Before I was born, my father worked as an FBI agent tasked with rounding up domestic Nazis leading up to and in the early stages of WW II. I was just 12 when Mossad agents captured Nazi mass murderer and war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960 near Buenos Aires in Argentina, still a pro-Nazi anti-semitic country, and spirited him surreptitiously to Israel. In Brooklyn’s Jewish communities it was a big deal, causing tremendous excitement, as did his trial and execution two years later.
Like Hitler, Eichmann grew up in Austria and even went to the same high school Hitler went to in Linz. He was a dullard and basically flunked out of school and was enrolled in a vocational school which he also flunked out of. He was still in his 20s when he became radicalized as a Nazi and anti-Semite and still in his 20s when he joined the SS and soon after moved to Germany.
Over the last month, hours of Eichmann’s lost tapes— in which he admitted his guilt and celebrated his role in the Holocaust— were integrated into a documentary series, The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes, which has been playing in Israel for the last few weeks. On Monday, Isabel Kershner wrote about the hours of boastful tapes for the NY Times. “The tapes,” she reported, “fell into various private hands after being made in 1957 by a Dutch Nazi sympathizer, before eventually ending up in a German government archive, which in 2020 gave the Israeli co-creators of the series— Kobi Sitt, the producer; and Yariv Mozer, the director— permission to use the recordings.”
Central to the Eichmann saga was how he went to the gallows still swearing he was innocent, just a small cog in a big wheel, a mere functionary carrying out orders. In fact, “his professed mediocrity,” wrote Kershner, “gave rise to the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil.”
The documentary series intersperses Eichmann’s chilling words, in German, defending the Holocaust, with re-enactments of gatherings of Nazi sympathizers in 1957 in Buenos Aires, where the recordings were made.
Exposing Eichmann’s visceral, ideological antisemitism, his zeal for hunting down Jews and his role in the mechanics of mass murder, the series brings the missing evidence from the trial to a mass audience for the first time.
Eichmann can be heard swatting a fly that was buzzing around the room and describing it as having “a Jewish nature.”
He told his interlocutors that he “did not care” whether the Jews he sent to Auschwitz lived or died. Having denied knowledge of their fate in his trial, he said on tape that the order was that “Jews who are fit to work should be sent to work. Jews who are not fit to work must be sent to the Final Solution, period,” meaning their physical destruction.
“If we had killed 10.3 million Jews, I would say with satisfaction, ‘Good, we destroyed an enemy.’ Then we would have fulfilled our mission,” he said, referring to all the Jews of Europe.
Mozer, the director, who was also the writer of the series and himself the grandson of Holocaust survivors, said, “This is proof against Holocaust deniers and a way to see the true face of Eichmann.”
“With all modesty, through the series, the young generations will get to know the trial and the ideology behind the Final Solution,” he added.
…The tapes were made by Willem Sassen, a Dutch journalist and a Nazi S.S. officer and propagandist during World War II. Part of a group of Nazi fugitives in Buenos Aires, he and Eichmann embarked on the recording project with an eye to publishing a book after Eichmann’s death. Members of the group met for hours each week at Sassen’s house, where they drank and smoked together.
And Eichmann talked and talked.
After Eichmann’s capture by the Israelis, Sassen sold the transcripts to Life magazine, which published an abridged, two-part excerpt. Hausner described that version as “cosmeticized.”
After Eichmann’s execution in 1962, the original tapes were sold to a publishing house in Europe and eventually acquired by a company that wished to remain anonymous and that deposited the tapes in the German federal archives in Koblenz, with instructions that they should be used only for academic research.
Bettina Stangneth, a German philosopher and historian, partially based her 2011 book Eichmann Before Jerusalem on the tapes. The German authorities released just a few minutes of audio for public consumption more than two decades ago, “to prove it exists,” Mozer said.
Sitt, the producer of the new documentary, made a movie for Israeli television about Hausner 20 years ago. The idea of obtaining the Eichmann tapes had preoccupied him ever since, he said. Like the director, Mozer, he is an Israeli grandson of Holocaust survivors.
“I’m not afraid of the memory, I’m afraid of the forgetfulness,” Sitt said of the Holocaust, adding that he wanted “to provide a tool to breathe life into the memory” as the generation of survivors fades away.
He approached Mozer after seeing his 2016 documentary Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, which revolved around a long-lost taped interview with Israel’s founding prime minister.
The German authorities and the owner of the tapes gave the filmmakers free access to 15 hours of surviving audio. (Sassen had recorded about 70 hours, but he had taped over many of the expensive reels after transcribing them.) Mr. Mozer said that the owner of the tapes and the archive had finally agreed to give the filmmakers access, believing that they would treat the material respectfully and responsibly.
…Hearing the tapes now, the unambiguous confessions of Eichmann are startling.
“It’s a difficult thing that I am telling you,” Eichmann says in the recording, “and I know I will be judged for it. But I cannot tell you otherwise. It’s the truth. Why should I deny it?”
“Nothing annoys me more,” he added, “than a person who later denies the things he has done.”
No one really knows how much of an anti-Semite Trump is. But many of his followers— we just wrote about Charlie Bausman a few days ago— sure are. Normal people, even in northwest Georgia, don't scream about Jewish space lasers. As the U.S. slides towards fascism, this is going to be more and more of a problem for American Jews.