Six decades after Adolf Eichmann described himself as merely a cog in the wheel of the Final Solution during his highly publicized 1962 trial in Israel, a new Israeli documentary series reveals the antisemitic boasts of one of the chief engineers of the Holocaust in previously unheard tapes.
The 15 hours of surviving audio were made by Willem Sassen, a Dutch journalist and former Nazi SS officer who fled to Buenos Aires after the war.
In 1957, Sassen and “Eichmann embarked on the recording project with an eye to publishing a book after Eichmann’s death. [They] met for hours each week at Sassen’s house, where they drank and smoked together,” according to The New York Times.
Those tapes make up the core of an Israeli three-part documentary series, “The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes,” which has riveted the Middle Eastern nation.
Just a Cog in the Machine?
Despite Eichmann insisting that he was merely “following orderings,” giving rise to Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil,” the tapes, made four years before Eichmann’s trial, expose his “visceral, ideological antisemitism, his zeal for hunting down Jews and his role in the mechanics of mass murder, New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner wrote on July 4.
In 1960, Eichmann was famously snatched off the streets of Buenos Aires by Mossad agents and spirited to Israel to stand trial.
At the time, the Jerusalem court had obtained more than 700 pages of transcripts of the tapes — some marked up with corrections from Eichmann’s own hand.
Yet Eichmann asserted that the transcripts distorted his words, and the Supreme Court of Israel threw the recordings out as evidence.
During the trial, Eichmann professed his mediocrity and maintained that he simply held the perfunctory job of making the trains run on time. He went to the gallows upholding such claims.
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Chilling Boasts of a Nazi Perpetrator
The tapes tell a different story, however.
In a recording made just four years prior, Eichmann can be heard telling Sassen that he “did not care” whether the Jews he sent to Auschwitz lived or died.
During his trial, Eichmann professed that he never knew the fate of the Jewish civilians aboard the trains, yet in the tapes he proclaim that “Jews who are fit to work should be sent to work. Jews who are not fit to work must be sent to the Final Solution, period.”
“If we had killed 10.3 million Jews,” he adds, “I would say with satisfaction, ‘Good, we destroyed an enemy.’ Then we would have fulfilled our mission.”
The transcripts of the tapes were eventually sold to LIFE magazine after Eichmann’s arrest and published as a two-part series. They were, according to chief Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner, highly “cosmeticized.”
The original tapes themselves were sold to a publishing house in Europe after Eichmann’s hanging, and, according to the Times, eventually acquired by a company that wished to remain anonymous. That unnamed company then deposited the tapes in the German Federal Archives in Koblenz, with instructions that they should be used only for academic research.
In 2020, German authorities granted Kobi Sitt, the producer of “The Devil’s Confession,” and Yariv Mozer, the writer and director of the series, access to the 15 hours of tape. Sassen originally recorded about 70 hours, but later taped over the rest after transcribing them.
The History of Memory
The grandparents of both Sitt and Mozer were Holocaust survivors.
“My grandmother lost all of her family in Krakow. She and her brother hid out in a closet in an attic for three years,” Sitt told The Jerusalem Post.
“My grandfather, who twice jumped off a train, lost his entire family except for one brother.”
For him, the documentary is a “tool to breathe life into the memory” for upcoming generations, he said.
“I’m not afraid of the memory,” he said. “I’m afraid of the forgetfulness.”
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