cover image Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a "Desk Murderer"

Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a "Desk Murderer"

David Cesarani, . . Da Capo, $27.50 (458pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81476-1

To the Israeli prosecutor who interrogated him in 1961, Adolf Eichmann was a fanatical anti-Semite and a central figure in the annihilation of the Jews. To Hannah Arendt, he was a dim-witted bureaucrat, a cog in the machinery of destruction that was the Holocaust. British historian Cesarani, author of numerous books on the Holocaust and Jewish history, offers a more complex and nuanced portrait. Based on research into sources that were unavailable in the 1960s and on the most recent scholarly work on the Holocaust, Cesarani corrects the historical record on numerous issues. Contrary to popular myth, he says, Eichmann had a normal childhood and a socially and professionally successful young adulthood. Eichmann joined the SS not because he was a misfit but because, like so many German and Austrian middle-class men, he found the Third Reich a great engine of social mobility. Cesarani's biography is convincing on many counts. But in the end, the broad outlines of Arendt's portrait in her brilliant Eichmann in Jerusalem remain standing. Eichmann may have been more intelligent and skilled than she concluded, but he was the perfect expression of the highly bureaucratized and systematic killing process that the Nazis perfected. 8 pages of b&w photos, 2 maps. (May 15)