The Eichmann Gambit

By George Brewer


   When confronted with the horns of dilemma, pick up a handful of sand and throw it in the bull's eyes. The defense attorneys for Deborah Lipstadt must have had something like that in mind, for in the last days of the Irving trial they made a spectacular but utterly meaningless gesture: they announced that they were trying to get the Israeli government to release the autobiography of Adolf Eichmann which the Israelis had been sitting on for almost 40 years.

   Predictably, the mass media were agog as they speculated on what the writings of Eichmann, putative father and all purpose exterminator of the "Final Solution", would reveal. And of course there were the standard paeans of praise for L'il Debbie Lipstadt, standing up against the Big Bad David Irving to prove the Holocaust happened just like we always said it did. The Israelis were also beamed up to media Valhalla as their honor and virtue in making the tremendous gesture of releasing these diabolical writings were extolled.

   Needless to say all of this is typical bread and circuses foolishness and media hype. In fact, Lipstadt won't even speak in her defense, but has 20 lawyers and a rumored $5 million legal fund with which to hammer away at David Irving. In fact, one of Eichmann's sons tried to obtain his father's last writings over a year ago, but was turned down by the Israelis because it was felt that the Eichmann writings, without appropriate annotations (read: thought control) might give aid and comfort to the notorious "Deniers" who threaten to topple Western Civilization by establishing historical truth. Finally, the last writings of Adolf Eichmann contained no surprises: in fact, they were just a rehash of his testimony at his trial in 1961, which was a rehash of the Paul Bunyan tales that he told the Dutchman Sassen in the middle '50's in the hopes that he could write a book and cop some bread.

   Eichmann was a queer bird, and it doesn't take much reading of what he has to say to understand that. Absent a few embellishments of his own on the Holocaust story, the bulk of his writings and remarks consist of grandiloquent discourses on honor, obedience, and the need for a man to follow these things to the bitter end. Bearing in mind that in the '50's Eichmann was troubled not only by poverty, and anonymity, but by a couple of leather-jacketed teenage sons who seemed to flirt with juvenile delinquency, and one can't help but feeling that at least part of the motivation for the Eichmann saga that he created for himself around this time had something to do with trying to set an example for his boys.

   Because when you get right down to it the Eichmann Holocaust narrative is largely nonsense. We don't mean the part where he denies his own top level role in the deportations and persecutions of the Jews, no, that's probably the only thing that's accurate. We have more in mind the bizarre syncretism that pervades his narrative, as he takes bits and pieces of Holocaust narrative that he apparently read in books (Eichmann was a big fan of Gerald Reitlinger's book on the Holocaust) and wove them into an improbable whole.

   Take the geysers of blood. At one point, Eichmann narrated being present at a shooting massacre of Jews in Minsk, and, indeed, such an event can be triangulated from a number of sources. But that event leads Eichmann to free associate from another "memory", this time about seeing a mass grave in which the blood from the bodies continues to rise up out of the soil in spurts. This memory is physically impossible, and was probably copped from an SS man's affidavit at the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947, which described how the man once saw clods of dirt sliding down a slope where a mass grave had been dug months before. Of course, no one remembers that story: but everyone remembers Eichmann's version, particularly Elie Wiesel, who managed to embellish even this extravagant tale in one of his schlocky memoirs.

   Or take the gas chambers. According to Eichmann, once upon a time he came upon a couple of houses set up like cottages and someone told him these were the gas chambers, and they ran on a submarine engine. Of course, the idea that someone would truck a submarine diesel hundreds of miles into the flatlands of occupied Poland is absurd, but what makes the story interesting is where Eichmann probably got his ideas. The idea of houses set up like cottages is a direct rip off from the famous Becker forgery on gas vans (PS-501) while the idea of using a submarine engine no doubt came from the Gerstein statement which alleged that the hair of the gassing victims was used to make booties for submariners.

   Or take the gas vans themselves. We know that the Germans used vans to transport dead bodies to remote locations in order to bury or burn them, but Eichmann was the first to describe extermination gas vans with peepholes in the cab where the driver could watch the people while they were being gassed. Eichmann probably got that riff from the gastight air raid shelter doors that were frequently mistaken for "gas chamber" doors in the postwar period.

   The most egregious of the Eichmann narratives concerns Auschwitz, and that must have certainly disappointed the Lipstadt defense team. Although Eichmann adamantly declared that he never saw any gas chambers at Auschwitz, his description of the killing agent at Auschwitz contradicts the standard lore: for Eichmann described not the blue-white kitty litter granules that are always mentioned, but rather the flat wooden beer coaster Zyklon discoids which were only used at Auschwitz in the beginning and whose use was discontinued before any "extermination program", real or imagined, got underway. (The English translation of this passage of the memoirs set new standards for journalistic incompetence, translating the wooden discoids as "cotton wool filters that were soaked in sulphuric acid"! We can only imagine the discomfiture of the German-poor defense attorneys when they read that.)

   In short, the postwar writings of Adolf Eichmann were no better than his trial or interrogation statements, or the remarks that he taped in the 1950's: they are shot through with basic historical and physical errors and thoroughly biased with highfalutin and almost pathetic ethical appeals. Not suprisingly, the Lipstadt defense ditched the memoirs almost as soon as they got them, and the judge indicated that they were utterly irrelevant to the case anyway. But that doesn't mean that their disclosure didn't serve a purpose. By focusing attention on the trial at the last minute, and bringing up the whole panoply of Holocaust regalia, the defense hoped, and largely succeeded, in turning a question of Deborah Lipstadt's libels of David Irving into a referendum on the Holocaust.