Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Did CIA Really Cold-Shoulder the Hunt for Adolf Eichmann?

Worldwide Media Bit on an Erroneous Sound Bite

by Robert Wolfe

During an IWG press conference at the National Archives on June 6, 2006, the following erroneous conclusion was offered in a press handout, and its media dissemination amplified by a televised sound bite of the bolded phrase:

In March 1958, the West German foreign intelligence service [BND] reported to the CIA that since 1952 the notorious Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann had been living in Argentina under the alias CLEMENS... As it was not then US policy to pursue Nazi war criminals, the CIA did not act on the report.

That bolded sentence was neither a direct quotation, nor an accurate summary of any CIA file reference to Eichmann; nor did it begin to parse in full any passage found in his CIA file. While American and most other media accordingly faulted CIA for ignoring the hunt for Eichmann, Der Spiegel and other German accounts blamed the BND, which suggests that all news, like all politics, is local. The crucial misreading in all media accounts derived from failure of the press conference assertion to distinguish between a CIA memorandum dated October 9, 1953, and one citing a dubious BND report, dated March 19, 1958.

The only passage in the CIA Eichmann file remotely resembling that press conference assertion appears in an earlier CIA Memorandum for the Record dated October 9, 1953. CIA staff devised that memorandum in response to a plea that CIA "deal with Eichmann," reiterated continuously from September1953 to May 1954 by Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowicz of Va'ad Hahatzala, an organization engaged in rescue activities on behalf of European rabbis and Yeshiva students. The only putative hiding places the Rabbi mentioned, however, were all in the Middle East, many of them as the refuge of a Karl Heinrich Eichmann, a frequent misidentification rectified only in March 1954. Nowhere in the Rabbi's voluminous correspondence with the CIA and other Federal agencies was their any hint of Argentina until May 1954, when he provided CIA with a Simon Wiesenthal letter written in March 1954, nor was their any mention of a CLEMENS alias until the BND report of March 1958.

On October 14, 1959, Rabbi Kalmanowicz wrote Allen Dulles one last time quoting the "New York Press" that Eichmann was "employed as an adviser to an Oil Company in Quawaiti, near Iran." Although the BND report of March 19, 1958 had been in CIA's Eichmann file since that date, its reply to Rabbi Kalmanowicz did not apprise him in 1959 of the Argentine lead.

The CIA memorandum of October 9, 1953 stated:
[W]hile CIA has a continuing interest in the whereabouts and activities of individuals such as EICHMANN, we are not in the business of apprehending war criminals, hence in no position to take an active role in this case; that we would, however, be alert for any information regarding EICHMANN's whereabouts and pass it on to appropriate authorities (probably the West German Government) for such action as may be indicated.

That was a far more cooperative attitude, and quite inconsistent with, the press conference assertion, "As it was not then US policy to pursue Nazi war criminals, the CIA did not act on the report." From the CIA foot-in-mouth 1953 comment that "we are not in the business of hunting down war criminals," it seems obvious that its devisers were at that time little informed about Eichmann, and had no authority to pursue a matter that was at best under the jurisdictions of the Departments of Justice or State, if anywhere at all in the US Government. A memorandum to Allen Dulles from an assistant, Col. R W. Fuller, also dated October 9, 1953, read:

[T]he German Government under the contractuals [Revised Occupation Statute for the Federal German Republic of May 26, 1952] has jurisdiction over all war criminals including the trying of them and Germany seems to be the only one who does have this jurisdiction. If our people should find Eichmann, the only legal course open would be to inform the German Government who could then extradite him for trial. If the government of the country in which he is found was one the Agency has some influence in, we might be able to use our good offices to assist in the extradition. Over and beyond that, any action taken by the Agency would have to be of a covert and illegal nature.

That legal inhibition remained just as valid in 1958 as it was in 1953. The recent widespread media misreadings arose from confusion among two CIA memoranda of disparate years in the press conference handout and sound bite.

