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"Adolf Eichmann: The Architect of the Holocaust and Final Solution"

Book Essay on:
David Cesarani, Becoming Eichmann:
Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a Desk Murderer

(New York: De Capo Press, 2006), 458 pages

by Joseph Kellener
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning
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About Joseph Kellener

I am a senior history major who developed an emphasis in twentieth century history. I have a very strong Jewish background and upbringing from going to Hebrew day schools to public schools. The Holocaust has always been a part of my life, especially remembering what happened to the Jews so that it will never happen again. I chose to write about Cesarani’s book because I am interested in the mindset of one of greatest architects of mass murder in the last century.

Abstract (back to top)

1961 Eichmann portrait
1961 portrait for Time magazine

David Cesarani’s book focuses on representing the true story behind Adolf Eichmann. From his capture up until his trial, there was a incredible amount of literature written about Eichmann. Cesarani takes all this information and sets about chronicling the life of Eichmann and pulling out of the truth from each of this sources and creating his own complete and detailed version of Eichmann and his ideology. The book traces the origins of Eichmann, and his transformation from clerk to genocidal maniac. This book also dispels many lies and fictitious tales made up about Eichmann in an attempt to provide a real and objective view of this man. Cesarani comes to the conclusion that Eichmann was not necessarily a cold blooded killer, but as the times changed and he became deeply involved with the Nazi party, so did his goal for the Jews. In my essay, I examine this relationship and shifting from normal clerk to maniac and whether the representation of Eichmann demonstrated by Cesarani actually seems legitimate or if it is lacking in certain perspectives.

Essay (back to top)

In David Cesarani’s Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a "Desk Murderer", we come face to face with the man himself and are allowed to take our own opinion of what he truly stood for as a human being. The question that must be answered after reading this work is whether or not the reader chooses to believe that Eichmann really was a cold blooded mass murderer, or just a man doing his job like every other Nazi collaborator. Through delicate reading and understanding of the sources provided in this work, it seems that Eichmann was not just a clerk or genocidal maniac, but in reality he was combination of this these factors which lead to his decisions in World War II. It is demonstrated in a clearly presented argument, that any individual who read this work would come to the understanding that Eichmann was not born a killer, but rather molded into one. This theme is presented throughout the work and is shifted into every aspect of Eichmann’s life.

There are many different people from all parts of the world that can be studied when researching the Holocaust. The subject is seemingly endless with information and even today new findings and research continue. However, there are certain people that stand out from the crowd and receive more recognition than others. Besides obvious people like Adolf Hitler or President Truman, individuals who made decisions responsible for millions of lives are definitely worth studying. One such individual who was responsible for the creation of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" was Karl Adolf Eichmann. This man has been debated since the end of World War II as being perhaps one of the most cold blooded killers in history. Yet when actually studying Eichmann one comes to learn he never physically killed a single person. Instead, he orchestrated the Jewish deportatation to death camps around Germany as well as participated in an ideology of the destruction of the Jewish way of life.

Karl Adolf Eichmann as born on March 19, 1906 in Solingen, Germany, into a middle class Protestant family. Following the death of young Adolf's mother the family moved Austria. He spent his youth in Linz, Austria, which had also been the very same hometown as Adolf Hitler. Cesarani mentiones the tremendous amount of literature that became available about Eichmann after his capture in the 1960s . He uses some of this information as well as personal research to develop his own work. According to Cesarani, as a boy Eichmann was teased about his looks and dark complexion and was nicknamed "the little Jew" by classmates. As the political power of the Nazi Party began to grow, Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi Party at age 26. However, this did not really satisfy Eichmann for he felt a deeper connection to the Nazi regime. In 1934 he became a member of the SS and served as an SS corporal at Dachau. However, Eichmann did not enjoy his work in Dachau and in September of that same year Eichmann found a job Heydrich's SD, the powerful SS security service.

This job was not exactly as Eichmann planned, in so far as he was now going to become a office assistant. Eichmann began his career as a simple filing clerk, noting information about Freemasons. Later, he was assigned to the Jewish section which was busy collecting information on all prominent Jews. This information was later used to organize many of the atrocities that the Jews underwent throughout this time period. Interestingly enough, according to Cesarani, this marked the beginning of Eichmann's interest in the Jews. Cesarani states, “ He studied all aspects of Jewish culture, attended Jewish meetings and often visited Jewish sections of cities while taking volumes of notes. He became familiar with the issue of Zionism, studied Hebrew and could even speak a bit of Yiddish. He gradually became the acknowledged ‘Jewish specialist’, realizing this could have positive implications for his career in the SS”.

