Where Were Eichmann’s Memoirs for 37 Years?

Where Were Eichmann’s Memoirs for 37 Years?

Where Were Eichmann’s Memoirs for 37 Years?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 17 1999 9:56 PM

Where Were Eichmann’s Memoirs for 37 Years?

Last week, a German newspaper published Adolf Eichmann's memoirs. The 127-page document in Eichmann's handwriting was recently uncovered in Germany's Holocaust archives. No one knows how it got there.

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Experts believe the recently published document is just an outline to the 1,200-page memoir Eichmann wrote during his captivity in Israel (1960-62). A New York Times article briefly mentions that the longer document is currently in Israel and will be released this week. If Israel has had Eichmann's complete memoirs for over three decades, why are they being published only now?

The answer is that when Eichmann was hanged in May 1962, David Ben-Gurion--Israel's prime minister--decreed that the memoir should be hidden in Israel's state archives. He believed the document was full of lies, the most important being Eichmann's claim that he played only a small role in the Holocaust.

Of course, Eichmann also made this claim in open court during the trial. (His arguments were most famously recounted in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem.) So what's the harm in releasing memoirs that repeat it? Ben-Gurion felt that releasing the document after the trial would distract attention from the court's verdict--an explicit rejection of Eichmann's claims. He was worried that publishing the memoir would give readers the impression that there was still some controversy over Eichmann's guilt.

The memoir's existence came to light only in the 1980s, when it was mentioned in another memoir, that of Eichmann's chief prosecutor. The prosecutor argued that there was no harm in not releasing the Eichmann's memoir, since he had already been given his day in court.

Spurred by this revelation, an Israeli journalist and historian named Tom Segev took up the cause, arguing that the document is stolen property and belongs rightfully to Eichmann's heirs. Last week, Eichmann's son filed suit. Israel agreed to release the document to a German research institution for publication. (It is not yet clear whether this will satisfy Eichmann's son.) The document will be released in German, with commentary pointing out the narrative's many inaccuracies.

Is it coincidence that the German newspaper Die Welt released the shorter 127-page memoir just days after Israel announced plans to release the longer version? It's possible--but unlikely. The editors at Die Welt surely knew their document would be worthless if released after the Israeli document, and it's reasonable to assume they sped up their editorial process to scoop Israel's release.

Bruce Gottlieb, Slate 's former Explainer-in-Chief, is about to start law school.