Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann

Eichmann Rises to Power

By 1939, Germany, steered by the iron hand of Adolf Hitler, completed the process of Anschluss, the annexation of Austria. That same year, Eichmann received a promotion to Lieutenant and was assigned to the city of Vienna. He was made head of the Center for Emigration of Austrian Jews whose job was to force the Jewish population to leave Austria. It didn't matter if they were legal citizens, if they were doctors, lawyers, government officials, rich or poor. They all had to leave and it was to be done immediately. Eichmann would enact procedures that would successfully meet that end. "I found Jewish life in Austria completely disorganized," Eichmann wrote in his memoirs, "most Jewish organizations had already been closed down by the police and their leaders under arrest."

Nazi invasion of Poland
Nazi invasion of Poland

Putting into operation his plan to strip Jews of nearly all their physical possessions before they could be allowed to leave, Eichmann forced 45,000 people out of Austria in the first eight months. By the end of the year, over 150,000 Jews had disappeared. Most fled the country with barely the clothes on their backs. Others were exiled to death camps. "By the time of my transfer," Eichmann later said with pride, "the figure came to 224,000 or 234,000." His methods for seizing the wealth of the Jews and then banishing them to other lands or a slot in a death camp, was an impressive success. When the war broke out in September 1939 as the Nazis invaded Poland, Eichmann was brought back to Berlin where he became head of the notorious Section IV B 4 of the Gestapo. It was the office that would handle the master plan for the extermination of millions.

Eichmann deported Jewish people from all the occupied territories and dumped them into Poland. From Austria, Holland, the Baltics, France and Yugoslavia, hundreds of thousands of impoverished Jews and Gypsies were "resettled" in Poland. The Warsaw ghetto became a killing ground of spectacular ferocity. The Nazi tormentors sealed off the area, built walls and strung barbed wire around the Jewish section. No food or water was allowed inside. Tens of thousands starved to death. Thousands more were shot or gassed in mobile execution chambers. Precise Gestapo records show that 316,322 Jews were removed from the city and "liquidated," the Nazi euphemism for murder. But to the incredible suffering in the Warsaw ghetto, Eichmann was indifferent. "Jewry was grateful for the chance I gave it to learn community life at the ghetto," he wrote years later, "It made an excellent school for the future in Israel basically most Jews feel well and happy in their ghetto life."

Starved bodies of prisoners in a train car
Starved bodies of prisoners in a train car

Soon, more methodical methods of killing had to be found. Huge gas chambers were constructed at Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka. Eichmann made his trains larger and more efficient. He crammed thousands of captives into cattle cars without food or water and transported them en masse to the death camps. During each trip, hundreds of prisoners died on the trains before they reached their destination. "I did not know that because I was not responsible," Eichmann said later, "but I did hear and read about that." By 1941, the extermination of the Jews became the official policy of the Nazi state. Before that time, Eichmann was primarily concerned with the deportation and transportation of Jews to the 164 concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Now that the course was clearly defined, he could concentrate on killing them, a procedure that would require all of his organizational skills as well as a fanatical devotion to Adolf Hitler.

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