David Cesarani's Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a "Desk Murderer” is a study of what it takes to become Adolf Eichmann. To provide insight into Eichmann's personality, behavior, and desire for recognition and success, Cesarani follows his subject from youth to "genocidaire” (expert and devotee of genocide) to his execution in Jerusalem.
Eichmann "was not a demented individual who embarked on a career of infamy,” Cesarani writes. Rather, he evolved from a colorless administrator, a man who was "conventionally bourgeois.” As noted in SS records, he was "intellectually uninteresting, not particularly gifted, but devoted to comradeship.”
Rarely mentioned during the Nuremberg trials (1946-48) was the fact that Eichmann had escaped captivity in January 1946. It was only after Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal read the documents presented for the Nuremberg Tribunal that he attempted to apprehend Eichmann; otherwise, the Nazi might have successfully passed into oblivion. Instead, Eichmann was kidnapped in Buenos Aires by Israeli Security Services and brought to Israel on May 22, 1960; he was confirmed to be SS Obersturmbannfhrer Eichmann. It was then that the world would know they had the Nazi responsible for "The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem,” the extermination of six million Jews in Europe.
In Becoming Eichmann, Cesarani, a prominent historian in the field of Holocaust studies, tries to explain what philosophers, social scientists, physicians and psychologists have struggled to learn through the ages - what causes an individual to commit evil acts. The author, who resides in London and recently campaigned against notorious Holocaust-denier David Irving, meticulously researched Nazi documents to understand the "aberrant Nazi personality” in the context of Germany and world history in the 1930s.
Cesarani details how Eichmann evolved from a popular youth to a dedicated, hardworking civil servant/bureaucrat to an expert in transportation to managing director of the "Final Solution.” With the introduction of gas chambers, Eichmann became the Nazi regime's "executive arm for the extermination of the Jewish people,” - the man who committed the "greatest single genocide in history.”
While in hiding in Argentina, Eichmann boasted to Willem Sassen, journalist and ghost writer for ex-SS men, "My innermost being refuses to say that we did something wrong ... if, of the 10.3 million Jews shown by (the statistician) Korherr, we had killed 10.3 million, then I would be satisfied. I would say ‘All right. We have exterminated an enemy.'”
At his trial, however, Eichmann placed all blame on his superiors. "I regret and denounce the extermination activities against the Jews ordered by the German leaders at that time,” he told the court. "I myself could not jump over my shadow. I was simply a tool in the hands of stronger powers and stronger forces of an inexorable fate.”
His excuses didn't sway the court. He was the first - and only - person put to death by Israel.
I am drawn to Holocaust literature and found Becoming Eichmann highly readable and interesting. It is of particular significance to those who desire a deeper understanding of how anyone willing to go along with the majority, without concern for morality, has the potential to become an Adolf Eichmann.