Adolf Eichmann

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Karl Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was a key official in planning and conducting the Holocaust, despite his relatively low official rank as an Obersturmbannfuehrer (roughly equivalent to Western lieutenant colonel). While briefly interned at the end of the Second World War, he escaped to Argentina and lived there, under an assumed name, for ten years. In an unprecedented extrajudicial detention at the time, he was captured by clandestine agents of the Israeli Mossad and brought to Jerusalem. He was put on trial for genocide in 1961, sentenced to death, and, almost unprecedented in Israeli jurisprudence, was executed by hanging on May 31, 1962.

Eichmann headed the Jewish Affairs function in the Gestapo from 1941 to 1945, responsible for operations in the deportation of three million Jews. While he was officially chief of the Section IV B4 office of the Gestapo, he had multiple reporting paths that could bypass his Gestapo superiors, at least to the head of the RSHA, first Reinhard Heydrich and then Ernst Kaltenbrunner. He was known to Heinrich Himmler, head of the overall SS, and may have received some orders from him. Eichmann was the administrative organizer of the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, in which the German government was given the orders to begin physical extermination of Jews.

Prior to his Gestapo assignment, he headed, in March 1938, the Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung (Center for Jewish Emigration). At this time, Nazi policy on Jews had not been firmly decided; forced emigration, as well as economic exploitation or killing, all were under discussion. Indeed, in 1935, he had been sent to Palestine to explore Jewish emigration there, but was expelled by the British.

Austrian by birth, he joined the Austrian Nazi party in 1932, and later joined the SS. In 1934, he was a junior non-commissioned officer at Dachau Concentration Camp, where he became a member of the Sicherheitsdienst, or intelligence service of the SS.