Germany Knew Eichmann's Hiding Place Years Before Capture

Publié le par AOL News

AOL published 11/01/2011 at 08:34 PM

After 15 years on the run, justice finally caught up with Adolf Eichmann on May 11, 1960. The Nazi war criminal -- who organized the deportation of millions of Jews to death camps in German-occupied Poland -- was kidnapped outside his Buenos Aires home by Mossad agents and brought to trial in Israel. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962.

Eichmann AdolfBut Eichmann's capture needn't have been so long in the making. German newspaper Bild this weekend published a secret service document that revealed West German intelligence officials knew about his Argentine hideout as early as 1952. It appears as though the agency chose not to act on the information.

The typewritten file card obtained by Bild notes that Eichmann was living in the Argentine capital under the alias Clemens. "SS colonel Eichmann is not to be found in Egypt but is residing in Argentina under the fake name Clemens," it read. "Eichmann's address is known to the editor of the German newspaper 'Der Weg' in Argentina." (German weekly Der Spiegel reported that Eichmann had in fact adopted the pseudonym Ricardo Klement.)

Argentine journalist Uki Goni -- author of "The Real Odessa," which chronicles the postwar flight of Nazi criminals to South America -- told AOL News that he wasn't surprised West German agents had discovered Eichmann's whereabouts by 1952.

"The idea that the Nazis arrived in Argentina and faded into the jungle somewhere is just not the case," he said. "There was quite a strong German community in Buenos Aires with its own newspapers and restaurants. So when the new arrivals came after the war, everyone knew exactly who they were, and they went to the same restaurants as everybody else."

Goni adds that West Germany's foreign intelligence service, then known as the Gehlen Organization, had nothing to gain by nabbing Eichmann.

"The agency was run by former Nazi officer Reinhard Gehlen, and it was packed with former SS officers and former Nazis," he said. "So nobody had any interest in finding these Nazis and bringing them to trial. On the contrary, they would have been more likely to help them escape justice."

Many senior figures in the new West German state also lacked the will to see Eichmann extradited back home and put on trial. Government ministries and private corporations were stuffed with ex-Nazis; some had been heavily involved in the Holocaust and were worried about what the former SS officer might say in the dock.

However, David Cesarani -- a history professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of "Eichmann: His Life and Crimes" -- doubts whether any Western intelligence agency would have acted differently from the Gehlen Organization.

"The CIA, British intelligence and West German intelligence knew of hundreds of former Nazis all over the place," he told AOL News. "But they didn't have a mandate to investigate, apprehend and try these people."

Israel was also unsure about how to deal with fugitive Nazis. Cesarani notes that when Mossad was tipped off about Eichmann's presence in Argentina in 1957 by Fritz Bauer -- the German-Jewish district attorney of the German state of Hesse -- "their first response was more or less, 'So what?' They didn't have the brief to hunt Nazis and put them on trial."

Mossad spent another three years mulling over what to do with Eichmann. "If the Israelis weren't exactly raring to go, I'm not sure why we should have expected the West Germans to have had a different attitude," said Cesarani.

Although Goni is critical of the Gehlen Organization, he is far angrier about attempts by its modern-day successor, the BND (Federal Intelligence Service), to keep thousands of archive files on Eichmann classified.

Last year, a Leipzig judge decided that the blanket ban was illegal, but it's still difficult for researchers to get hold of the documents, as every paper request is judged on a case-by-case basis. Der Spiegel suggests that Bild only got hold of the 1952 card because it hired an expensive lawyer to negotiate with the archive's gatekeepers.

"It's shocking that the BND still wants to hide this information today," said Goni. "The agency is probably ashamed of its behavior back in the '50s and doesn't want to be called to account. But nobody today can hold Germany to account for what happened 50 years ago."

But British historian Cesarani doesn't believe the BND is attempting to gloss over postwar years.

"German archives have very, very strict privacy policies," he said. "If the documents pertain to any living person, [they're] extremely difficult to obtain or cite. So the fact that there are living Eichmann relatives makes disclosures very difficult."

It may seem like a paradox, he says, but the privacy laws that now make it hard to delve into Germany's Nazi past were in fact implemented as "a reaction to the Nazi era, and a determination not to allow people's private lives to be intruded upon by the state or other agencies."

The question now is whether Germany can balance its desire to avoid those past mistakes with the need to let its citizens learn about them.

Publié dans Articles de Presse

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