London Tuesday, February 8, 2000
Israel opens Eichmann's diary of evil By Alan Philips in Jerusalem
Weasel words that expose the banality of Nazi terror Memories of the killing machine
ISRAEL opened its archives yesterday to release the prison journal of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, which had lain unpublished for almost 40 years.
The 670-page journal was dismissed by Israeli officials as the "memoirs of a scoundrel". The journal may assist lawyers for Deborah Lipstadt, an American writer who is defending a libel action brought by the British historian David Irving, whom she described as a "dangerous spokesman in the service of Holocaust deniers".
A former vacuum cleaner salesman, Eichmann became an SS lieutenant colonel and the chief of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo during the Second World War. He was kidnapped in Argentina by the Israeli secret service, and taken to Israel where he was convicted of war crimes and hanged in 1962.
The record shows that he was the logistical mastermind behind the policy to exterminate Jews, and was responsible for millions of deaths and deportations. But his prison journal, written while he was awaiting the trial verdict, tells a different story. He portrays himself as a "cog in the machine", forced to witness the killing of Jews which, he says, disgusted him.
However, he never seeks to minimise the extent of the Holocaust, describing it as "the most enormous crime in the history of mankind" and "the biggest dance of death of all times". His own role, however, is that of witness or messenger in what he called "the gruesome machinery of death: gear meshed with gear, like clockwork".
The Israeli attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, said that it was part of Israel's "moral obligation and commitment as a Jewish state" to make the journal available. Historians said there was little in the text that was not said at Eichmann's trial, but it was a powerful confirmation of the fact of the Holocaust at a time when people were trying to deny it.
Moshe Zimmermann, a professor of modern German history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: "In this journal all the Nazi leaders are to blame for the Holocaust. No one can say now that it was Himmler's idea." Prof Zimmermann said it was normal that Eichmann, who knew that he was facing the gallows, should have presented himself in a minor role.
Prof Yehuda Bauer, the head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, said the journal was the work of "a very intelligent man, a murdering, extreme anti-Semite who tried to hide his true beliefs during the trial and in these notes".
The chief archivist, Evyatar Friesel, said the journal was interesting as an example of the "banality of evil" - how one of the greatest criminals of the 20th century portrayed himself as a good family man, always quarrelling with his superiors.
The journal had been kept secret at the orders of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who did not want a record published which contradicted the verdict of the court. More recently, Israel has wanted to avoid the Eichmann family from "making a fortune from the memoirs of a scoundrel", Prof Bauer said.
But it was forced to prepare for publication after the Eichmann family claimed ownership of the journal. It was to be edited and published by a German institute to avoid a partial version favourable to Eichmann appearing. The archivists were preparing a typescript when the request came from London, so it was ready for release.
Neil Tweedie writes: The Lipstadt-Irving case focuses upon Hitler's role in the Holocaust and the existence of the gas chambers as a means of mass extermination. Irving is suing Lipstadt and her publishers, Penguin Books, for branding him a "Holocaust denier" in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
Lipstadt contends that Irving has systematically falsified and distorted information from Nazi documents to advance his claim that Hitler was not the originating mind behind the Final Solution. Irving has also disputed the widespread use of gas chambers, arguing that they could not have been used for the mass murder of Jews. How Lipstadt's lawyers will use Eichmann's account is unclear.