Christopher R. Browning, 2003. “Perpetrator Testimony: Another Look at Adolf Eichmann.” In : Christopher R. Browning, Collected Memories: Holocaust History and Postwar Testimony, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2003.
Christopher R. Browning is Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. The author of numerous books and papers on Nazism and the Jewish experience during World War II, he is widely considered to be a foremost expert on the Final Solution, the alleged Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews of Europe.
Browning was the Canadian government’s most important expert witness at the 1988 Holocaust trial in Toronto, where Revisionist Ernst Zündel was prosecuted for allegedly publishing false news about the Jewish experience during WWII. He was also one of the historical experts that testified at the David Irving–Penguin Books/Deborah Lipstadt libel trial in London in 2000, the most famous Holocaust court case since the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel in 1961.
Considering Professor Browning’s current stature among academic historians, one should consider very carefully whatever he writes about evidence in regard to the Holocaust.
Adolf Karl Eichmann was a SS Lieutenant-Colonel and Head of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo. According to the traditional Holocaust story, he is said to have a played a seminal role in the alleged National Socialist plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. At the end of the war he escaped to Argentina, where he was captured by Israeli agents in May 1960. He was transported to Israel, where he was subsequently tried and executed. In the words of Browning, “Adolf Eichmann has remained one of the most enduring symbols of Holocaust evil…[p. 3]”
In 2003, our Final Solution expert published this eye-opening essay, “Perpetrator Testimony: Another Look at Adolf Eichmann,” about the value of the Eichmann testimonials, which we will now discuss. For the sake of brevity, we will divide the Eichmann memoirs into two phases—those composed before his capture (precapture testimonials), and those composed after his capture while he was in Israeli custody (postcapture testimonials).
The important question is: how reliable are the entire body of memoirs of this “most enduring symbol of Holocaust evil?”
Browning and “Witness to the Holocaust” Adolf Eichmann
In his 2004 tome, The Origins of the Final Solution, Browning used the testimony of Eichmann as an important piece of evidence for his thesis that Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist government ordered the physical extermination of Europe’s Jews.
According to Eichmann, sometime in the fall of 1941 he was told by Head of the Security Police Reinhardt Heydrich that Hitler had ordered the physical extermination of the Jews. Browning offers a direct quote from Eichmann’s testimony: “The Führer has ordered the physical destruction of the Jews. [SS Lieutenant General Odilo] Globocnik has received his relevant instructions from [Chief of German Police and Minister of Interior Heinrich Himmler.”
Some pages later, Browning adds: “I think that it was most probably in late September  that Heydrich informed Eichmann of Hitler’s decision for the ‘physical destruction’ of the European Jews...”
In this 2004 book, Browning gently offers this cautionary caveat about the value of Eichmann’s testimony: “As with any detailed eyewitness testimonies after so many years, Eichmann’s various accounts differ from one another and are not free of puzzling contradictions with other evidence.”
Nevertheless, it is most important to highlight what Browning wrote in his 2003 essay about the value and trustworthiness of the SS Lieutenant-Colonel’s memoirs. “Even more than most memoirs,” our Holocaust historian pointed out, “the Eichmann testimonies, both before and after capture, are consciously calculated attempts at self-representation, self-justification, and legal defense. It must be said as emphatically as possible that, at the core of these testimonies, there are three monstrous falsehoods that are central to his whole enterprise [pp. 8-9].”
The three “monstrous falsehoods” are that Eichmann claimed (1) he was not an anti-Semite; (2) in his early career, from the mid-1930s until 1941, he wanted to help the Jews find a home for themselves; and finally, (3) with the outbreak of war “he was an utterly passive receiver of orders, who took no initiatives and made no decisions. He simply obeyed. He had nothing to do with killing Jews, though admittedly he played a minor role in their evacuation [p. 10].”
Browning added: “In addition to these three colossal lies, Eichmann told innumerable little lies when confronted with a succession of incriminating documents and testimony…Eichmann was not a particularly subtle or skillful liar… [pp. 10-11].”
Even Browning’s colleagues, the mainstream historians of the Final Solution, are very skeptical about Eichmann’s testimonials, for he admitted: "When I [Browning] have suggested to my colleagues that we must take seriously Eichmann's repeated testimony to the effect that he learned from Heydrich in the fall of 1941 of Hitler's order for the physical destruction of the Jews, I have met with either embarrassed silence or open skepticism. How can I be so gullible? Don't I know that Eichmann's testimony is a useless conglomeration of faulty memories on the one hand and calculated lies for legal defense and self-justification on the other? From it we can learn nothing of value about what actually happened during the war, only about Eichmann's state of mind after the war. These are documents that reveal how Eichmann wished to be remembered, not what he did [pp. 4-5]."
