The Holocaust in the Dock West Germany's Efforts to Influence the Eichmann Trial
Part 4: Weapons in Exchange for Silence
The BND was soon familiar with Eichmann's statements to his Israeli interrogators, his letters to his brother Robert in Linz, the conversations with his attorneys and even the telegrams the attorneys were sending each other.
When Eichmann included, in one of his extravagant letters, positive remarks about the Soviet Union ("the light comes from the East"), the BND sensed that they could be turned into "a global sensation of the first degree." The former SS officer had apparently become a communist. What a triumph in the propaganda war with the East!
But neither American nor French newspapers were interested in this supposed scoop. In the end, only the Munich Abendzeitung published an article on the subject.
The BND gained its most important insight early on -- on Oct. 25, 1960. In a "strictly confidential" memo, the agency noted that when asked about Globke, Eichmann had told his interrogators that the name "meant nothing to him, at least not in connection with the 'mission of the final solution.'" Therefore, the memo continued, Eichmann "could not testify against Globke."
The BND later gained the impression that Eichmann was pursuing the "well-meaning intention not to jeopardize" individuals living in freedom. However, BND headquarters did not believe that he could sustain this position.
Tea and Cookies
In February 1961, two months before the trial was set to begin, the chancellor finally weighed in. Adenauer issued BND agent Vogel a letter of recommendation for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Vogel was told to find out what Eichmann had told the Israelis about Globke.
Ben-Gurion met with the German emissary at the Sharon Hotel in the resort town of Herzlia. The small-statured Israeli prime minister with the Einstein hairstyle was a social democrat of Polish origin who had immigrated to Palestine in 1906. He shared Adenauer's opposition to communism, because the Soviet Union supported Israel's enemies, Egypt and Syria. Tellingly, most of the Eastern bloc countries had refused to assist in the Eichmann trial by providing witnesses or evidence.
Ben-Gurion had tea and cookies served to his visitor and, according to Vogel, said that there was no need to talk about Globke. "If Konrad Adenauer has someone working for him, he's investigated him more than we ever could," Ben-Gurion said.
To this day, this remains the version told by the parties involved. They insist that there were no agreements with Bonn to protect Globke or other officials or politicians in the Eichmann trial. But is this true?
The Israelis were in dire straits in 1960 and 1961. Their military urgently needed weapons, and the young country's ailing economy was dependent on financial assistance. Adenauer had promised the Israeli premier both only a few weeks before Eichmann's arrest.
But then the Nazi war criminal was arrested and the negotiations over the details were suspended.
According to documents in the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem, Adenauer had his staff inform the Israeli negotiator that he could not meet with him because he about to leave on vacation. After that, then Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard was called away on an urgent matter and was also unavailable.
The Foreign Ministry, in particular, stonewalled the Israelis. The diplomats feared that if it were revealed that Bonn was supporting Israel to a significant extent, "the Federal Republic's position in the Middle East would be jeopardized."
Globke, of all people, told the Israeli negotiator that Bonn would wait until Eichmann had been sentenced before making the first tranche of the loan available to Jerusalem. Otherwise, Globke argued, people could get the "wrong impression" that there was a connection between the trial and the German aid to Israel.
The conversation with Globke took place on June 2, 1961, more than 14 months after Adenauer's pledge to Ben-Gurion -- and right in the middle of the Eichmann trial.
Was Bonn taking a wait-and-see approach so as not to relinquish important leverage against the Israelis? Or did Adenauer truly fear the reaction of the world public if it became known that Bonn had promised loans and weapons to Israel during the trial?
Outraged over the Germans' playing for time, a senior Israeli official wrote: "They (the Germans) have lied and cheated us for years." Then Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir wrote in the margin of the document: "This is true." Behind the scenes, Israeli diplomats discussed whether "pressure can be applied on West Germany" by way of the Eichmann trial.
It would have been an easy thing to do. The historian Hanna Yablonka has demonstrated how the legendary Zionist Golda Meir influenced the Eichmann trial several times for political reasons. In one notable example, the connections between the Nazis and the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem were highlighted in the courtroom. Meir could also have pilloried West Germany, where many former Nazi perpetrators still worked in the ministries, the administration, the intelligence services and the economy.
'Understanding and Responsiveness'
But Israel needed the financial aid, the submarines and the tanks, and German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss, who had also negotiated the arms shipments directly with Ben-Gurion, left no doubt that the Israelis were to protect Bonn's reputation if they wanted weapons: "I have told my contacts that it is a matter of course that if the Federal Republic supports the security of Israel, it will not be held collectively liable, morally, politically or journalistically, for the crimes of a past generation in connection with the Eichmann trial."
The Israelis had shown "understanding and responsiveness" for this position, Strauss reported. And so it happened that the question of how the Nazis had managed to involve significant portions of German society in the Holocaust was largely ignored.
"We only introduced information into the trial that was relevant for Eichmann," says Gabriel Bach, the last remaining member of prosecution team still alive today. The Globke issue, he adds, simply wasn't relevant.
Soon BND agent Vogel and the delegation of observers were sending reports to Bonn detailing their successes.
June 5, 1961: The judges made "a noticeable effort, while examining the witnesses, to highlight the resistance movement, particularly among Germans, as small as it was."
June 15, 1961: In the indictment by Attorney General Gideon Hausner, "the word 'Germans' was always replaced with the word 'Nazis' whenever possible."
June 29, 1961: The prosecutors were exhibiting an "absolutely positive view of State Secretary Globke."
July 14, 1961: The Israeli Foreign Ministry had agreed "not to bring up" the case of diplomat Karl Werkmeister again. At the end of the trial, it was revealed that Bonn's ambassador in Stockholm had once written maliciously anti-Semitic situation reports from Hungary.
'I Am Ready'
July 25, 1961: Vogel reported that he had "just consulted with Attorney General Hausner and Chief Prosecutor Dr. Bach, together and separately, about the closing argument."
Whether the Israeli position was always correctly portrayed in these reports is still not entirely clear. Former Prosecutor Bach, for example, denies ever having held a "positive view" of Globke. He notes that BND agent Vogel was apparently merely trying to throw his weight around.
It is clear, however, that Eichmann's attorney gave his client a book about Globke and that the prisoner wrote a 40-page comment on the book. Attorney General Hausner asked Ben-Gurion whether there were political reasons not to introduce these notes into the trial. "There are," Ben-Gurion replied. And, of course, Globke was not summoned to testify.
Neither an appearance by the head of the German Chancellery nor the inclusion of Eichmann's notes in the trial would have changed Eichmann's conviction, because there was no question that the former SS Obersturmbannführer was guilty. And to this day, no credible document has turned up that establishes a connection among Eichmann, Globke and the Holocaust.
Eichmann died on the night of May 31, 1962 in the prison in Ramla, a city 20 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv. When the execution squad placed the noose around his neck, he was asked whether he would like to say a few last words.
Eichmann sang the praises of Germany, Austria and Argentina, greeted his wife and family and ended with the sentence: "I am ready." Each of the two executioners pressed a button, one of which opened the trap door. Eichmann fell three meters to his death.
A week later, Adenauer met with the deputy defense minister and current president of Israel, Shimon Peres. The chancellor asked his visitor to express his deep appreciation to Ben-Gurion "for the way the Eichmann trial was conducted and brought to an end. It was outstanding. I will never forget it."
In August 1962, Adenauer approved military aid worth 240 million deutschmarks.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: West Germany's Efforts to Influence the Eichmann Trial
- Part 2: The Attempt to Deflect Holocaust Guilt
- Part 3: Germany's Agents in Israel
- Part 4: Weapons in Exchange for Silence