The Long Road to Eichmann's Arrest: A Nazi War Criminal's Life in Argentina

Part 2: Diplomats Were Relatively Familiar with Eichmann's Milieu

Adolph Eichmann in his cell in Galami Prison in Israel as he awaits his trial. Zoom
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Adolph Eichmann in his cell in Galami Prison in Israel as he awaits his trial.

Since no arrest warrant had been issued, the name Eichmann did not appear on the search bulletins that were sent to German embassies, including the one in Buenos Aires.

Nothing further happened until August 19, 1954, when a stout woman walked into the German Embassy in the Argentine capital and applied for passports for her two older sons. She wrote in the applications that the young men "might want to travel to Germany during vacations to visit relatives." The woman's name was Vera Eichmann. She presented the sons' birth certificates and her marriage certificate. Copies are on file today in the archives of the German Foreign Ministry. The passports were issued.

But it wasn't just German consular officials who helped the Eichmanns. The archives also contain the preliminary travel documents Vera Eichmann and her children used when they left Austria to join Eichmann in Argentina. An employee of the Soviet occupying force in Vienna had signed the documents, and Italian officials had stamped them. The stated destination was Argentina.

But no one was interested in the Eichmann family, neither in Germany nor in the other countries involved.

Germany Declines to Launch Interpol Manhunt

When the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office finally took the initiative and, as a result, a warrant for Eichmann's arrest was issued in 1956, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) declined to launch an international manhunt through Interpol. BKA officials claimed that the Interpol statutes prohibited the prosecution of "crimes of a political and racist nature."

Eichmann, a victim of political persecution?

The only German agency that continued to pursue the case was the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In 1958, it asked the embassy in Buenos Aires for assistance. The embassy's response was sobering: "The inquiries into the whereabouts of the wanted person using the name Clement, or using a different name, have been unsuccessful to date. Furthermore, it is not considered to be very likely that Eichmann is in the capital, or even in Argentina, but that he is more likely to be in the Middle East."

After that, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution suspended its investigation.

Oddly enough, the diplomats were relatively familiar with Eichmann's milieu. Fuldner, the German-Argentine businessman who had helped Eichmann escape, paid regular visits to the embassy, where he was considered "capable." There is ample evidence that Bonn's envoys were familiar with his company and many of Eichmann's coworkers at CAPRI. They thought highly of the director of the German-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, who in turn was friendly with an acquaintance of Eichmann.

Even Dutch journalist Sassen's name appears in the embassy records, but for another reason. He had refused to pay alimony to a woman in the northern German city of Oldenburg who had claimed that he was the father of her child. The embassy made inquiries about Sassen at the BND's request.

Was Eichmann being shielded?

The BND has consistently denied this, and the agency's files available to SPIEGEL so far corroborate its version. A secret BND memorandum states that Eichmann had "no connection to the BND."

And the embassy?

It is noticeable that in 1958, at about the same time as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had sent its request to the embassy in Buenos Aires, Fuldner advised Eichmann to keep a low profile.

Ambassador Werner Juncker, a member of the Nazi Party from 1935 onward, had other priorities than to support the pursuit of Nazi criminals. He later wrote about the Eichmann trial that it was "unnatural and incompatible with human dignity to expect a people to witness without protest the exhibition and summation of its acknowledged and, to the extent humanly possible, corrected historical mistakes by strangers."

Nazis in Buenos Aires 'Didn't Walk Around with a Sign'

Georg Negwer, now 84, was the cultural attaché in Buenos Aires at the time. When the Foreign Ministry in Bonn demanded a statement from the ambassador and other diplomats in Buenos Aires after Eichmann's arrest, they all claimed that they had never heard of him and that they hadn't even known a man named Klement (a.k.a. Eichmann). Only Negwer stated that he was aware of the role the abominable bureaucrat had played in the Third Reich. A native of Silesia, Negwer had read about Eichmann during his training period.

He believes to this day that Ambassador Junker and his former colleagues did not lie. According to Negwer, Nazis kept a low profile in Buenos Aires and didn't "walk around with a sign."

But Negwer also describes events at the embassy that threatened to end in brawls between Nazis and other German immigrants.

The tens of thousands of Germans in Buenos Aires were divided. Nazis and non-Nazis had their own theaters, their own newspapers and their own athletic clubs. The embassy, for its part, tried to maintain unity between the different camps. The Nazis were invited to functions, just as everyone else was. "An effort was made to get along with each other," says Negwer. There was apparently not so much as a hint of social distance.

In Negwer's view, finding men like Eichmann was not the real problem. Instead, it was getting them out of Argentina and putting them on trial.

Why America Didn't Act

The CIA was the first to address the issue of what exactly would happen if Eichmann were found. He was not a US citizen, had apparently not killed any Americans and had not committed murder on American soil. This meant that he was not a case for the US courts. Besides, the Western allies had delegated the criminal prosecution of Nazi crimes to the new Federal Republic of Germany. In a memorandum for then CIA Director Allen Dulles, an advisor noted that Washington could only support West Germany with an extradition request, but that anything else was "illegal."

The American foreign intelligence service isn't exactly known for being overly concerned with the principles of constitutionality. But the Israelis also recognized the problem. Israeli diplomats discreetly inquired with their German counterparts as to whether there was an extradition agreement between Bonn and Buenos Aires. There wasn't.

Instead, the Argentines treated German extradition requests "extremely dilatorily," as the BND concluded. Many a Nazi criminal managed to disappear because Argentine authorities had been so slow to arrest them.

It was clear that extraordinary methods were needed to catch Eichmann.

In April 1960, a Mossad team traveled to Argentina. Its mission was to prepare for the abduction of Adolf Eichmann.

In the next installment of this series, SPIEGEL will explore how then-Chancellor Konrad Adenauer ordered Germany's foreign intelligence agency to find out what Eichmann might say at his trial -- and who in the government it might incriminate.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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