In this document, Eichmann convicts himself as one of the major Nazi war criminals. Yet he set it down in the belief that his version of the truth would go far to "explain" his actions and even to exonerate him. Several years ago in Argentina, where he had fled after eluding Allied agents and lived under a false name, he began telling his story to a German journalist, talking into a tape recorder for hours at a time. He had finished the account by last May when, in a dramatic cloak and dagger operation, Israeli intelligence agents found him, captured him and carried him off to Israel.
A month later, LIFE came into possession of the huge transcript of Eichmann's words. After six months of translation, editing and research which confirmed the absolute authenticity of the document, LIFE is now able to present, in two installments, Eichmann's own story of his work.
"I was merely a little cog in the machinery," Eichmann argues. Engaged in an effort that dwarfed the exterminations of Genghis Khan or Tamerlane, hr preserved the mentality of a competent bookkeeper, eager to please his superiors. He tells how he himself worked out the timetable for the obliteration of Europe's Jewish population and how his men rounded up Jews and put them on the trains that led to deathly sidings at Auschwitz and Maidanek or to the lime pits in Poland.
The question may be asked: why publish this account?
LIFE does not publish it simply as a reminder of the terrible slaughter of European Jewry. The self-told story of Adolf Eichmann is a major contribution to the history of a horrifyingly brutal era, and it has a bitter relevance in our time. Eichmann gave over his conscience to a totalitarian state out of perverted patriotism and in return for the supposed solidarity and security that the state promised him. His deeds, of course, make him an extreme example. But among the Nazis, the Communists and other totalitarians, past and present, he could find a great deal of company: men who totally abdicate their individual sense or morality in favor of a set of instructions and directives.
The Eichmann story reveals how evil can be rationalized because it has been codified. It is not pleasant reading, but it stands as a warning to every member of the human family.
May 29, 1998