The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 6-7-8
(Part 3 of 10)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
The SS, the SD and the Gestapo

The persecution of the Jews in Germany, in the occupied and satellite countries was part of the official policy of the Nazi State and Party. The official institutions of the Reich, including the Foreign Ministry, the Propaganda Ministry and even the Army, were utilized for the purpose. But the chief tools created by the Nazi Party to dominate Germany and to impose a reign of terror on the occupied territories were three criminal organizations: the SS, the SD and the Gestapo, to all three of which Eichmann belonged.

At its inception in 1921, the National-Socialist Party set up the Storm Troopers, the Sturmabteilung (SA), which was the executive arm of the propaganda machine. It was these who spread the idea of Lebensraum - living space; these who supplied the ruffians who instigated street brawls and quarrels in saloons. When the Nazis took over the government they were also used to suppress opponents and imprison them in concentration camps.

The SS (Schutzstaffel) was set up in 1925 as the elite of the SA. Its initial aim, at least formally, was to serve as a personal guard for Hitler and other leaders; but very quickly the SS was transformed into an instrument for complete domination over the Party - later over the Reich, and finally over the whole of conquered Europe. The SS was an "order" set up for a special purpose. Its chief, Heinrich Himmler, organized it with deliberate care, so that it might be a powerful fist to strike and subjugate every opponent or rebel. Hence, only picked men were accepted for service in the organization; they were the choicest elite.

When Himmler was appointed Reichsfuehrer SS, that is, the director of the organization, it had only 280 members. At the outbreak of the War, it numbered about a quarter of a million, who received military training and were organized in para- military units. Later, Himmler set up the Armed SS (Waffen SS), which were select military units to serve as counterweight against the ordinary German Army, in case the latter ever showed signs of faltering in its loyalty to the Fuehrer. Thus Himmler created a powerful organization, having its own army, with its own stores of weapons and ammunition, an independent economy, and even separate laws and its own judicial processes. These were the most faithful of the faithful whose duty it was to fortify the rule of the idol Hitler, and of Himmler, his high priest.

That satanic force which was Nazism constructed its own instruments of rule with great thoroughness and fiendish cunning. It also set up an internal Party organization (Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsfuehrers SS), known as the SD. For external consumption, it was described as "the brain of the Party of the State." But very soon it became an internal espionage and detective organization which did not balk at any means for achieving its purposes. Heydrich, who organized and commanded that service, always contended: "One must know as much as possible about people." For that purpose a Party intelligence network was set up which included confidential agents (V-Leute), ordinary agents (A-Leute), informers (Z-Leute), casual employees (H-Leute), and doubtful informants (U-Leute). They were happy to receive any information whatsoever about economic developments, social life, politics and, especially, about the private lives of Party members.

Heydrich wanted to know every possible detail about the members of the Party and their opponents, everything related to their character and weaknesses; their hobbies and habits; scandals in which they had been involved; their personal desires and love life; the places they frequented; the expenditures and income of industrial firms, the movements of bank deposits - in brief, every item that might possibly be exploited, in one way or another, against a man or an institution, especially if it might be used as a threat for purposes of blackmail. All this was patiently and thoroughly recorded in an enormous personal filing system that used about 100,000 regularly employed agents, detectives and informers.

Nothing in the most intimate lives of all the leaders of the Reich, and afterwards of the leaders and administrators of the whole of Europe, escaped the vigilance of the SD. Clearly, such an instrument soon became a weapon of great strength.

When the Nazis came to power, a clash between the SS and the SA was inevitable. Once Hitler had proclaimed that the two pillars of his regime were the State and the Party, it was clear that only one of the two Party organs could be the central core of the Party pillar. Himmler had no difficulty in defeating the SA, and the notorious purge of 1934 took place, in which its leaders were assassinated. Himmler's mastery over the Party was now absolute.

But in order to consolidate the regime, there was a need not only for sources of information but also for means of implementation. From 1936 on, Himmler became the supreme chief of all branches of the German police, including political and criminal. He set up a network of SS chiefs and superior police officers who operated as his representatives. The Security Police and the Gestapo were under the command of Heydrich.

After the outbreak of World War II, Himmler divided the SS into twelve head offices; one of these was the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) - the Head Office for Reich Security - which thereafter was in charge of the police forces. Its central function was the suppression of all opposition, and its chief was Heydrich. Amt (Bureau) 4 was the Gestapo, headed by Mueller. Within this was Section IVB4 - the Jewish Section, headed by Adolf Eichmann.

