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  • Eichmann before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth
  • Christopher R. Browning
Bettina Stangneth, Eichmann before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer. New York: Knopf, 2014. Pp. 608, cloth, $35.00 US. Paper, $17.95 US. E-book, $17.95 US.

As indicated in its title, this book is not about Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. Nor is it about his key role as a Holocaust perpetrator before 1945. It is an extraordinarily well-researched and fascinating study of, first, Eichmann’s relatively “unexamined life” during the 15 years between the end of World War II and his abduction from Argentina in 1960 and, second, of the documentation—the Argentina Papers—that he produced during that period.

Bettina Stangneth outlines the meticulous care and discipline with which Eichmann hid in Germany, not once visiting his family, and then made good his escape to Argentina in 1950. Thereafter, the situation changed. Stangneth argues persuasively that precise evidence with which to locate Eichmann had been available from 1952 on but that, aside from the Frankfurt prosecutor Fritz Bauer, virtually no one in Germany had wanted him found. Most egregiously complicit in this regard had been the German embassy in Buenos Aires. (However, Stangneth suggests plausibly that, once the 3,400-page Eichmann file of the German Federal Intelligence Service [End Page 271] [Bundesnachrichtendienst] is finally opened fully, rather than just selectively, it and its predecessor, the Gehlen Organization, may well take that dubious distinction.)

Eichmann was joined by his wife, Vera, and three sons in 1952. Vera gave her local address and her name, as “Eichmann, née Liebl,” to the German embassy when renewing the passports of her two sons Klaus and Horst. Her husband lived with her under the name Riccardo Clement. He benefitted from and socialized with a checkered circle of escaped Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, whom Stangneth describes in vivid detail. They clearly knew the real identity of the celebrity in their midst, and many in this circle seemed to nurse the dual beliefs that the Holocaust had been a Jewish hoax on the one hand and, thus, that the Jews had fully deserved to suffer the very mass death they had falsely concocted on the other. The appearance of two collections of documents edited by Josef Wolf and Leon Poliakov, Das Dritte Reich und die Juden (The Third Reich and the Jews) and Das Dritte Reich und seine Diener (The Third Reich and Its Servants), as well as Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution and Die Geschichte des Joel Brand (The Story of Joel Brand), in the mid-1950s forced this group to confront its fantasies. Many in the group hoped at least to absolve Adolf Hitler of responsibility for and to reduce the magnitude of the increasingly undeniable Final Solution, and, for this, Eichmann became, once again, the indispensable expert. Their desire to get Eichmann to talk coincided with his own desire to shed anonymity and take center stage. This was the background to the six months of recorded sessions—“the so-called Sassen interviews” (183) —between the spring and fall of 1957. The preparatory notes, tapes, and transcripts derived from these sessions became the basis of the Argentina Papers, and it is Stangneth’s identification, re-assembly, and analysis of these subsequently fragmented and scattered sources that is the most remarkable achievement of her book.

In Jerusalem, Eichmann characterized the Sassen interviews as drunken pub talk. He accused Willem Sassen of having egged him on and of having misrepresented what he had said in the partial transcripts that had made it into Israeli possession. His attorney, Robert Servatius, successfully blocked the admission into evidence of all but 83 pages of transcripts, which bore Eichmann’s handwritten corrections. This allowed Eichmann to portray himself as the minor, non-ideological bureaucrat whose alleged anti-Semitism and key organizational role in the Final Solution was being vastly exaggerated by the prosecution—a self-representation that Hannah Arendt accepted too uncritically. In reality, Eichmann as well as others had given a series of presentations before a rather large audience in Sassen’s home. Books and documents had been discussed and...


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pp. 271-274
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