Eichmann’s Early Years
Adolf Eichmann, the son of Adolf Karl Eichmann and Maria nee Schefferling, was born in 1906 in Solingen, Germany. Both of his parents were Protestant. When he was eight, his family moved to Linz, Austria.
He was a mediocre, if not poor, student. His father was the commercial manager of the Linz Electric Works. The family went to church every Sunday.
His mother died when he was ten, and his father soon remarried. By then, he had one sister and five brothers. Years later, he told the Dutch interviewer Wilhelm Sassen, with whom he was collaborating on a book about his experiences, that his best childhood friend, Harry Selbar, was Jewish.
He had a typical Austrian middle-class upbringing. As was also typical at that time, a strong stirring of nationalism was a part of the culture of pre-war Austria and he and his family absorbed it cheerfully.
After dropping out of high school, he became a traveling salesman with the Socony Vacuum Company. Later, he took a job with an American oil company, and this gave him an opportunity to travel.
In 1932, Eichmann and his father were invited to a meeting of the Nazi Party by a family friend, Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Eichmann was entranced by the percolating nationalistic fervor of those who attended, and he signed up.
A year later, he was laid off from his oil company job and sought help from Kaltenbrunner. Kaltenbrunner arranged for Eichmann to be accepted into an S.S. brigade comprised of Austrians.
Soon thereafter, Eichmann was invited to join the S.D., the S.S.’s Security Service, and given the rank of sergeant. In 1935,he was assigned to the Jewish Department of the S.D. and worked his way up to the top.
Unlike virtually all Nazi bureaucrats, who were rotated among departments, Eichmann kept the same post throughout the war years.
He taught himself Hebrew and Yiddish. HE STUDIED THE JEWS, GATHERING INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR LEADERS, SYNOGOGUES, BUSINESSES, CULTURE.
Eichmann married Vera Liebl, a native of Bohemia (in what is now Czechoslovakia) in 1936 and lived with her in Prague. He eventually became the father of four children, all boys.
He was given his military commission in 1937, beginning with the rank of second lieutenant.
Eichmann’s duties during the war
Austria was annexed by Germany on March 13, 1938. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the S.D., was given the responsibility of clearing Germany and its allies of Jews.
Eichmann arrived in Vienna on March 17, and, as an expert in Jewish affairs who had even been to Palestine, was soon given the job of expelling the Jewish community. A special authority was set up under Heydrich called the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, with Eichmann in charge.
His strategy was to reopen Jewish institutions, but only for the purpose of assisting him in deportations. He arranged for Jewish leaders in concentration camps to be returned to Vienna to staff these offices to assist him in deportations.
With an iron hand and insensitive to any appeals, he became an autocrat with respect to Jewish affairs.
He set up an assembly line in which Jews would go in at one end, and, by the time they reached the exit at the other end, they were stripped of their property, bank accounts, jobs, apartments, and given a passport valid for two weeks. They were told that if they were not successful in finding a foreign visa, they would be sent to Dachau, a prison camp near Munich for political opponents of the Nazi regime.
By the time war broke out in September 1939, Eichmann was running the Central Office for Jewish Emigration with three branch offices. He was promoted almost annually, eventually achieving the rank of Lt. Colonel of the S.S. (SS Oberstrumbannfuehrer) by 1941.
Stories circulated about his arrogance – even that he periodically challenged superior officers to duels when they failed to share his vision with respect to the “Jewish problem.”
by Gary Grobman
copyright © 1997 Gary M. Grobman
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