Adolf Eichmann has consigned himself to infamy as the man who was the bureaucrat behind the sending of at least two million Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp in Poland. Eichmann has gone down in modern history as a man of great evil. At the end of World War Two, Eichmann became one of the most hunted for men in Europe. The crimes that occurred at Auschwitz horrified all and a great many people wanted Eichmann to atone for his crimes. However, he slipped away from the hunt for him and in 1947 the hunt for Adolf Eichmann was called off. How did he escape?
In February 1947, British records show that the “exhaustive” hunt for Eichmann was called off because it was assumed that he had committed suicide. Therefore, based on this report the hunt for a highly wanted man was called off.
How was it that Eichmann managed to evade detection and eventually escape to South America?
Eichmann was lucky in the sense that the British were seemingly more concerned at hunting out those who had been involved in the murder of British POW’s. He was also lucky that the War Crimes Investigation Team took so long to organise – planned in April 1945, it had its first tentative meeting in June 1945. The lack of planning eventually reached Prime Minister Clement Atlee who wrote to the Secretary of State for War:
“It is essential that the persons on whom rests the responsibility for the investigation of war crimes and the bringing to trial of the authors should be officers with drive and energy and that the high priority to be accorded to war crimes matters should be carefully understood.”
Though the men in the Investigation Team were dedicated, there were far too few of them – just eleven in December 1945. The ‘wanted list’ for the Allies at that time was 50,000 individuals.
This obviously played into the hands of Eichmann and others like him. As the Russians advanced in the east and the Allies in the west, Ecihmann left Auschwitz and took on the disguise of a German Luftwaffe corporal. The ‘corporal’ was caught by the Americans at Ulm in southern Germany. They knew he was not a Luftwaffe corporal by the SS tattoo on his arm. Eichmann admitted that he was a junior SS lieutenant called Otto Eckmann. However, in the chaos and confusion of the time, ‘Eckmann’ was considered to be a minor figure and he was sent to a camp that was poorly guarded. Eichmann escaped from this camp in February 1946. He took on the disguise of ‘Otto Henninger’, a Bavarian businessman.
He travelled across western Germany aided by former SS colleagues. He became a forestry worker near Bremen and none of the workers there had any idea as to who he was. The company he worked for went bankrupt in 1948 and Eichmann turned his hand to chicken farming. He was tolerably successful at this but became convinced that he would be caught and made to pay for his crimes. It was this fear that drove him to leave for Argentina.
Ironically by fleeing to Argentina, Eichmann probably served up his own execution. If he had stayed in western Germany, it is highly likely that he would have faded into the background unnoticed. The Allied investigators were putting a great deal of effort into capturing Germans who had committed atrocities against Allied servicemen – such as the Malmedy Massacre – and far less effort was being put into hunting for criminals such as Eichmann.
“We weren’t really aware of the big fish. Quite honestly we had enough on our hands with the small fry.” War Crimes Investigator
Eichmann continued to be helped by people still sympathetic to the Nazis. One of the most common ways of aiding someone on the run was to tell the Allied authorities that the person they were looking for had committed suicide. There was little way of knowing whether this was true or not – but it had to be at least considered by the Allies and it gave the ‘deceased’ war criminal some time to make his disappearance. In Eichmann’s case, he managed to escape to Argentina.
It was here that Mossad eventually caught him. On May 11th, 1960, Mossad confirmed the identity of Eichmann and he was kidnapped and smuggled out of the country on May 21st. When he was put on trial in Israel, few could associate the small and unimpressive man with the enormity of his crimes. Put on trial for crimes against humanity, Eichmann was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. His execution was carried out in June 1960 and after his cremation, his ashes were scattered at sea to ensure that he had no burial place.