Becom­ing Eichmann

David Cesarani
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011

This new vol­ume, the first on its top­ic in over 40 years, describes in excru­ci­at­ing detail, using recent­ly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments, how Eich­mann became Eich­mann. How did a low-lev­el Nazi bureau­crat become Hitler’s expert” on the Jews and become ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for the deaths of over two mil­lion Jews in var­i­ous con­cen­tra­tion camps? On this sim­plest lev­el, a biog­ra­phy of a World War II SS offi­cer, the book works well. 

How­ev­er, it is the deep­er lay­ers of this book that are the most thought-pro­vok­ing. In addi­tion to a descrip­tion of Eichmann’s life and its his­tor­i­cal con­text, there is an he became a mass mur­der­er. His ear­ly mil­i­tary career did not por­tend its final out­come. Ini­tial­ly, he had a work­ing rela­tion­ship with Zion­ist Jews which took a hor­ri­ble turn some­where along the line. He even­tu­al­ly applied a cold, mat­ter-of-fact method to the mass mur­der of humans, much the same as a mid­dle-lev­el man­ag­er might man­age wid­gets. This next lay­er tries to fur­ther deci­pher Eich­mann, as he was nei­ther hard­wired or nec­es­sar­i­ly pre-dis­posed to become a geno­ci­dal maniac. 

The deep­er lay­er, then, forces the read­er to put him- or her­self in the subject’s shoes, and asks a chill­ing ques­tion: What would hap­pen to me in a sim­i­lar posi­tion? The book works well on all lev­els. And like an onion, the deep­est lay­ers are not always the most appetizing.

Paul M. Arnold, MD, is pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery and direc­tor of the Spinal Cord Injury Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas.

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