In 2003, Browning concluded: “Clearly, anyone who wants to dismiss Eichmann’s testimonies on the grounds of their demonstrated unreliability and shameless self-serving lies can easily do so, and many of my colleagues have done precisely this [p. 11].”
An A Priori Reason to be Skeptical of the Postcapture Eichmann Testimonials
Israel is founded upon the Holocaust ideology; this is a widely accepted fact. The Holocaust ideology goes something like this. There was a Hitler policy to exterminate all the Jews. “Gas chambers” were used to commit this mass extermination, and millions of Jews were murdered. In order to compensate the Jewish people for their enormous losses due to Nazi extermination, the state of Israel was founded.
Even if Browning never revealed his devastating conclusions in regard to the Eichmann precapture and postcapture memoirs, historians would have an a priori reason to be very skeptical of anything that conforms to the Holocaust ideology in his postcapture testimonials. Eichmann was in Israeli captivity and facing death by hanging, which in itself is a form of very stressful coercion. It is possible that Eichmann was, after his capture, coerced to give testimony that is congruent with this Holocaust ideology, or he gave false testimony that he thought would help him escape a death sentence. Of course, there is even the possibility that he was tortured, or mind-altering drugs were used to gain the testimony the Israelis wanted to hear.
Did Browning take this into consideration, and hesitate, when he used the Eichmann memoirs as evidence for his theories in The Origins of the Final Solution? Maybe not. The book was published by the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust in Israel. No further comment necessary.
Christopher Browning, the Eichmann Testimonies, and the “Nazi Gas Chambers”
Let us get very specific. What other important falsehoods do the Eichmann testimonials contain?
In his precapture statements, Eichmann claimed that he saw the alleged homicidal gas chambers of Majdanek, a concentration camp in Poland. Browning informed his readers in 2003 that these “observations” are not credible: “In both precapture accounts, Eichmann’s dating is vague. Furthermore, the claims that gassing was already taking place in this first camp, or that it was Majdanek, are contrary to what we know from other sources. The precapture testimonies, in short, are helpful to neither the historian nor Eichmann’s credibility [p. 23].” In plain language, Eichmann never saw the “gas chambers” he claimed to have seen at Majdanek.
Yet, how many millions of people were convinced of the “existence” of “homicidal gas chambers” after they read this untrue statement from Eichmann’s testimonials that appeared in the November 28, 1960 issue of the immensely influential Life magazine. The Eichmann memoirs falsely declared: “It was the latter part of 1941 that I saw the first preparations for annihilating the Jews. General Heydrich ordered me to visit Maidanek [sic], a Polish village near Lublin. A German police captain showed me how they had managed to build airtight chambers disguised as ordinary Polish farmers’ huts, seal them hermetically, then inject the exhaust gas from a Russian U-boat motor. I remember it all very exactly because I never thought that anything like that would be possible, technically speaking.”
In regard to the alleged gas chambers of Belzec, Eichmann claimed to have witnessed the “preparations for killing Jews with carbon monoxide exhaust gas in sealed rooms [p. 26].” Browning goes onto argue that we should be skeptical of this account involving the “gas chambers” of Belzec (pp. 26-28).
But here is the real eye-opener! Eichmann insisted in his precapture testimonials that he witnessed homicidal mass gassings of thousands of Jews in “gas busses” near Lodz (Litzmannstadt) in the winter of 1941-42 (p. 17). We quote the Eichmann “observations” from Life magazine of November 28, 1960: “Later in that same winter  [General] Müller sent me to watch Jews being gassed in the Litzmannstadt [Lodz] area of central Poland…Arriving in Litzmannstadt, I drove out to the designated place where a thousand Jews were about to board buses. The buses were normal, high-windowed affairs with all their windows closed. During the trip, I was told, the carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe was conducted into the interior of the buses. It was intended to kill the passengers immediately.”
Eichmann continues with his story: “A doctor who was there suggested that I look at the people inside one bus through a peephole in the driver’s seat. I refused. I couldn’t look. This was the first time that I had seen such a thing and my knees were buckling under me. I had been told that the whole process took only three minutes, but the buses rode along for about a quarter of an hour.”
Eichmann concludes his story with some spine-tingling “memories.” He insisted that when the doors of the buses were opened, Poles threw the dead bodies into pits. One of the Poles pried the gold teeth out of the mouths of the corpses with a pair of pliers and collected them in a bag. Back in Berlin, General Müller chided Eichmann for not having timed the procedure with a stopwatch.
