Having published just about the most light hearted post about genocide one can realistically manage, I wanted to share some rather darker facts that I came across while researching it.
FACT: For years before Eichmann’s capture, the CIA and the BND – the West German intelligence agency – were aware that he was in Argentina and what his alias was. They did not act on this information for fear that Eichmann could expose the complicity in Nazi crimes of senior figures in the West German government.
FACT: The West German government made repeated covert interventions in Eichmann’s trial to try and prevent any mention being made of former Nazis who had gone on to take up posts in Chancellor Adenauer’s government. They went as far as to offer to fund Eichmann’s defence, so it could be steered away from potentially embarrassing issues.
FACT: The CIA lent on Life magazine to remove any reference to Hans Globke, Adenauer’s national security advisor, from their publication of Eichmann’s memoirs.
This article from the New York Times covers in more detail not only the CIA’s inaction over Eichmann. It also looks at the broader issue of how entangled both American and Soviet intelligence agencies became with former Nazis. This series of articles in Der Spiegel relates the – if anything less edifying – West German side of the story.
While Globke was undoubtedly a lesser magnitude of evil than Eichmann he was still a deeply unsympathetic figure. He was one of the authors of the emergency legislation that conferred dictatorial powers on Hitler as well as a host of Anti-Semitic rules such “as an ordinance that required Jews with non-Jewish names to take on the additional first names of Israel or Sara, an “improvement” of public records that later facilitated to a great extent the rounding up and deportation of the Jews during the Holocaust.” During the war he was legal advisor to Eichmann’s Office of Jewish Affairs. It is shocking that the supposed guardians of western democracy were protecting either man.
This is sadly not that surprising. As the historian Tony Judt explains:
Far from reflecting upon the problem of evil in the years that followed the end of World War II, most Europeans turned their heads resolutely away from it. Today we find this difficult to understand, but the fact is that the Shoah—the attempted genocide of the Jews of Europe—was for many years by no means the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe (or the United States). Indeed, most people—intellectuals and others—ignored it as much as they could.
For virtually everyone it was an inconvenient truth. The Eastern bloc narrative of the war framed it in class terms that would be disrupted by focussing on the racist core of the Nazis. For Western Europeans, confronting the Holocaust would mean confronting the complicity of their fellow citizens. And for Americans it was a distraction from the imperative of combating communism.
Thanks in no small part to the Eichmann trial this collective amnesia did eventually pass. However, I found that this unsavoury series of facts made it easier for me to empathise with a political movement I don’t sympathise much with.
Zionism has always seemed to me an objectionable and misconceived project. It has made Arabs atone for European sins, and rather than providing Jews with security has dropped them into the centre of the cauldron of violence that is the Middle East. However, when one sees how little the rest of the world cared about justice for the victims of the Holocaust, one can easily understand the desire for a state to champion the interests of the Jewish people.