Uncertain rumors hinder the hunt for Eichmann

As noted above, reference to Argentina first appeared in CIA's Eichmann file in Simon Wiesenthal's letter dated March 30, 1954. Sent to CIA as an attachment to a May 6, 1954 letter from Rabbi Kalmanowitz to Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, it is a long typewritten German-language letter from Wiesenthal to Dr. Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress. In 4½ single-space pages, Wiesenthal recapitulated everything he had assembled about Adolf Eichmann's past, much of it accurate, as well as a chronology of his hunt for Eichmann since 1945.

Having discounted a number of rumors that Eichmann was variously in the Middle East, Wiesenthal suspected until 1952 that Eichmann was hiding in Austria. An article signed by an "Adolf Eichenwald" in the August 1951 Reichszeitung, the Hannover edition of a neo-Nazi Deutschen Reichspartei publication edited in Argentina, first turned Wiesenthal's attention to that country. Until sometime in 1952, Frau Eichmann lived with her children in Alt-Aussee, Austria, traveling frequently to Linz where her in-laws lived. Suddenly during that year, she disappeared without securing travel documents or withdrawing her children from school, leaving her possessions behind. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances all vaguely understood her destination to be "South America."

In June 1953, Baron Mast, a former Austrian intelligence officer, a monarchist anti-Nazi, and Wiesenthal's fellow philatelist, showed Wiesenthal a letter dated in May 1953 from a former German officer living in Argentina. In Wiesenthal's rendition of the letter-perhaps in part a direct quotation-"der Briefschreiber Eichman...in Buenos Aires begegnet hat...[der] in der Gegend von Buenos Aires...bei einer Baustelle eines Kraftwerkbaues beschäftigt wäre" ("the letter writer met Eichmann in Buenos Aires ...who was employed at a construction site for a power plant about 100 kilometers from that city"). Wiesenthal added that in July 1953 the General Director of Austrian National Security was inclined to credit that unconfirmed information. Wiesenthal acknowledged that "I cannot of course guarantee that information 100 percent" ("kann ich selbstverständlich keine hundertprozentige Garantie dafür übernehmen"). One cannot imagine that Simon Wiesenthal, or its recipient Nahum Goldman, withheld that information from Israeli or German authorities.

Wiesenthal's March 1954 letter contained no reference to the alias "CLEMENS." It is uncertain and unlikely whether Baron Mast's correspondent was identical with half-Jewish German Socialist Lothar Hermann. Virtually blinded during his 1935-38 internment at Dachau, he fled Germany to Argentina after the November 1938 Kristallnacht. He became suspicious when his daughter encountered Klaus Eichmann, Adolf's eldest son, who used his real family name. In September 1957, Hermann informed Fritz Bauer, the Jewish Attorney General for the State of Hesse, of Eichmann's likely whereabouts. Fearing that a German demand for extradition would drive Eichmann underground, Bauer informed the Israelis instead, who purportedly made only desultory attempts to follow up.

The first flawed but substantial lead

The March 19, 1958 CIA memorandum containing the BND report was the first solid location of his true whereabouts registered in Eichmann's CIA file. According to Der Spiegel, "Plaudereien aus Pullach (June 12, 2006, p.48), its source was an American agent who had talked with BND employee Kurt Weiss, alias Winterstein, quoting a partly erroneous BND report: "Adolf Eichmann ...was born in Israel [sic] and became an Obersturmbannfuehrer. He is reported to have lived [emphasis mine] in Argentina under the alias CLEMENS since 1952. One rumor has it that he was responsible for mass extermination of Jews, he now lives [emphasis mine] in Jerusalem." Again, there is no CIA remark therein that it was not then US policy to pursue Nazi war criminals.