At the disposal of Himmler, as has been said, were also actual military forces, including the Death's Head Units (Totenkopfverbaende), which carried out the deeds of horror in the concentration camps; the SS-Verfuegungstruppen, (the bone-breakers of the opponents of the regime); and various police units.

The SS expanded and developed into a distinct and independent body which dominated the entire nervous system of Nazi Germany. It was actually a state within the State, independent with a central and decisive function. All Himmler's opponents in the struggle for power and influence in the Reich were doomed to failure. Hitler always supported his "faithful Heinrich." Only occasionally did it seem that Himmler himself was careful not to encroach upon the Army proper and had to compromise and make concessions to marshals and generals of the OKW (High Command of the Armed Forces), many of whom despised him in their hearts and even refused to allow him the rank of General. Yet even this latter goal was achieved in 1944, when he was appointed Supreme Commander of the Reserves (Ersatzheer).

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, whose decision in this matter is binding upon us according to our Law, stated the following in its judgment:

"The creation of the RSHA represented the formalization, at the top level, of the relationship under which the SD served as the intelligence agency for the Security Police. A similar coordination existed in the local offices. Within Germany and the areas that were incorporated in the Reich for the purpose of civil administration, the local offices of the Gestapo, Criminal Police, and SD were formally separate. They were subject to coordination by inspectors of the Security Police and SD on the staffs of the local Higher SS and Police leaders, however, and one of the principal functions of the local SD units was to serve as the intelligence agency for the local Gestapo units. In the occupied territories the formal relationship between local units of the Gestapo, Criminal Police and SD was slightly closer. They were organized into local units of the Security Police and SD and were under the control of both the RSHA and of the Higher SS and Police Leader who was appointed by Himmler to serve on the staff of the occupying authority. Originally, one of the primary functions of the Gestapo was the prevention of any political opposition to the Nazi regime, a function which it performed with the assistance of the SD. The Gestapo and the SD also dealt with charges of treason and with questions related to the press, the Churches, and the Jews. As the Nazi programme of anti-Semitic persecution increased in intensity, the role played by these groups became increasingly important...

"The Gestapo and the SD were used for purposes which were criminal under the Charter, involving the persecution and extermination of the Jews, brutalities and killings in concentration camps, excesses in the administration of occupied territories, the administration of the slave labour programme and the mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war. In dealing with the Gestapo the Tribunal includes all executive and administrative officials of Amt IV of the RSHA...

"The Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those members of the Gestapo and SD holding the positions enumerated in the preceding paragraph who became or remained members of the organization with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter, or who were personally implicated as members of the organization in the commission of such crimes."{Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 Nov. 1945-1 Oct. 1946, Vol. I, pp. 263, 267-268; and see Section 3 of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710- 1950 - Editor.}

And this is what the International Military Tribunal said about the SS:
"The SS was even a more general participant in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity...

"The SS played a particularly significant role in the persecution of the Jews...

"It is impossible to single out any one portion of the SS which was not involved in these criminal activities. The Allgemeine SS was an active participant in the persecution of the Jews and was used as a source of concentration camp guards. Units of the Waffen SS were directly involved in the killing of prisoners of war and the atrocities in occupied countries. It supplied personnel for the Einsatzgruppen (Special Operational Units) and had command over the concentration camp guards after its absorption of the Totenkopf SS, which originally controlled the system. Various SS Police units were also widely used in the atrocities in occupied countries and the extermination of the Jews there. The SS central organization supervised the activities of these various formations and was responsible for such special projects as the human experiments and "final solution" of the Jewish question.

"In dealing with the SS the Tribunal includes all persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS, including the members of the Allgemeine SS, members of the Waffen SS, members of the SS- Totenkopfverbaende and the members of any of the different police forces who were members of the SS. "The Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph, who became or remained members of the organization with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter or who were personally implicated as members of the organization in the commission of such crimes."{Ibid., pp. 270, 271, 273.}

The SS set up all the concentration camps, work camps and extermination centres. This organization which was branded at the Nuremberg trials, was in fact an enormous conspiracy for the execution of crime and horror without precedent.

