Captain Avner W. Less was the Israeli police officer who interrogated Adolf
Eichmann, prior to his trial and subsequent conviction in Jerusalem.
Comments, designated by brackets , are those of the editor, Jochen von
Typos are mine, not the author’s.
Adolf Eichmann is being interrogated regarding his early work with the Nazi
government in Vienna, particularly as it related to the emigration of Jews.
EICHMANN: I didn’t know my way around Vienna. … The first thing I did was
go to the headquarters of the Secret State Police and ask them who could
give me information about Jewish affairs. Then I was – oh, I forgot to tell
you, I’d meanwhile been promoted, on January 30, 1938, to Untersturmfu”hrer
– and then I was taken to see a so-called Journalbeamter (duty officer), an
old term from old Austria, a jurist, who introduced himself as Dr. Ebner. At
the time he was still in Austrian uniform … of the Security Police. I told
him I’d been sent down there to take charge of Jewish affairs, I had no idea
what was going on and would he fill me in on the situation.
LESS: Well, what was the situation at the end of March, 1938, exactly two
weeks after the so-called seizure of power in Vienna?
EICHMANN: It was very simple. He told me they were all under lock and key,
the Jewish officials were all in detention. For the first time, I was thrown
into practical activity. Up until then, I’d been sitting at a desk. I told
Dr. Ebner that in the Old Reich – as we called it at the time – the policy
was to encourage emigration. And I told him that somehow Jewish political
life had to be set in motion again in Vienna and Ostmark, as Austria was
then called. He gave me a list of the former Jewish political functionaries,
who were under arrest, and I asked him to bring me certain ones whom I
judged to be the ranking leaders. You see, I wanted to talk to them, but I
was still in the SD and had no authority to send for anybody on my own. When
I wanted something, I had to go down on my knees to the Secret State Police.
I don’t know who it was who came; a few gentlemen, but they struck me as too
old, not sufficiently energetic or intelligent. Anyway, that was my first
impressing. Until I came accross Dr. Lo”wenherz, Dr. Richard Lo”wenherz.
Those first gentlemen, I can still see them standing in front of me, were
let go, because they hadn’t been locked up … hadn’t been locked up … to
stay locked up. They had been arrested in the exceitment of the first week,
during the days of upheaval, of revolution.
I gave Dr. Lo”wenherz paper and pencil and said: “Please go back for
one more night and write up a memo telling me how you would organize this
whole thing, how you would run it. Object: stepped-up emigration.”
[From March 14 on, the supreme political authority in Austria was Josef
Bu”rckel, Gauleiter of the Saar and the Platinate. To the dismay of the
Austrian party leaders, already devoured by “Piefkes” – as the Austrians
called North Germans, especially Prussians – sent from Berlin. All the
German anti-Jewish laws and decrees now became valid for “Ostmark.” New ones
were continually added. On March 28, the Jewish congregations lost their
coporation status and were obliged to register as private associations.
Persons regarded as Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws were obliged to
declare all property, holdings, and liquidities to the authorities, and in
August all Jews were required to indicate their origin by appending the
first name Israel or Sarah to their family names.]
EICHMANN: The next day, this Dr. Lo”wenherz brought me his draft. I found it
excellent and we immediately took action on his suggestions. Dr. Lo”wenherz
himself asked to be appointed director of the Jewish community, and I backed
his proposal. I myself could not make the appointment, only the Secret State
Police could do that. As was to be expected, the first days of the
reorganziation of Jewish life brought requests from Dr. Lo”wenherz and his
associates. If I remember correctly, the funds that were still extant but
under sequester were returned to their owners.
Youth organizations were approved. The community’s education section
was revived. Religious life was restored. In short, conditions were
normalized, but of course everything was subordinated to the promotion of
emigration. Emigration increased as the Jews wishing to emigrate became more
nervous, more intent on escaping the pressure of the party and also in a
certain sense of the government authorities. Because of this nervousness,
many useless applications were made; it must be said, however, that from
sadistic motives certain government officials, and unofficial employees as
well, went out of their way to make it harder for a Jew wishing to emigrate.
He’d be sent home on some stupid pretext.
One day Dr. Lo”wenherz and some of his associates said to me:
Hauptsturmf”hrer – or was I an Oberstumfu”hrer at the time? – this can’t go
on. And they suggested that I should somehow centralize the work, or that I
myself should speak with certain officials and arrange to make things easier
for Jewish petitioners. That same afternoon an idea took shape in my mind: a
conveyor belt. The initial application and all the rest of the required
papers are put on at one end, and the passport falls off at the other end. I
then suggested to Regierungsdirektor Dr. Stahlecker, my immediate superior,
that he should persuade Reich Commissar Bu”rkel to issue a decree
establishing in Vienna a Central Office for Jewish Emigration to which the
government departments – Police Presidium, Finance Ministry, State Police,
Currency Control, in short, all departments concerned – should send
representatives. They would all sit side by side at this long conveyor belt,
under the supervision of a member of the Vienna section of the SD; namely,
After the decree was signed, vetoes came in from Berlin, because no
such thing had ever been seen in the whole history of the German
bureaucracy. They compared me … in Berlin there was talk of a mini-council
of state, where delegates of all the different departments would work
together under police supervision. But these difficulties were ironed out in
Berlin. In Vienna we didn’t even notice there difficulties. All the
departments worked together.