This special knowledge would actually take Eichmann further in his political aspirations than he had imagined. In March of 1938 the Nazi party officially took over Austria. This is exactly the break that Eichmann needed, especially for the sake of advancing his future strength within the Nazi Regime. Eichmann was then sent to Vienna where he was placed in charge of creating a Central Office for Jewish Emigration. Even at this stage in his political prowess, Eichmann did not resemble anything except for a motivated and zealous clerk which is precisely Cesarani’s argument. However, this office did maintain the sole power to provide Jewish permits for leaving Austria and eventually became an office surrounded by extortion for safe passage. According to Cesarani, “Nearly a hundred thousand Austrian Jews managed to leave, with most turning over all their worldly possessions to Eichmann's office, a concept so successful that similar offices were established in Prague and Berlin”. However, taking possessions is still nothing like killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Within a few years the attitudes changed drastically towards Jews. At the start of World War II along with the occupation of Poland and the Soviet Union, SS Einsatz groups were murdering members of the upper classes, clergy, politicians, suspected traitors, as well as Jewish males and anyone deemed a security threat towards the Nazi party. Poland, while maintaining the largest Jewish population in Europe at this time period, was the area that contained some of the most brutal killings and treatment of Jews. According to Cesarani, it was during this time period that Heydrich and Eichmann ordered that Jews be rounded up and forced into ghettos and labor camps. The ghettos were maintained under squalid conditions and simply meant to kill people slowly. For example in the Warsaw ghetto, Jews were forced to live in confined areas ridden with disease, resulting in overcrowding and death due to starvation and lack of water. Interestingly enough, Cesarani states that Eichmann actually chose some locations for the ghettos based on their proximity to railway junctions, pending the future the decisions of what to do with the Jews. Eichmann also assisted in the functioning Jewish administrative councils within the ghettos to implement Nazi policies and decrees. In this fashion we now begin to see a change in Eichmann from a curious student of the Jewish culture, into an evolving anti-Jewish personality.

As the war progressed, so did the killings of Jews. Cesarani places a quote into his work which directly states the mind frame of the leadership of the Nazi party. "The Fuhrer has ordered the physical extermination of the Jews," which Eichmann said during his trial, had been told to him by his superiors during this time period. It was with the backing of the Fuhrer now, as well as his own personal antisemitism that Eichmann went about supervising the plans for the extermination of the Jews. Eichmann ordered the SS Einsatz groups under his control in occupied areas of the Soviet Union to now turn their attention to the mass murder of Jews. Einsatz leaders kept highly detailed, daily records. According to Cesarani, competitions were in place among the killing squads as to which group could post the highest numbers of Jewish deaths. Understanding the fact that Eichmann supported competitions between army regiments on who could kill more Jews, allows readers of this work to udnerstand the drastic change in Eichmann's attitudes towards Jews. He was becoming this genocidal maniac described in the past. As stated by Nazi clerks, in the first year alone roughly 300,000 Jews were murdered. Cesarani quotes from Eichmann's trial in which he discusses the scene of an execution, “he execution ditch had been covered over with dirt, but blood was gushing out of the ground like a geyser due to pressure from the bodily gasses of the deceased”. It was this scene along with Eichmann claiming he was disgusted by this that led way to ideas of more humane killing not for the sake of the Jews, but for the soldiers doing the murdering. Gassing the Jews was coming into favor and Eichmann could use the previous euthanasia programs as example of how this was conducted on a smaller scale.

However, in 1942 that Eichmann sat down and began to discuss what he is so infamous for, the Final Solution. According to Cesarani Eichmann himself organized the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. Eichmann along with 15 Nazi bureaucrats planned the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe and the Soviet Union, estimated at 11 million persons. Cesarani also suggests that Eichmann used Auschwitz as a testing ground for their plans. Eichmann even went as far as to choose the location for the gas chambers, and approved the use of Zyklon-B for the process. He then was able to witness the extermination process and the fact that he had found a rapid way of annihilating the Jews. One interesting connection that Cesarani draws about Eichmann was that after the Jews were murdered, their various possessions still on their bodies were collected to enrich the SS, with the proceeds funneled into secret Reichsbank accounts.

This in turn not only led Eichmann to a good solution for killing Jews, but now he could claim he was economically beneficial. That in turn cements the idea that Eichmann was not officially sane and capable of understanding his actions and choices made for the simply killing of Jews. After tasting initial success Eichmann began to travel throughout Germany, making sure to constantly have the goals of the Final Solution in mind, and definitely insuring a steady supply of trainloads of Jews to the killing centers he himself set up. It was this systematic train of thought in which Eichmann possessed which changed the numbers of dead from thousands to millions.

As Eichmann's power began to build and he finally saw his dream becoming a reality, Hitler’s power was diminishing. The fact was that by 1944 the Allies were gaining the upper hand and causing Hitler to retreat on all fronts. As the Allied army kept closing in on Germany, Himmler himself ordered Eichmann to stop the deportations and killings of the Jews. It was at this moment that in reading this work, Eichmann defines himself a cold-blooded killer. He chose to directly disobey Himmler and send more than fifty thousand Jews on an eight day march of death to Austria. Realized that Eichmann was now a man who felt he was in control of the Jewish Question, his actions display the exact point the work is making in so far as; the combination of factors leading to these decisions does not seem to hold true anymore, especially at his trial when he claimed he was simply following orders.

By May 1945 the war was all but over and Germany was forced to surrender. Eichmann was later arrested and confined to an American prisoner of war camp in which Cesarani claims he escaped due to his name not really being well known. By 1950, with the help of Nazi sympathizers, Eichmann was able to flee Germany and head to Argentina where he lived under the fictitious name of Ricardo Klement. He was later captured by Israeli secret service agents and was placed on trial in Jerusalem for crimes against the Jewish people, humanity and overall war crimes. He was eventually found guilty and sentenced to death. Cesarani states, “A Nazi reporter claimed Eichmann once said he would leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction." The punishment Eichmann received did not match the crimes he had committed during his reign in the Nazi party.

Cesarani definitely brings up some interesting aspects to the life of Eichmann. After reading this work it just seems that his impartialness towards Eichmann actions is to objective. He does state that Eichmann did commit evil crimes and that the atrocities of the Holocaust are horrible. However, he just does not want to blame Eichmann for everything like other scholars have. The balance between good and evil and right and wrong was definitely clear to Eichmann who knowingly, and calculatingly made his decision to make sure that the extermination of the Jews was possible.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/19/08; last updated:
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