Adolf Eichmann wanted to return to Germany, historian claims
SS architect of final solution hated life in hiding and wrote letter to West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1956, book reveals
Helen Pidd in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 April 2011 16.03 BST
A video screen shows Adolf Eichmann during his 1961 trial in Israel at an exhibition in Berlin 50 years on. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
For more than a decade after the second world war, his whereabouts were officially unknown. Adolf Eichmann, chief architect of the Holocaust, had escaped from a US POW camp, slipped into Italy and on to a ship bound for Argentina.
The West German government, busy rebuilding the country and rehabilitating its reputation, knew from at least 1952 where he was living, yet never made any real attempt to bring him to justice. But a new book claims Eichmann had wanted to return to his homeland and claim his place in history several years before he was captured by Israeli intelligence in 1960 and put on trial in Jerusalem.
In 1956, Eichmann wrote an open letter to the West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.
Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of deporting Jews to the concentration camps. After the war, he fled to Argentina, but was tracked down by the Israeli secret service in 1960. The following year, he was put on trial and was executed in May 1962. Photograph: Popperfoto
"It is time to relinquish my anonymity and introduce myself," wrote Eichmann, who was living under the name Ricardo Klement in a suburb of Buenos Aires. "Name: Adolf Otto Eichmann. Occupation: SS Obersturmbannführer a. D [lieutenant colonel]."
The letter was supposed to be published by an Argentinian company with Nazi sympathies, although it never saw the light of day. It was unearthed from German state archives by historian Dr Bettina Stangneth in Hamburg, whose book, Eichmann Before Jerusalem, is published in Germany this week.
In the letter to Adenauer, Eichmann, aged 50, suggests he should be allowed home to tell the young people of Germany what really happened under Hitler.
"How long fate will allow me to live, I don't know, but I know that someone has to be the one to tell future generations about these events," he says, neglecting to mention that "these events" involved the mass murder of millions of people. "I had a big role in leading and directing these programmes," he adds.
Eichmann ran the "Jewish section" at the Reich security head office, the SS organisation responsible for fighting "enemies of the Reich". In practice, this meant it was his job to work out how best to deport Jewish people to concentration camps. He took great pride in figuring out the most profitable and effective way of carrying out mass murder: it was he and his unit who dreamt up the idea of the authorities and the police robbing the victims before deportation.
Stangneth said Eichmann was unhappy with his lowly life in Argentina, where he was a rabbit farmer. He craved the power and recognition he enjoyed in the Third Reich. "That's why he wrote the letter to Adenauer – because he wanted to be famous," said Strangneth. "He wanted to claim his part in history alongside Adolf Hitler.
"He wanted to be put on trial in Germany and give his version of events. Of course, if that had happened, he would have been given a very different trial from the one he got in Jerusalem. There was no death penalty in Germany by then, so he would certainly not have been executed."
Nearly 50 years since Eichmann was hung in Israel, awkward questions are now being asked in Germany about the country's role in bringing him to justice or otherwise.
A series of articles in Der Spiegel magazine recently have suggested West German secret agents knew full well where Eichmann was following his escape, but were never ordered to recapture him.
Following Eichmann's kidnapping by the Mossad in May 1960, Adenauer's government held a crisis meeting, where they agreed they should do everything to make clear that "Eichmann was a stooge of Himmler's SS" and that he was not an authorised agent of Germany. A foreign ministry official is noted as saying it was crucial that "leading figures in West Germany" were not harmed by the trial.
The latest edition of the magazine claims Adenauer personally sent an agent from the German secret service, the BND, to monitor the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.
Adenauer told Rolf Vogel, a spy, to observe the trial in the guise of a reporter and influence it where possible. "You must go to the Eichmann trial for me," wrote Adenauer, according to secret papers unearthed by Der Spiegel, which describes Vogel's deployment as "one of the most delicate diplomatic/secret service operations in the history of West Germany".
Der Spiegel claims Adenauer was terrified that the Nazi past of one of his most trusted aides, Hans Globke, his chief of staff at the chancellery, would be exposed by the trial.
Adenauer reportedly went as far as discreetly trying to pay Eichmann's legal fees because he was terrified that if he didn't, the Eastern bloc would, and his Soviet enemies would attempt to influence the trial for their own ends. But when the media got wind of the plot, back in 1961, the plan was shelved, and the 100,000 Deutschmarks already sent by Germany ended up with the Israelis, said Der Spiegel.
In the event, Eichmann did not expose any high-ranking West German parliamentarians or civil servants.
A week after Eichmann was executed on 31 May 1962, Adenauer met Israel's deputy defence minister, Shimon Peres, and asked him to thank the prime minister, Ben Gurion, for the way the trial was conducted. "It was excellent," said Adenauer, "and I will never forget it."
In August 1962, the Adenauer government donated 240m marks to Israel's military programme.