The Israelite community was also present at the conveyor belt,
represented by six to fourteen delegates, depending on the amount of
business to be handled. Some days we had as many as a thousand cases. A lot
of people tried to make a good thing out of this stepped-up emigration. For
instance, there were the lawyers of the National Socialist Jurists
Association, who didn’t want the Jews to come to the conveyor belt
unattended; they wanted to be brought in as council, for an appropriate fee,
it goes without saying. And there were the Aryanizers, who swooped down on
Jewish businesses, ready to take them over.
It was therefore suggested that a so-called emigration fund should
be built up from property that emigrants were not permitted to take with
them, and that it should be entitled to incorporation.
LESS: Who financed – who provided the money for this emigration fund?
EICHMANN: The money came out of the property that wealthy Jews had to hand
over. And I sent Dr. Lo”wenherz and other gentlemen, I don’t remember their
names, abroad at regular intervals to work out new avenus of emigration and
to bring back foreign currency by giving lectures, which they did. I made an
arrangement with the Vienna exchange office that the foreign currency
brought back from abroad by these Jewish officials should be tax exempt.
This foreign currency was to be sold by the Israelite community under the
supervision of the exchange office at a rate that varied with the wealth of
the emigrating Jew. If he had a great many schillings or marks, Dr.
Lo”wenherz would demand a rate, let’s say, of tenty marks to the dollar.
With a poorer emigrant, he would demand proportionately less. In any case,
the emigrant could buy his presentation money (the sum he would be required
to show on arriving in certain foreign countries as proof that he would not
become a public charge) from the community with internal currency, and the
community received a very, a relatively high yield for its foreign currency,
with which to help finance its operations.
LESS: Was Dr. Lo”wenherz’s dollar exchange rate fixed by the Finance
EICHMANN: It was fixed by Dr. Lo”wenherz, because he knew the financial
circumstances of the Jewish candidates for emigration.
[Before a Jew could leave German, he was once again thoroughly milked. He
was required to provide that he owed nothing to the state and that he had
not made a scret of any property, by producing a tax-clearance certificate;
and he was subjected to still other extractions. Because of the chronic
shortage of hard currency in the Reich, he was made to surrender all foreign
currency, and he needed special authorization to take German marks out of
the country. A Jew selling his belongings was often beaten down by threats.
If he wished to take valuable furniture with him, authorization was
required. Since the host countries were unwilling to accept poor immigrants
who would immediately become public charges, an immigrant was required to
produce a certain sum of money in hard currency. The strict currency
control prevailing in the Reich made it impossible to buy foreign currency
from a bank. Consequently, the emigrant was obliged to buy at the
extortionate rate which – under Eichmann’s instructions – the Jewish
community demanded of him.]
LESS: Wasn’t it the plan that the wealthier Jews should pay for the poorer
EICHMANN: That’s right, yes yes, that’s the correct way to look at it.
LESS: In other words, this method was not Lo”wenherz’s idea; it was imposed
by you and your offices.
EICHMANN: Yes, Herr Hauptmann. In a way, yes. The money was brought in by
Lo”wenherz and other functionaries, or was donated by foreign sources. This
money should have been handed over to the Reichsbank and to no one else;
then Lo”wenherz would have received the equivalent in marks, according to
the value of the dollar. But Dr. Lo”wenherz had said to me: We can’t pay our
team any more, we need more and more men. We have no bureau to take care of
the poor Jews. If we were exempted from the obligation to turn in these
dollars, we could sell them. I said to myself: This is perfect. With or
without these dollars, the Reich will be no richer or poorer, but with them
the apparatus the the Vienna community will be able to muddle along. That’s
how the system got started at the time. Later on, though, we had endless
difficulties. People started saying: Just the Jews, of all people, don’t
bother to turn in their foreign currency.
LESS: First, the Jews were compelled to raise foreign currency outside of
Germany. Then at home they had to pay a staggering price for it. In the end,
no one profited but the Reich government. The Jews were made poorer by
having to pay thirty to forty thousand marks for a thousand poinds sterling,
the true value of which was twleve thousand marks.
EICHMANN: That is true, Herr Hauptmann. Yes, that is clear, quite clear.
(von Lang, 49-55)
von Lang, Jochen, ed., in collaboration with Claus Sibyll. Eichmann
Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police.
Translated from the German by Avner W. Less. New York: Farrar, Straus &
Subject: Holocaust Almanac – Eichmann’s testimony (Vienna/Emigration)
Organization: The Nizkor Project, Vancouver Island, CANADA