The Confessions of Adolf Eichmann
by Adolf Eichmann
The chambers at Maidanek
It was in the latter part of 1941 that I saw the first preparations for
annihilating the Jews. General Heydrich ordered me to visit Maidanek, a
Polish village near Lublin. A German police captain showed me how they had
managed to build airtight chambers disguised as ordinary Polish farmers’
huts, seal them hermetically, then inject the exhaust gas from a Russian
U-boat motor. I remember it all very exactly because I never thought that
anything like that would be possible, technically speaking.
Not long afterward Heydrich had me carry an order to Major General Odilo
Globocnik, SS commander of the Lublin district. I cannot remember whether
Heydrich gave me the actual message or whether I had to draw it up. It
ordered Globocnik to start liquidating a quarter million Polish Jews.
Later that year I watched my first execution. It was at Minsk, then recently
come under German occupation. I was sent by my immediate superior, General
M=FCller. M=FCller never stirred from behind his desk at Gestapo=
but he knew everything that went on in Europe. He liked to send me around on
his behalf. I was in effect a traveling salesman for the Gestapo, just as I
had once been a traveling salesman for an oil company in Austria.
M=FCller had heard that Jews were being shot near Minsk, and he wanted a
report. I went there and showed my orders to the local SS commander. “That’s
a fine coincidence, ” he said. “Tomorrow 5,000 of them are getting theirs.”
When I rode out the next morning, they had already started, so I could see
only the finish. Although I was wearing a leather coat which reached almost
to my ankles, it was very cold. I watched the last group of Jews undress,
down to their shirts. They walked the last 100 or 200 yards — they were not
driven — then they jumped into the pit. It was impressive to see them all
jumping into the pit without offering any resistance whatsoever. Then the
men of the squad banged away into the pit with their rifles and machine=
Why did the scene linger so long in my memory? Perhaps because I had
children myself. And there were children in the pit. I saw a women hold a
child of a year or two into the air, pleading. At that moment all I wanted
to say was, “Don’t shoot, hand over the child….” Then the child was hit.
I was so close that later I found bits of brains spattered on my long
leather coat. My driver helped me remove them. Then we returned to Berlin.=
The Gestapo chauffers did not like to drive me, principally because I rarely
spoke more than 20 words during a 12-hour trip, as for instance the long
haul from Berlin to Paris. On this trip back from Minsk I spoke hardly a
word. I was thinking. Not that I had become contemptuous of National
Socialism after watching this previously unimaginable event. I was
reflecting on the meaning of life in general.
Having seen what I had in Minsk, I said this when I reported back to M=FClle=
“The solution, Gruppenf=FChrer, was supposed to have been a political one.=
now that the F=FChrer has ordered a physical solution, obviously a physical
solution it must be. But we cannot go on conducting executions as they were
done in Minsk and, I believe, other places. Of necessity our men will be
educated to become sadists. We cannot solve the Jewish problem by putting a
bullet through the brain of a defenseless women who is holding her child up
M=FCller did not answer. He just looked at me in a fatherly, benevolent
fashion. I never could figure him out.
Later in that same winter M=FCller sent me to watch Jews being gassed in the
Litzmannstadt [Lodz] area of central Poland. I must stress that the gassing
was not done on his orders, but M=FCller did want to know about it. He was a
very thorough government official.
Arriving at Litzmannstadt, I drove out to the designated place where a
thousand Jews were about to board buses. The buses were normal,
high-windowed affairs with all their windows closed. During the trip, I was
told, the carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe was conducted into the
interior of the buses. It was intended to kill the passengers immediately.
A doctor who was there suggested that I look at the people inside one bus
through a peephole in the driver’s seat. I refused. I couldn’t look. This
was the first time that I had seen and heard such a thing and my knees were
buckling under me. I had been told that the whole process took only three
minutes, but the buses rode along for about a quarter of an hour.
We reached our destination and hell opened up for me for the first time. The
bus in which I was riding turned and backed up before a pit about two meters
deep. The doors opened. Some Poles who stood there jumped into the buses and
threw the corpses into the pit. I was badly shaken by what I then saw.
Another Pole with a pair of pliers in his hand jumped into the pit. He went
through the corpses, opening their mouths. Whenever he saw a gold tooth, he
pulled it out and dumped it into a small bag he was carrying.
When I reported back to M=FCller in Berlin, he chided me for not having=
the procedure with a stop watch. I said to him, “This sort of thing can’t go
on. Things shouldn’t be done this way.” I admitted I had not been able to
look through the peephole. This time, too, M=FCller behaved like a sphinx.=
forgave me, so to speak, for not having looked. Perhaps “forgive” sounds
like an odd expression here.
The executions at Litzmannstadt and Minsk were a deep shock to me. Certainly
I too had been aiming at a solution of the Jewish problem, but not like
this. Of course, at that time I had not yet seen burned Germans, Germans
shrunken like mummies in death. I had yet to see the heavy, imploring eyes
of the old couple in a Berlin air raid sheldter who lay crushed beneath a
beam, begging me to shoot them. I couldn’t bear to shoot them, but I told my
sergeant to do so, if he could. If I had known then the horrors that would
later happen to Germans, it would have been easier for me to watch the
Jewish executions. At heart I am a very sensitive man. I simply can’t look
at any suffering without trembling myself.
Life, Vol. 49, No. 22, November 28, 1960, pp. 102, 104