In a footnote in the 2003 essay, Browning points out that Eichmann later changed his testimony. He made “corrections.” Eichmann subsequently wrote that “he had not seen ‘buses’ but rather only one ‘bus,’ and that it was entirely enclosed without windows. He also denied riding on the bus and said he followed the bus in a car [p. 91n55].” One could interpret this to mean that Professor Browning is arguing that Eichmann is not a credible witness to the “Nazi gas vans.”
Disclosures as damming as these should nullify any use of the Eichmann testimonies as “evidence” for “Nazi gas chambers.” Yet, this does not stop Browning from arguing that some of Eichmann’s “observations” in regard to the “Nazi gas chambers” are reliable.
While in Israeli captivity, Eichmann repeated the “gassing-on-buses” story during his pretrial interrogation, but once again he apparently altered his story. The alleged gassing did not take place at Lodz (Litzmannstadt) as stated in Life magazine, but rather at Chelmno concentration camp. Browning insists that we should believe this version of the story, as he argues: “His [Eichmann’s] gruesome description of the gassing operation, down to the details of the ramp, peephole, burial pits, and teeth pulling, is confirmed by other sources. There is no reason to doubt the basic account of what he saw and when, even if the description of his personal reaction is clearly self-serving and calculated [p. 18].”
A thorough critique of this argument is beyond the scope of this short discussion. But let it suffice to say that even false testimony can be “corroborated” by other false testimony; a series of false and lying testimonies can “corroborate” and “vindicate” each other, for even historical lies can develop a certain consistency.
For example, consider the false story of the phony “homicidal steam chambers” at Treblinka, or the bogus claim that the Germans manufactured soap from the bodies of dead Jewish corpses. Both lies have a chain of “evidence,” with a certain logical coherency, to “corroborate” them. Browning totally ignores the possibility that Eichmann is simply repeating a false story of “homicidal gas chambers” because this is what his Israeli captors wanted to hear. As we said previously, the state of Israel is founded upon the Holocaust ideology.
Despite all of what Browning wrote in 2003 about the falsehoods and “story-changing” in Eichmann’s testimony about the “Nazi gas chambers,” this does not stop him from using Eichmann as an “eyewitness” to the “homicidal gas vans” of concentration camp Chelmno in 2004. In The Origins of the Final Solution, Browning writes: “Sometime during this earliest phase [December 1941-January 1942], the peripatetic Eichmann inspected the killing procedures in Chelmno. Most probably this visit came in January, for the gas van he saw in operation already used exhaust gas, not bottled carbon monoxide. In his postwar testimony, he claimed to have been so sickened that he forgot to time the operation of the stopwatch. Nor could he accept the invitation of the gas van driver to peer through the peek hole into the rear compartment to witness the death agonies of the victims.”
The reader who is unaware of all of what Browning has written about the Eichmann memoirs is left with the totally false impression that Eichmann is a “credible witness” to mass gassings in homicidal gas vans. To Browning’s credit, however, buried in a footnote he made the more discerning reader aware that that “the testimonies of especially Höss [former commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp] and to some extent Eichmann are confused, contradictory, self-serving, and not credible.”
How Does Browning Justify the Use of the Eichmann Testimonies?
So, after pointing out how notoriously unreliable the Eichmann memoirs really are, how does Browning justify his use of these same memoirs as evidence for his theories? Among a group of reasons he offers, he says, for one, we should disregard what Eichmann says that is demonstrably false, but we should accept what he says that is supported by other credible sources (pp. 11, 30).
A thorough discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this short essay, but the reader should consider this. How can Browning use the unreliable Eichmann testimonials as “evidence” for the claim—“The Führer has ordered the physical destruction of the Jews.”—when there are no genuine war time documents that show that Hitler ever made such an order? Indeed, Browning’s colleague, Holocaust historian Ian Kershaw, admitted that a written order from Hitler ordering the physical destruction of the Jews was never found. Browning himself admitted that no comprehensive draft for the alleged Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews is among the surviving German documents found after the war.
David Irving and the Eichmann Testimonials: Refuting Richard Evans
In the early 1990s, maverick historian David Irving put forth a very plausible theory about the alleged Hitler order for the destruction of the Jews in the Eichmann testimonials.
Irving pointed that in July 1941 Eichmann maintained he was summoned to Berlin to visit Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). Heydrich allegedly uttered to him the fateful words: "I've come from the Reichsführer SS [Himmler]. The Führer has given the order for the physical destruction of the Jews."
Irving then remarked: “I've always said, ‘Hitler wasn't involved, whatever happened — Hitler gave no orders [for the physical extermination of the Jews], there's no proof of it.’ Here we have Eichmann writing something very specific indeed. What is the explanation?”
