Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann

The Problems of Mass Murder

As the person in charge of the Jewish "problem" in the conquered territories, Adolf Eichmann faced many challenges. Deporting millions of people against their will to other countries was not easy. Most countries would not accept hundreds of thousands of refugees. And since they arrived penniless after first being robbed by Nazi thieves, they would need public assistance when they arrived. It proved more expeditious simply to kill them. In the coming years, as the policy of mass murder slowly became a reality, deportation was tantamount to a death sentence.

Human remains in concentration camp ovens
Human remains in concentration camp ovens

Eichmann soon turned his talents to improve the killing efficiency of the Nazi camps. Any pretense of what the Nazis were doing disappeared when it became obvious that the thousands shipped to Auschwitz each week were being murdered and dumped into mass graves. People were gassed in vast, windowless rooms, disguised as community showers. Thousands more were burned in concrete crematoriums, built specifically for that purpose.

Simon Wisenthal
Simon Wisenthal

Simon Wiesenthal, who somehow survived over four years in concentration camps and later went on to become one of the world's most famous Nazi hunters, once said, "There were a million ways of death, starting with starvation, disease, decay, fever, incineration, sadism and summary execution." The Nazi task forces were no better. Called Einsatzgruppen, these mobile killing teams savaged the civilian population in occupied territories, virtually killing at will. Author and Holocaust survivor, Zvi Aharoni writes in Operation Eichmann that, "during the second half of 1941, the four mobile Einsatzgruppen of the SS, numbering 3000 men, butchered approximately 500,000 human beings, most of them Jews."

Operation Eichmann
Operation Eichmann

In one notorious incident in France in late 1942, Eichmann ordered a round up of Jewish citizens in the city of Paris. After two days, 7,000 Jews, including 4,051 children were held inside the Velodrome d'Hiver. Eichmann wanted to ship them all to the concentration camps, but the Paris government strongly protested. For five days, negotiations continued while the huge crowd, without water or food suffered terribly. Dozens died, some went insane. On the sixth day, all the parents were removed and shipped away on Eichmann's trains. A few days later, Eichmann ordered the 4,051 children into boxcars and sent them to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. But in his mind, Eichmann bore no responsibility for their murders. "Once a shipment was delivered to the designated stations," he said years later to the Israeli police, "...my powers ceased."

Auschwitz prison camp
Auschwitz prison camp

Later, when he actually visited the camps, Eichmann saw the results of his planning for the first time. "I did visit Auschwitz repeatedly. It had an unpleasant smell," he wrote of his experiences there. Eichmann took notice of the inefficiency of the methods used to kill the prisoners. It required too much effort and the production of the carbon monoxide gas needed for the job was not cost effective. During the Nuremberg trial years later, the former commandant of Auschwitz said, "We did not come to a decision on the matter. Eichmann was going to inquire about a gas that would be easy to use and would not require any special installations and then report back to me." Eichmann eventually implemented the use of a poison gas called Zyklon B. This action later became the basis for the first of 15 criminal charges against him at his trial.

Canister of Zyklon B poison gas
Canister of Zyklon B poison gas

"I remember clearly the first time he (Commandant Hoess) guided me around the camp," Eichmann said in his memoirs, "...at the end he took me to a grave where the corpses of gassed Jews lay piled on a strong iron grill. Hoess's men poured some inflammable liquid over them and set them on fire... I can still see that mountain of corpses in front of me."

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