Life & Culture

Adolf Eichmann in his own words

In 1957, the notorious Nazi recorded a series of conversations about his role in the Final Solution. Now a filmmaker has turned those tapes into a documentary


Much of the work of acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Yariv Mozer (Ben-Gurion, Epilogue; The Invisible Men, Golda’s War Diaries) is concerned with examining Israeli history and identity, but there is, he explains on a Zoom call from Tel Aviv, also something personal in every film he works on: how the story connects to him or to his family.

Mozer is in the third generation of Holocaust survivors, and this connection adds resonance to his engrossing, powerful documentary The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes, which has its UK premiere at the UK Jewish Film Festival next month.

“My grandparents didn’t talk much [about their past] and as a child, I didn’t ask or have any interest,” he says. “As the years went by, I had questions, but my mother didn’t know anything.

“So, when I heard the story about the Adolf Eichmann tapes, conversations in which he admitted what he did and told behind the scenes about the Final Solution, my first question was, do they really exist, or is it a myth?”

Originally made as a three-part series for Israeli television, The Devil’s Confession examines the content of these tapes and the important role excerpts from the transcripts played in Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Jerusalem.

During the trial, the former SS officer and architect of the Final Solution tried to portray himself as a petty bureaucrat who was merely following orders.

He denied his part in managing the deportation of Jews to their deaths. However, just four years earlier, a series of taped in-depth conversations with Dutch Nazi journalist Willem Sassen recorded in Buenos Aires revealed a different Eichmann.

In these interviews, he speaks with candour and pride of the idealism that propelled him to do his job, admitting that he regretted “nothing” and expresses deep disappointment that millions more Jews were not killed.

Although the tapes had been mysteriously handed over to Israel’s Attorney General and chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, their use was not permitted during the trial and afterwards their whereabouts remained unknown for decades.

Mozer, 45, first became aware of their existence from producer Kobi Sitt, who suggested Mozer looked into finding them for a story.

Eventually, full permission was granted and Mozer found himself in the archives listening to Eichmann’s words via a translator. Although hearing Eichmann’s voice was chilling, it was the external sounds, he says, which proved more unsettling.

“It was crazy. The noise of a fly in the first tape, described as a ‘Jewish fly,’ the clink of glasses of wine or Sassen’s daughter, Saskia [one of the film’s talking heads] singing from another room. You hear it’s a public event and you understand Eichmann is in a situation in which he feels free to talk about what he did. It’s like he’s sitting round a bonfire, chatting, sharing stories with friends.”

The interviews comprise more than 70 hours of material and were conducted for the purpose of a memoir. Mozer believes Eichmann agreed to participate because he felt he had not been recognised for his actions.

“Eichmann was low in rank and was frustrated that he didn’t get the credit he thought he deserved. And sitting there suddenly gave him a platform with an audience that praised him.”

In order to engage a wide audience, especially young people, Mozer decided to dramatise the tapes, but on the condition that the authentic soundtrack remained as it was.

So, the original voices are used, and actors Eli Gorenstein (Eichmann) and Roi Miller (Sassen) move their lips, verbatim, according to the exact words from the recordings. “Finding Israeli actors during Covid, who were fluent German speakers and could do this was a big burden,” admits Mozer. “It was a huge operation just doing that.”

As well as enacting the interviews, there are contributions from historians, Holocaust survivors and key witnesses at the trial. Mozer also insisted on colourisation of all the archive material in his film, not leaving anything in black and white, including scenes from the now infamous trial.

“Again, I was thinking of young people and the way they watch documentaries, to bring them in in a way that would attract them, and they wouldn’t feel they’re watching something old and lose attention.”

The Israeli broadcaster Kan was concerned that colourisation might detract from witnessing the authenticity of the Holocaust but Mozer persuaded them otherwise, arguing that “the Holocaust happened in colour.

We’re used to watching it in black and white, but it happened in a world like ours to people with blonde hair and blue eyes, wearing coloured dresses.”

Crucial to the story of the trial is the complex issue of collaboration and the film examines the broader, controversial political considerations, such as the case of Hungarian Jewish leader Rudolf Kasztner, which may have contributed to the suppression of the tapes use and their subsequent disappearance.

Kasztner, who had negotiated with Eichmann for the release of Jews, including his own family, was later assassinated in Israel and the documentary suggests that the tapes contained evidence that explained Kasztner’s motives and, perhaps, absolved him as a collaborator.

“In my opinion, Kasztner is very much a part of why those tapes weren’t used.”
But the Israeli government, too, had its own reasons. Looking to protect the nascent state, Ben-Gurion was establishing relations with the new West German leadership in pursuit of a nuclear deal, which meant negotiating with former Nazis.

The film questions whether the Israeli leadership was also culpable in preventing the release of the tapes.

“I didn’t know about the German connection to the bomb,” Mozer says. “That was shocking to me.” People were astonished that those interests were part of the backdrop to the trial, he adds.

“It’s very hard for Israelis to cope with, even today. But it’s about time we understood that the young state of Israel had different things on the table and dealt with the Holocaust in a different way than we see today.”

In Israel, the film has been well received and, to Mozer’s surprise, last year The Devil’s Confession won five Israeli Academy TV Awards including best documentary TV series, and the BBC has acquired the rights to adapt it into a two-part version.

Who does he think is the true Eichmann? The man bragging in Argentina or the denier in Jerusalem?

Mozer believes it’s in between the two. “Maybe he’s not lying all the way in Jerusalem. Maybe he’s not saying the truth in Argentina, but somewhere in the middle is the real Eichmann.”

The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes will be screening in London on Sunday November 12, followed by a conversation between Yariv Mozer and journalist Jonathan Freedland.

Additional screenings are on November 14 in Manchester, November 22 in Leeds and November 26 in Sheffield

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