed no signs of insanity, at least by the standards of the Nazi bureaucracy within which he worked. He complained regularly about death-camp quotas not being fulfilled, about the problems of getting all French Jews to the death camps, and about the intermittent failure of the Italians to cooperate.

As late as 1944, he played a leading, and open, role in the killing of Hungarian Jews, and in August of that year he reported that 4 million Jews had died in the death camps and another 2 million at the hands of the Nazis' mobile extermination units in Eastern Europe. At no point did he show the least compunction over the planning, organization and execution of what became known as the Holocaust.

Defiant to the last, Eichmann writes on the last page of this shorter memoir: "I am certain, however, that those responsible for the murder of millions of Germans will never be brought to justice."square

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