The Israelis, who presumably in 1954 received from Wiesenthal the same uncertain rumor, having no extradition treaty with Argentina, like the CIA preferred a German initiative rather than what inevitably became a messy Argentine-Israeli dispute at the United Nations in the aftermath to Eichmann's illegal but morally justified kidnapping. So, where else should the CIA have passed the rumor? To the Argentine police? Such a warning might have alerted Eichmann and driven him into hiding, probably in Nazi-friendly Paraguay or Bolivia.

Things changed for the CIA, however, when on May 23, 1960 Prime Minister Ben Gurion announced the Israeli capture of Eichmann on May 11. Beginning on May 26 with a request for a "BDC check soonest," CIA research became more than assiduous. CIA agents descended on the National Archives World War II Division records repository in Alexandria, Virginia. Remarkably, in ten workdays during two weeks they culled the Eichmann records from among literally tons of captured German language records, processed them through all the micro copying, declassification clearances, and legal requirements of the Departments of Justice and State, and completed transfer to Israel by June 15.

According to an FBI memorandum of May 24, 1960 found in CIA's Eichmann file, a source named Robinson (undoubtedly Dr. Jacob Robinson, Director of YIVO Institute in New York), mistakenly asserted that there was an uncooperative Jewish person in a leading position at the Alexandria records repository. Quite the contrary occurred when three West German investigators led by the chief of the Ludwigsburg Central Office for Prosecution of Nazi Crimes (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen), Dr. Erwin Schüle, arrived at the Alexandria repository on July 21, 1960. I had already been describing and arranging for microfilm publication the Reich Security Central Office [Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)] records, in which agency and its predecessor organizations Eichmann had served his entire Third Reich career. I was instructed to provide research assistance directly to the Schüle team. By September 9, 1960, they had gathered documentary evidence against some 400 Nazi war crimes suspects, including Eichmann. All 400 had already been indicted as war criminals by the Federal Republic of Germany to forestall inhibiting their prosecution by the expiration of a long-standing German 20-year statute of limitations. Also in July 1960, I provided Israeli investigators the same information about Eichmann that furnished to Dr. Schüle.

CIA may well be faulted for complying with a US diplomatic decision to persuade Life magazine to withhold what was at any rate Eichmann's self-serving reference to Hans Globke, State Secretary of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's cabinet, in an interview recorded in Argentina during the late 1950s. Approaching trial in Israel, Eichmann's defense counsel, Dr. Robert Servatius, was evidently trying to use the fact that Globke notoriously had drafted the Nuremberg racial laws of 1935, to stretch that fact into a legal defense that Eichmann was "only following orders" in conducting the "final solution." That tenuous impersonal Eichmann-Globke connection, cynically inflated in 1960 by East German disinformation, was re-inflated in June 2006 in many media articles. Purportedly, BND director Reinhard Gehlen's trip to Washington a half-year later included the purpose of securing media suppression of an illusory, but damaging, linking of Globke with Eichmann.

The CIA with some justification has become a whipping boy to anti-Americans everywhere; to the media, to a large part of the American public, and a convenient scapegoat for the White House. True, the Agency directly and indirectly employed and protected Axis war criminals for its Cold War intelligence purposes, but it learned Adolf Eichmann's whereabouts for certain only after his 1960 capture. In this Eichmann affair, CIA seems blameless. The press conference handout and oral presentation swallowed whole by the media alleged that in 1958 the CIA knowingly and deliberately ignored concrete information on Eichmann's whereabouts. That canard should be dismissed by the contemporaneous documentary evidence adduced above as an unintended and unwarranted imputation.


For more than thirty years, Robert Wolfe was the National Archives' senior expert for captured German, Axis war crimes trials, and postwar military government records. A Purple Heart veteran of two WWII Theaters, he was an official in the US military government of Germany, 1945-48. He also served as archival adviser to the State Department for the Berlin Document Center, and as a special advisor to Elie Wiesel, US Holocaust Memorial Museum chairman. For the past six years, he has been an independent contract historian with the Interagency Working Group, but the analysis presented here is his own and does not necessarily represent the views of the IWG.

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