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Nazi Tapes Provide a Chilling Sequel to the Eichmann Trial


TEL AVIV — Six many years after the historic trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, one in all the chief engineers of the Holocaust, a latest Israeli documentary series has delivered a dramatic coda: the boastful confessions of the Nazi war criminal, in his own voice.

The hours of old tape recordings, which had been denied to Israeli prosecutors on the time of Eichmann’s trial, provided the premise for the series, called “The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes,” which has generated keen interest in Israel because it aired over the past month.

The tapes fell into various private hands after being made in 1957 by a Dutch Nazi sympathizer, before eventually ending up in a German government archive, which in 2020 gave the Israeli co-creators of the series — Kobi Sitt, the producer; and Yariv Mozer, the director — permission to make use of the recordings.

Eichmann went to the gallows insisting that he was a mere functionary following orders, denying responsibility for the crimes of which he had been found guilty. Describing himself as a small cog within the state apparatus who was accountable for train schedules, his professed mediocrity gave rise to the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil.

The documentary series intersperses Eichmann’s chilling words, in German, defending the Holocaust, with re-enactments of gatherings of Nazi sympathizers in 1957 in Buenos Aires, where the recordings were made.

Exposing Eichmann’s visceral, ideological antisemitism, his zeal for hunting down Jews and his role within the mechanics of mass murder, the series brings the missing evidence from the trial to a mass audience for the primary time.

Eichmann will be heard swatting a fly that was buzzing across the room and describing it as having “a Jewish nature.”

He told his interlocutors that he “didn’t care” whether the Jews he sent to Auschwitz lived or died. Having denied knowledge of their fate in his trial, he said on tape that the order was that “Jews who’re fit to work ought to be sent to work. Jews who aren’t fit to work have to be sent to the Final Solution, period,” meaning their physical destruction.

“If we had killed 10.3 million Jews, I’d say with satisfaction, ‘Good, we destroyed an enemy.’ Then we might have fulfilled our mission,” he said, referring to all of the Jews of Europe.

Mr. Mozer, the director, who was also the author of the series and himself the grandson of Holocaust survivors, said, “That is proof against Holocaust deniers and a option to see the true face of Eichmann.”

“With all modesty, through the series, the young generations will get to know the trial and the ideology behind the Final Solution,” he added.

The documentary was recently screened for commanders and officers of the intelligence corps — a sign of the importance with which it has been viewed in Israel.

Eichmann’s trial took place in 1961 after Mossad agents kidnapped him in Argentina and spirited him to Israel. The shocking testimonies of survivors and the complete horror of the Holocaust were outlined in gruesome detail for Israelis and the remaining of the world.

The court had a wealth of documentation and testimony on which to base its conviction of Eichmann. The prosecution had also obtained greater than 700 pages of transcripts of the tapes recorded in Buenos Aires, marked up with corrections in Eichmann’s handwriting.

But Eichmann asserted that the transcripts distorted his words. The Supreme Court of Israel didn’t accept them as evidence, aside from the handwritten notes, and Eichmann challenged the chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, to provide the unique tapes, believing they were well hidden.

In his account of the trial, “Justice in Jerusalem,” Mr. Hausner related how he had tried to pay money for the tapes until the last day of Eichmann’s cross-examination, noting, “He could hardly have been in a position to deny his own voice.”

Mr. Hausner wrote that he had been offered the tapes for $20,000, an unlimited sum on the time, and that he had been prepared to approve the expenditure “considering their historical importance.” However the unidentified seller attached a condition that they not be taken to Israel until after the trial, Mr. Hausner said.

The tapes were made by Willem Sassen, a Dutch journalist and a Nazi S.S. officer and propagandist during World War II. A part of a bunch of Nazi fugitives in Buenos Aires, he and Eichmann launched into the recording project with a watch to publishing a book after Eichmann’s death. Members of the group met for hours each week at Sassen’s house, where they drank and smoked together.

And Eichmann talked and talked.

After Eichmann’s capture by the Israelis, Sassen sold the transcripts to Life magazine, which published an abridged, two-part excerpt. Mr. Hausner described that version as “cosmeticized.”

After Eichmann’s execution in 1962, the unique tapes were sold to a publishing house in Europe and eventually acquired by an organization that wished to stay anonymous and that deposited the tapes within the German federal archives in Koblenz, with instructions that they ought to be used only for tutorial research.

Bettina Stangneth, a German philosopher and historian, partially based her 2011 book “Eichmann Before Jerusalem” on the tapes. The German authorities released just just a few minutes of audio for public consumption greater than twenty years ago, “to prove it exists,” Mr. Mozer said.

Mr. Sitt, the producer of the brand new documentary, made a movie for Israeli television about Mr. Hausner 20 years ago. The thought of obtaining the Eichmann tapes had preoccupied him ever since, he said. Just like the director, Mr. Mozer, he’s an Israeli grandson of Holocaust survivors.

“I’m not afraid of the memory, I’m afraid of the forgetfulness,” Mr. Sitt said of the Holocaust, adding that he wanted “to supply a tool to breathe life into the memory” because the generation of survivors fades away.

He approached Mr. Mozer after seeing his 2016 documentary “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” which revolved around a long-lost taped interview with Israel’s founding prime minister.

The German authorities and the owner of the tapes gave the filmmakers free access to fifteen hours of surviving audio. (Sassen had recorded about 70 hours, but he had taped over lots of the expensive reels after transcribing them.) Mr. Mozer said that the owner of the tapes and the archive had finally agreed to present the filmmakers access, believing that they’d treat the fabric respectfully and responsibly.

The project grew into a virtually $2 million joint production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Sipur, an Israeli company formerly often called Tadmor Entertainment; Toluca Pictures; and Kan 11, Israel’s public broadcaster.

A 108-minute version premiered because the opening movie on the Docaviv film festival in Tel Aviv this spring. A 180-minute television version was aired in three episodes in Israel in June. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is searching for partners to license and air the series world wide.

The conversations in Sassen’s lounge are interspersed with archival footage and interviews with surviving participants of the trial. The archival footage has been colorized because, the filmmakers said, young people consider black-and-white footage as unrealistic, as if from a unique planet.

Prof. Dina Porat, the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, said that she had listened to the Eichmann trial “from morning till night” on the radio as a twelfth grader.

“The entire of Israeli society was listening — cabdrivers were listening, it was a national experience,” she said.

Professor Porat said that the last major Holocaust-related event in Israel was probably the trial of John Demjanjuk within the late Nineteen Eighties and his subsequent successful appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.

“Each few many years you have got a unique style of Israeli society listening,” she noted. “The youth of today aren’t similar to in previous many years.”

The documentary also examines the interests of the Israeli and German leaderships at a time of growing cooperation, and the way they might need influenced the court proceedings.

It asserts that David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli prime minister on the time, preferred the tapes to not be heard due to embarrassing details that might emerge regarding a former Nazi who was working within the German chancellor’s bureau, and due to the divisive affair of Rudolf Kastner, a Hungarian Jew who helped many Jews to safety but was also accused of collaborating with Eichmann.

Hearing the tapes now, the unambiguous confessions of Eichmann are startling.

“It’s a difficult thing that I’m telling you,” Eichmann says within the recording, “and I do know I will probably be judged for it. But I cannot let you know otherwise. It’s the reality. Why should I deny it?”

“Nothing annoys me more,” he added, “than a one who later denies the things he has done.”

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