By 1958 Eichmann realized that he was being hunted; his days were numbered. He could be captured, arrested and put on trial at any time. The former head of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo had sleepless nights wondering how he is going to defend himself in court, how he is going to get off of the hook and escape a hangman’s noose. One possible way of escaping a death sentence was to claim that he was merely following orders. Irving hypothesized that Eichmann changed the wording of the statement that Heydrich actually uttered to him. He inserted into his memoirs this doctored and false statement: "The Führer has given the order for the physical destruction of the Jews." By so doing, Eichmann placed the responsibility on Hitler in order to support his courtroom defense that he had only been obeying the Führer’s commands.
Browning’s colleague, Oxford history professor Richard Evans, attacked Irving by charging him with document manipulation. Evans alleged that Irving was simply rationalizing away evidence that does not fit his theories; he twisted and contorted the evidence in order to make it conform to his viewpoint. In light of what Browning has revealed about the Eichmann memoirs, this is a groundless smear.
As Browning pointed out, Eichmann’s memoirs are consciously calculated attempts at legal defense in court (p. 8). In addition, at the core of Eichmann’s memoirs is the contention that Eichmann was a passive receiver of orders, a bureaucrat who took no initiatives and made no decisions. He simply obeyed the orders of his Führer (p. 10). Finally, the former lieutenant colonel was also, according to Browning, a liar and falsifier of history (pp. 10-11).
If all of this is so, then it is perfectly logical for Irving to infer that Eichmann may have inserted in his memoirs the false statement that “the Führer has given the order for the physical destruction of the Jews." It would simply be an example of a “falsifier of history” creating a plausible defense for his upcoming trial. Eichmann’s falsehood would have placed the responsibility on Hitler in order to support his courtroom defense that he had only been obeying the Führer’s commands.
In the light of what Christopher Browning has admitted in regard to the credibility of the Eichmann testimonials, Irving’s theory is not an attempt to “explain or rationalize away” evidence that refutes his theories. Contrary to what Evans charged, Irving’s theory is a logical inference and a plausible hypothesis.
My short essay here is not meant to be a thorough analysis of Dr. Browning’s 33 page discussion of the Eichmann testimonials. I have only briefly touched upon what I consider to be the most salient issues raised by Professor Browning in his largely unseen essay.
The testimonials of the former commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, along with the memoirs of Eichmann are an important portion of the evidence for the traditional view of the Final Solution, the alleged Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews. What we have shown here is how weak and flimsy the Eichmann memoirs really are. To Browning’s credit he implicitly admitted that dubious evidence like this is basically all the traditional historians of the Final Solution have to make their case (p. 36).
Furthermore, again to Browning’s credit, buried in a footnote in The Origins of the Final Solution he made the more discerning reader aware that “the testimonies of especially [Rudolf] Höss [former commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp] and to some extent Eichmann are confused, contradictory, self-serving, and not credible.”
Browning has said that Eichmann is presently looked upon as the most enduring symbol of Holocaust evil (p. 3). At the dawn of a new age of reason, we may see a revised view of Adolf Karl Eichmann. He may be looked upon as the most enduring symbol of Holocaust falsehood.
- Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2004), p. 362.
- Ibid., p. 371.
- Ibid., p. 363.
- “Eichmann Tells His Own Damning Story, “ Life, 28 November 1960. Reprinted in full in Lenni Brenner, ed., 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis (Barricade Books, 2002), p. 271.
- Life, 28 November 1960; Brenner, pp. 272-273.
- See Mark Weber and Andrew Allen, “Treblinka,” The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1992, pp. 133-158. Online: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v12/v12p133_Allen.html. Mark Weber, “Jewish Soap,” The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1991, pp. 217-227. Online: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v11/v11p217_Weber.html.
- Browning, p. 419.
- Ibid., p. 544n169.
- Ian Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale University Press, 2008), p. 96.
- Christopher Browning, “Irving v. Lipstadt: Defense Documents: Evidence for the Implemenation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition. A. Documentary Evidence for the emergence of a program to kill the Jews of Europe.” Online: http://www.holocaustdenialontrial.com/trial/defense/browning/500.
- David Irving, “The Suppressed Eichmann and Goebbels Papers,” Presented at the Eleveneth IHR Conference, October 1992. Online: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n2p14_Irving.html
- Richard Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (Basic Books, 2001), pp. 248-249.
- Browning, p. 544n169.
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|Title:||An Enduring Symbol of Holocaust Evil or Holocaust Falsehood?, Christopher Browning and the Testimony of Adolf Eichmann – a Review|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 2009, 7 p.m.|