The Holocaust in the Dock West Germany's Efforts to Influence the Eichmann Trial

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Part 3: Germany's Agents in Israel


The civil servants working under Gawlik also considered other ways of exerting influence. Bonn diplomats had discovered that one of Eichmann's judges and the head of German affairs in the Israeli Foreign Ministry had filed petitions for compensation that had either been declined or were still pending. The German Foreign Ministry perceived this situation as being "particularly unpleasant" and urged the Interior and Justice Ministries to show good will.

The Eichmann task force had a dedicated line to Jerusalem. In addition to BND agent Vogel, representatives of the Federal Government Press Office and a delegation of observers from the Foreign Ministry had also traveled to Jerusalem to attend the trial.

The Germans were soon at loggerheads. In their reports to government headquarters in Bonn, they accused one another of "excessive ambition" or excessive drinking. Apparently the head of the delegation was so drunk on a number of occasions that a waiter had to carry him to his room.

Members of the Foreign Ministry delegation reported that BND agent Vogel was deficient when it came to his "education and, to a large extent, his personal behavior." When Vogel disagreed with other members of the German delegation, he apparently threatened them "with criminal complaints, disciplinary action and newspaper articles," all the while citing "his close ties to Mr. Chancellor."

'Disastrous Impression'

The Bonn envoys had in fact merely been instructed to monitor the trial. Of course, a few of them spread apologist theories among journalists, diplomats and the Israeli prosecutors. They downplayed the numbers of perpetrators or claimed, against their better judgment, that there had been no violent anti-Semitic excesses in the Third Reich before the pogrom known as Reichskristallnacht in 1938.

Klaus Bölling, who would later become the government spokesman under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, reported on the trial as a correspondent for the WDR broadcasting network. The behavior of the Bonn envoys, says Bölling, made a "disastrous impression" in some instances.

It was, after all, a hopeless endeavor. Bonn's representatives were trying to convince correspondents that horrible atrocities had not just been committed by Germans, but also by people from the Baltic countries and elsewhere.

And then the same correspondents heard courtroom accounts like that of a father who described the moment he saw his three-year-old daughter in Auschwitz for the last time. As she was standing in line in front of the gas chamber, he said, he watched her red coat became smaller and smaller.

Many in the courtroom wept. Prosecutor Gabriel Bach spent several minutes leafing through papers in an effort to regain his self-control. He had just bought his young daughter a red coat two weeks before the trial. Fortunately for the Germans, the Israeli hosts ignored many of their indiscretions.

Ignoring the Holocaust

This was the situation in 1960 and 1961: Israel had put Eichmann on trial to galvanize its own young people and the world public. The crime of a century had only played a secondary role in the Nuremberg trials and, 15 years after the end of the war, threatened to fall into oblivion.

The German government, for its part, sought to create the impression that the Holocaust was no longer an issue.

To this end, Chancellor Adenauer availed himself of the services of the BND once again. The intelligence agency's files on Eichmann consist of 3,000 pages. SPIEGEL has gained access to the majority of these documents, which demonstrate the lengths to which the BND went to rescue Bonn's reputation.

The agency, for example, investigated West German journalists who, like Bölling, were reporting from Jerusalem. It looked into an Eichmann exhibit in Munich because it involved Globke. It tried to influence a dubious witness because the man, a former member of the German military administration in Greece, had accused Globke of being involved in the deportation of Greek Jews. The BND held out the prospect of a job for the man, insisting that it was only doing so as a "friendly gesture" -- and, of course, in return for the man agreeing not to reveal his information. But he turned down the offer.

Most importantly, the BND was to find out what testimony Eichmann was giving or had given on "public figures in West Germany, and active or former members of our own service."

Access to Eichmann

The intelligence service had learned that Eichmann, while still in Argentina, had already given two journalists extensive interviews. For months, BND sources and employees tried to get hold of the transcripts. But a few weeks after the Eichmann kidnapping, the magazine Life was already ahead of them. When the BND finally found out about it, a senior BND official asked a CIA counterpart whether it would be helpful for the German government to lean on Washington so that the US government would "suppress" publication of the story.

The CIA advised against this approach, noting that this was something not even the US government could do. The Americans apparently had a different understanding of the vaunted principle of freedom of the press in a free country.

In the first half of October 1960, the BND did manage to gain access to the world's most famous prisoner. Eichmann occupied the only cell in a high-security police building near the port city of Haifa, which had been built by the former British colonial rulers. To prevent him from committing suicide, his guards replaced the glass lenses in his glasses with plastic lenses and had doctors examine him twice daily.

A BND source reported at length on the first visit by Eichmann's defense team. The report included such details as a description of the security measures ("barbed wire and sentries"), the body search of visitors ("superficial"), the duration of the conversation ("2.5 hours") and Eichmann's condition ("upright, mentally alert, confident and not fearful or intimidated").

The conversation with the attorneys took place in a room that was bisected by a wall of glass and plastic. Eichmann sat behind the wall. The cables for the headphones and microphones passed through the plastic. "While blinking his eyes," the prisoner apparently indicated that he believed that the conversation was being recorded.

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