Soon after the beginning of the war, Heinrich Himmler combined the S.S. Security Service (S.D.) with the state police (including the Gestapo) into the Head Office for Reich Security (R.S.H.A.), headed by Reinhardt Heydrich (and later Ernst Kaltenbrunner), which became one of the S.S.’s twelve main offices. The Nazis were sure to talk about concentration and extermination “objectively,” in the unemotional terms of “administration” and “economy.” Servatius is the most objective of all: he insists that mass murder was “a medical matter.”
By sanitizing their language, Nazis could disconnect emotionally and systematically from what they were doing. They refused to see their victims as humans with moral worth and instead confined themselves to bureaucratic language. The bureaucracy’s massive size and distance from the violence on the ground were key factors in the unique form of state-sponsored mass extermination the Nazis seemed to pioneer, since they dispersed and displaced blame.
Heinrich Müller headed the R.S.H.A. Gestapo bureau, Section IV. Eichmann worked directly for him in Subsection IV-B, dealing with Jewish matters. Müller answered to Heydrich (later Kaltenbrunner), who answered to Himmler, who directly carried out Hitler’s orders. Himmler also directed the separate regional S.S. and Police Leaders, who also outranked Eichmann—ultimately, Eichmann’s rank was not particularly high, and his importance relied only on his oversight of Jewish affairs. This “absurdly complicated” structure of “parallel institutions” competed over their shared goal: “to kill as many Jews as possible.” After the war, they instead started competing to exonerate themselves and blame the others, which explains high-ranking Nazis’ eagerness to blame Eichmann for crimes that were not his.
The Nazi bureaucracy’s complex organization also prevented people from thinking in moral terms. In their focus on self-promotion and competition, Nazi officers lost track of their actions’ moral consequences and felt their roles insignificant enough that they didn’t need to blame themselves for the actions of a larger apparatus whose orders they were merely carrying out. The prosecution clearly played into Eichmann’s self-promotion and other officers’ eagerness to blame him by treating this as proof of his substantial role in coordinating the Holocaust.
When Eichmann took his new post, “forced emigration” was the official policy but clearly no longer possible on a mass scale. So Eichmann came up with three ideas—none of which worked and two of which were certainly not originally his. The one that may have been original was to create a Jewish state in Poland; he found some land and began deporting Jews there, but his deportees started escaping across the border to the Russian-occupied half of Poland and the Governor General of (German) Poland, Hans Frank, put a stop to the plan and sent them back. This was clearly also a way for Eichmann to gain power in the Nazi regime—presumably by overseeing the new Jewish state—and its failure probably convinced him to set aside his private motives.
Eichmann’s plans were clearly influenced by the Zionist call for a Jewish homeland, and remarkably similar to the Israeli government’s portrayal of its role for the Jewish people—but this irony seems mostly lost on everyone involved in the trial. Again, although the Nazi regime is generally conceived as a strict hierarchy, infighting among officers was actually an enormous obstacle to Eichmann’s plan, and this shows that, no matter how unified and coherent it may seem, totalitarianism often includes competing and dissenting factions.
Eichmann’s second idea was his plan to move Jews to Madagascar, which was occupied by the French, and which Eichmann tended to confuse with Uganda. He quickly discovered that it would be impossible to ship millions of people there, and his serious work on the Madagascar plan was actually a front for other Nazi officials to start preparing for the policy everyone knew would come next: mass murder. (This was already happening in Poland.) Eichmann did not realize at the time that the Madagascar idea was a farce, but he jeopardizes himself at trial by claiming to have known all along.
The notion of shipping millions of Jews to an already-populated French island off the East African coast is so comically improbable that it seems only Eichmann would be stupid enough to defend it. Instead, he again tries to save face, when admitting his incompetence would have demonstrated his diminished role in the Nazi hierarchy. In a sense, he seems to want the fame associated with being considered the Holocaust’s mastermind.
Before the invasion of Russia, different offices had different policies and proposals for addressing “the Jewish question,” but Eichmann believed his efforts to unify them all by creating a Jewish state failed because of infighting among the various Nazi agencies. As killing squads took over responsibility for dealing with Europe’s Jews, Eichmann’s job became the coordination of shipments to various camps depending on their killing capacity and need for labor. He was frustrated, since his former expertise became obsolete.
Although Eichmann still dealt with transportation matters, he was frustrated not because he failed in his mission to create a Jewish state but simply because his job became easier: he no longer had to convince Jews to emigrate (of course, they took little convincing in the first place). In fact, while infighting was a complicating factor in the Nazi regime, Eichmann simply failed to realize that Hitler had already determined that extermination would become official policy.
Three months after the invasion, in September 1941, Eichmann tried his third plan: to create a homeland for German Jews inside Nazi territory. Someone proposed Theresienstadt, and Eichmann went to investigate. It was much too small and instead became “a special ghetto for certain privileged categories of Jews,” as well as the only camp under Eichmann’s jurisdiction.
Although Eichmann’s final plan was just as naïve as his first two and fundamentally motivated by his desire for professional advancement (rather than his genuine interest in creating a Jewish state), it did nevertheless lead to his only really powerful position, his oversight of Theresienstadt.
In telling his story, Eichmann disregards the chronological order of events and instead jumps around among “human-interest stories of the worst type,” like the time he first saw Heydrich’s “more human side” and the time the Slovakian government invited him to Bratislava, where he bowled and learned about Heydrich’s assassination. He does not remember even the year of this latter story, nor does he remember that Theresienstadt was opened after “the era of the ‘physical solution’ had begun.” He also could not have anticipated that Theresienstadt would become “a showpiece for the outside world” and host International Red Cross visitors.
Eichmann continues to seem entirely bogged down in his own emotions and unable to recognize the broader national and global context in which he was operating throughout his time in the German government. He was flattered at any sign of his superiors’ humanity— the Nazi hierarchy seemed to entirely determine people’s value and attention-worthiness—but never thought about Jews’ humanity, except that of friends or acquaintances.