JERUSALEM—In a plea for revocation of the death sentence imposed on him in 1961 by an Israeli court for his central role in the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann said the judges had erred in saying that he had no empathy for his victims.
In his letter, released Wednesday by Israel to commemorate international Holocaust Remembrance Day, Eichmann said that he was only a cog in the “final solution” decided on by the Nazi regime.
“It is incorrect that I was never influenced by human emotions,” he wrote. “Under the impression of the unspeakable horrors which I witnessed, I immediately requested a transfer to a different post. Similarly, I revealed of my own will during the [Israeli] police investigation, horrors which had been till then unknown in order to help establish the undisputable truth.”
A lieutenant-colonel in World War II, Eichmann was chief of the Jewish office of the Gestapo and participated in the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in 1942 at which the “final solution” for the Jews was decided on. He and his staff were given responsibility for transporting Jews from all over Europe to the death camps, mainly in Poland, where they were gassed. Historians estimated that 5.5 to 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Eichmann remained at his post until the war’s final days. Escaping from a prisoner of war camp, he fled to his native Austria. In 1950 he immigrated with his family to Argentina, using false papers. The Mossad discovered his whereabouts in Buenos Aires in 1960 and snatched him on a street near his home, where he was living under a false name. Flown to Israel, he was put on trial in Jerusalem, an event that brought the enormity of the Holocaust home to many around the world. In June 1962, the court’s verdict was carried out by hanging, the only death sentence ever carried out in Israel. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.
Eichmann’s plea for mercy was handwritten in German and addressed to Israel’s then-president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who rejected it.
“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders,” Eichmann said in his letter. “I detest as the greatest of crimes the horrors which were perpetrated against the Jews and think it right that the initiators of these terrible deeds will stand trial before the law now and in the future.”
The Israeli judges, he said, had made a fundamental mistake “in that they are not able to empathize with the time and situation in which I found myself during the war years. Had I been as the judges assessed the driving, zealous force in the persecution of the Jews, such a thing would have been evident in my promotion and other awards. Yet I received none.”
The late historian, William Shirer, quotes Eichmann as having said towards the end of the war that he would “leap laughing into the grave” because of the extraordinary satisfaction he had for his role in the death of millions of Jews.
The Mossad officer in charge of Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires, Rafi Eitan, will attend a ceremony Wednesday at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at which copies of Eichmann’s letter will be among a number of Holocaust-related documents released.