50 Years After Trial, Eichmann Secrets Live On

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Germany is famous for confronting its Nazi past. But confronting the years after the war is another matter. The latest proof comes as the country’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, refuses to declassify several thousand secret files detailing what Adolf Eichmann, the high-ranking Nazi who helped orchestrate the Holocaust, was doing between 1945 and his capture by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires in 1960. More than a few Germans have been speculating that the refusal has as much to do with tarnishing a cherished era as with betraying potential sources.

The 50th anniversary of Eichmann’s trial this spring has cast the early days of the postwar Federal Republic in a fresh historical light. Those were the years when the new West Germany held itself up as the cure for what ailed a humiliated and broken nation, and as an alternative to the Communist East.

That era was also the populist heyday of the organization man. And the classic portrait of Eichmann as a soulless cog in the machinery of totalitarianism, a petty bureaucrat acting out of “blind obedience,” in the incredulous description by Moshe Landau, the presiding judge at the trial — who, as it happens, died just the other day, at 99 — has also come to seem a sacred but dubious shibboleth of the time.

A different picture of the man, and the period, has begun to circulate. Bild, the German tabloid, having recently forced the BND through the courts to release a few files, uncovered an index card from 1952 that made clear that West German intelligence officials already knew Eichmann was living in Argentina. The card listed his alias there, or something close to it, and a contact who edited a well-known Nazi magazine in Buenos Aires, Der Weg.

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