In all the countries under German occupation, Himmler's special representatives were at work, whether as high officers of the SS and Police (Hoehere SS und Polizeifuehrer) or direct representatives of the RSHA (Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei - BdS).

In theory, these were subordinate to the regular occupation regime, but in practice they acted on their own initiative and were only subordinated to the occupation authorities as a matter of form. This fact was a natural result of the very nature of the totalitarian regime, which always gave great power to the police, and especially the secret police; and also of the military situation in the occupied territories, where the regime used these forces to suppress all opposition and to strengthen the institution of police rule. The Reich Security Main Office, through the police officers, was thus in control of all occupied areas.

After the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union, the SS was given additional and special powers. On 17 July 1941, Hitler ordered that security measures in all the occupation zones in the East be executed by the Reichsfuehrer SS, who would be entitled to issue orders to all other authorities. We shall see later how Himmler used his enormous powers. In Jewish matters, Adolf Eichmann was the executive arm of the SS and of its cherished offspring - the RSHA.

A directive issued by Rosenberg, Minister for the eastern occupation zones, was later found. It read:

"In the light of a certain incident, I hereby forbid all civilian authorities in the eastern zone to take any active part in executions of any kind. The carrying out of executions, especially in connection with the extermination of the Jews, is the function of the Security Police and of the SD."
The first and principal means of repression used by the SS was the concentration camps, in which were developed and perfected systems of terror employing all the resources available to modern technology. The Nazi, that romantic mystic, the family man, who on the surface seemed to be a loving husband to his wife and a merciful father to his children, the lover of nature and living things, was revealed in the concentration camps as a monster of insane brutality, who did not hesitate to trample on human beings, without blinking an eyelash, as if they were insects.

One of the shocking chapters in the story of Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, is the part where he describes his own tranquil family life at home: the education he gave his sons, the affectionate regard for his wife - all this going on just on the other side of the high-tension barbed-wire fence of the terrible extermination camp, in which each and every day, between five and ten thousand people were being put to death, and sometimes even more.

The mere imprisonment of a man without a trial in which he can try to prove his innocence, and without any indication of when he may be released - that is terrible enough. But if we add to this a regime of humiliation, forced labour, beating, whippings, torture and hangings, we may understand the terrible repressive power exercised by the Nazi concentration camp.

The Gestapo had also learned well how to exploit all the human frailties of their victims. They knew that starvation and torture can break even strong men, that by means of brutality and humiliation it is possible to efface the divine image, leaving a man insensitive, inert, an obedient robot who will do all he is told, even when he is ordered to dig his own grave.

The Aryan opponent of the regime could repent and accept the yoke of National Socialism. He could hope to be set free, to be allowed to live, to regain his position in society. And many did so, overwhelmed by the hypnotic force of Hitler and his ever-growing power - for success has its own power of persuasion. Only the Jew had no road to deliverance, for every measure was carefully taken to break down his opposition and bring him to a point where he no longer believed in his very right to exist. On him too the hypnotic supremacy of the victorious "Master Race" had its effect. In addition, every means of humiliation was deliberately employed to destroy his faith in himself.

When a man is whipped across his face, and he cannot react; when he is deprived of food until he writhes with the pangs of hunger; when men and women, boys and girls are given orders to perform their excretory functions in full sight of one another, like beasts; when women are made to run naked before the guards; when morning and night executions by shooting and hanging prove that the lives of Jews are absolutely worthless; when killing and butchery take place before your eyes for no reason at all, out of mere caprice or for sport; when a score of times per day you are shown that you are abandoned and defenceless, that your very life depends on the mood of any one of the SS men that day - under such circumstances it was not difficult to create a condition in which most of these unfortunates, oppressed and down-trodden were stripped of all faith and feeling, bereft for the most part of any desire to go on living, their supreme desire a speedy and painless death.

The prisoner in the concentration camp was finally brought almost to the point where he could hardly distinguish any longer between good and evil. He was reduced to a beast-like state, almost entirely lacking in such human feelings as sympathy, grief, or capacity to respond to misfortune. During his labours in a slave camp, while working in the concentration camp sewing-shop on a pile of plundered clothing he had been ordered to clean and repair, a prisoner might come across the clothes of his dead wife or children. He would be shocked for a moment, but he would quickly quench the glow in his eyes and carry on. He would not shout, not go mad, not raise his fist against those who had enslaved him, but would go on with his work, patching the bullet-holes and removing the yellow badges of shame, so that the clothing might be used, after repair, by the murderers themselves.

