Lessons from protecting an ex-Nazi
The CIA knew of Eichmann's location and alias two years before Israel caught him.
He was just doing his job, he testified, and had nothing personally against Jews. He personified what Hannah Arendt called "The Banality of Evil." He turned massacre into a bureaucratic act – the Holocaust administrator.Skip to next paragraph
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I have delayed giving his name, Adolf Eichmann, because I wonder how many still remember it a half century later. Mr. Eichmann escaped from Germany at the end of the war and was living in Buenos Aires when Israeli commandos captured him in May 1960 and flew him to Israel. For him, Israel suspended its ban on capital punishment as he went to trial in April 1961.
His name comes up again because newly released documents reveal that the CIA learned in 1958 of Eichmann's whereabouts in Argentina and his alias, but didn't tell anybody or do anything about it. It was a time when the cold war was dictating policy, and the CIA was using the services of a lot of Nazis, or shall we say ex-Nazis.
I was reporting from West Germany at the time of Eichmann's trial, and I remember how nervous the German government was about the trial in Jerusalem. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had presided over an agreement to provide Israel with $800 million in reparations, talked to me about the Eichmann case as he was preparing to leave for Washington for his first meeting with President John F. Kennedy.
He feared that the Eichmann trial would negate his efforts to befriend the Jews and result in a resurgence of anti-German feeling in the United States. I asked Mr. Adenour whether he had thought of asking to have Eichmann brought to Germany for trial. He shook his head. "We have no special feeling about this murderer," he said.
When the chancellor returned from Washington, he said he was enormously relieved that American reaction to the trial had been less vehement than he had feared.
But I wonder how they feel in the CIA now, knowing that this mass murderer had been protected by American intelligence for two years. And that, were it not for Israeli intelligence, he might have lived out his life in peace.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.