Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann

The Birth of Evil

It is impossible to underestimate the feelings of defeat, humiliation and subjugation felt by the German people after the close of World War I. Utterly defeated by their enemies and left defenseless by the insulting terms of the Versailles peace treaty, many Germans felt cheated by the outcome of the "war to end all wars." The German hierarchy, who agreed to the terms of the treaty in 1919, were held in disdain, even hated, by the average citizen. Adolf Hitler, an ambitious political activist, referred to those who negotiated at Versailles as the "November Criminals," and made frequent, degrading references to their betrayal in speeches and print. Hitler's belief, that Germany's honor was bargained away for the benefit of the victor nations, was one of the cornerstones of Nazi philosophy. The collective identity of the German people in the years after the war was one of deep shame and seething anger. In 1933, a New York Times report characterized the German people as "self-absorbed, isolated, sick for power and believe the world is their enemy."

Hitler in uniform
Hitler in uniform

These conditions led directly to the meteoric rise of Adolf Hitler and his fallacious ideas of Germanic destiny. Born in Austria and a veteran of the great war, Hitler seized upon traditional beliefs of national pride and Aryan superiority to fuel his goals of imperialism and world domination. Though he rose steadily through the political maze of post-war Germany, his assumption to power was not accomplished without bloodshed, a lie he continued to promote to the outside world. Hitler was always quick to turn on friends and enemies alike and displayed this trait right up to the end of his life.

When he became the absolute ruler of Germany in 1932, Hitler continued his obsessive campaign of hatred against the Jews, Christians, Gypsies and other ethnic groups who were not of pure Nordic heritage. At first, Hitler wanted them expelled from Germany. Using fictitious criminal charges, he imprisoned thousands without a trial. He rounded up the people he found objectionable and shipped them off to "determent camps." In the beginning, Jews were placed in these camps to remove them from society. But over time, the inmate population grew too large and unmanageable. Isolated killings became part of the job of the SS guards and were ignored by the chain of military command. In 1933, the first true concentration camp under the supervision of the Nazis was constructed near an abandoned munitions factory in a town called Dachau.

Nazi Eagle at entrance to Dachau
Nazi Eagle at entrance to Dachau

Surrounded by barbed wire and SS troops with machine guns, the site consisted of dozens of concrete huts that housed 2,000 detainees. By 1936, inmates were forced to construct barracks, workshops, kitchens, storehouses, cells and finally, crematoriums. Over the front gate hung the ominous sign, Arbeit Macht Frei, "labor brings liberty." But the only liberty from Dachau was death. The first commandant of the camp was a man named Theodore Eicke, a former inmate in a lunatic asylum. Under Eicke, Dachau became a hell on earth. Mass executions, indiscriminate murders and barbaric tortures were just some of the horrors inflicted on its prisoners.

In January 1934, a young corporal in the SS was transferred from Berlin to Dachau for a new assignment. He was placed in charge of cataloguing articles seized from Jewish prisoners. Corporal Adolf Eichmann, 28, was a good Nazi, compliant, conscientious, mindful of the goals of the state and above all, obedient. "If they had told me that my own father was a traitor and I had to kill him," Eichmann later said, "I'd have done it!" At Dachau, he would learn the fundamental principles of Hitler's Aryan dreams and be exposed, for the first time, to the corrupted soul of Nazi ideology.

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