The men of the Gestapo knew a great deal about the conquered peoples and tried to fan the flames of hatred for the Jew wherever they went, but they also understood very well where and in what circles their work would reap its best reward. The incitement to anti-Jewish pogroms was carried out generally in the occupied zones of Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, where they could rely on the crude anti_Semitism that prevailed in various circles to give them a "scientific basis" and official support for acts of murder and pillage. Here the hardened hooligans could rest assured that the authorities were on their side. We shall submit to the Court the reports of the Einsatzgruppen, which tell of their success in inciting some of the local population to pogroms, but add that, since the riots had not yet liquidated the Jews it would be necessary to go over to methods of direct extermination.

The Gestapo also knew that the will to survive is a primordiaal instinct, and they pressed it, too, into their service. Having broken the spirits of all their victims, they would select a few for special duties, or grant them what seemed like authority. The overall extermination programme was kept secret; as a result, it was possible to suggest to a number of individuals privately, whether expressly or by hints, that they would suffer no harm if they obeyed orders or acted as informers, that if they did what they were told, they might save their lives and those of their families. In general, the method of using the victim's own people against him was accepted. We shall submit to you Gestapo orders to the effect that the execution of hanging in concentration camps should be entrusted to other prisoners of the same nationality as those to be hanged, and that the executioners should be given three cigarettes as wages.

The Nazis knew how to exploit for their purposes every human weakness and biological need. They even had brothels opened inside the concentration camps to which those who toed the line were to be offered admittance. They were skilled in lies and chicanery; they knew how to use every expedient to deceive their victims. After every manhunt, in which thousands and tens of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths and others would manage to escape or hide, a rumour would be deliberately spread by the Nazis that this was the last operation of the kind, that the survivors would no longer be touched, that there would be no more transports. And many individuals of the type that cling to any hope, those who could not or would not believe that the fate of all the Jews had indeed been sealed or who were exhausted with hunger, misery and suffering, would venture out of their hiding-places or return from the forests, only to be captured by their persecutors in a new manhunt. The tiger played with his victims at his own sweet will.

We shall find Jews among those carrying out Nazi orders, in the Jewish police, in the Ghettoes and in the Councils of Elders. Even at the entrance of the gas-chambers there were Jews whose task was to calm the victims and persuade them that they were merely going to the showers. This was one of the most satanic aspects of the entire programme: to deaden man's senses, to deprive them of all emotional and intellectual vigour, to leave no more than a terrified and lifeless robot so that it was possible to use the prisoners in the camps themselves as part of the murder machine against their own people, and the Gestapo could reduce to a minimum the number of their own men in the camps. Of course, at the end even these robots did not escape the cruel fate of their people, and were put to death with their brethren.

It is extraordinary that even in the midst of this inferno there were many Jews who succeeded in preserving the divine image, and were not broken. There were also others. In this trial will shall not deal with the Jews who carried out orders, either the "kapos" or the members of the Councils of Elders. This is not the trial of the victims, but the trial of the destroyer.

Nor shall we enter into the problems of the course a Jewish leader or public worker should have followed within the jaws of the tiger: whether it should have been the way of Edelstein who tried to organize the Theresienstadt Ghetto; or that of Rumkowski, who hoped to save the Jews of Lodz by obeying German orders and when he learned that he had been deceived went of his own free will to Auschwitz; or the methods of Kasztner, who tried to negotiate, and found a tiny avenue of escape for a few people; or the course adopted by Czerniakow, who poisoned himself when he saw that the Nazis were demanding that he give them the Jews of Warsaw to be sent to their death.

This controversy has no place in the present trial. I do not think that today we can establish a book of rules for the proper behaviour of a victim in his relations with the beast of prey, that we can say how this or that leader in Warsaw, Budapest, Prague or Vienna should have behaved - whether he should have tried to save what he could, or to incite rebellion, or to cling to every straw of hope for deliverance even when these hopes had no foundation. We are all, of course, proud of the Warsaw Ghetto, of the various instances of resistance and rebellion, of the partisans and fighters who struck out at the evil regime. But this trial is not a tribunal at which this problem can be clarified, and we shall leave it to the historian of the Holocaust. Here Adolf Eichmann is on trial.

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