Book review: ‘Becoming Eichmann’

Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a “Desk Murderer” by David Cesarani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book about what moved Adolf Eichmann to act like he did. The author starts with the story of Eichmann’s life and rise within the Nazi party and SS and SD organizations, and his role therein. At the end of the war he described Eichmann on the run and his eventual flight to Argentina. The ten years he lived pretty much worry free in South America, together with his wife and children who joined him there (under their own names) when he felt it was safe enough, is well described and leads up to his capture by Mossad agents in 1960.

His trial is described well, and shows both the mistakes of the prosecutor and the defense attorney. During his trial the prosecutor tried to pin the entire Final Solution on him, and even though what Eichmann did was horrible, he did not by himself write the policy that he ended up enforcing.

An interesting bit of information was unfolded during the appeals hearings, when Eichmann’s attorney (Servatius) demanded that Hans Globke be questioned (page 315):

“Even more stunning , he [Servatius] demanded to question Hans Globke, who in 1936 had written a legal interpretation of the Nuremberg Laws. He was now the State Secretary to the German Chancellery and a senior official in Konrad Adenauer’s government.”

Hans Globke who authored and co-authored numerous laws that enabled the Nazi state and by extend made possible the persecution of the Jews and in the end the Holocaust. Hans Globke, who also served as chief legal adviser for Eichmann’s department. Konrad Adenauer, Globke’s protector, covered for him while Eichmann was executed in Israel for his part in the Nazi regime and the Final solution. And with Globke, there were many more like him who escaped judgement all together for the crimes they committed during the Nazi regime. Quite the hypocrisy, especially since it was a known fact in the governments of the US and Britain.

The book deals well with the aftermath of Eichmann’s trial and execution. It explains how it created excellent teaching opportunities for the younger generation and opened up a dialogue about what had happened during the war years. At the time most people chose to talk as little as possible about it for varied reasons. The trial of Eichmann caused an influx of studies and books about the war, it’s lead characters and of course Eichmann. The author shows the discrepancies between these studies and the context in which they were written. The most notable work to be published as a direct result of the Eichmann trial was Hannah Ahrendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’.

Cesarani writes (page 367): “The capacity to do what he did was not, however, inborn. Eichmann was not ‘hard-wired’ to become an accomplice to atrocities. The key to understanding Adolf Eichmann lies not in the man, but in the ideas that possessed him, the society in which they flowed freely, the political system that purveyed them, and the circumstances that made them acceptable. What Eichmann did was made possible by the dehumanization of the Jews, the construction of the Jewish people as an abstract racial-biological threat and a political enemy, and the disabling of inhibitions against killing. Anyone subject to these processes might have behaved in the same way, be it in a totalitarian state or a democracy.”

He concludes with the following: “Now, in the twenty-first century, in a world awash with refugees and the victims of ‘ethnic cleansing’, when racism and fanaticism continue to dominate politics, and when international tribunals are trying the foot soldiers of genocide and their commanders in the military and political echelons, Eichmann appears more and more like a man of our time.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a chapter of history that enabled men like Eichmann to flourish…. sadly enough.

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