Adolf Eichmann is not an obvious candidate for a full-length biography, and before his capture in 1960 and trial the following year no one would have thought of writing one. The historical record would have been too thin; much of what we know about his life and crimes emerged from his interrogation by the Israeli authorities and from the vast research effort that went into preparing the case against him. It would in any case have been nearly impossible to fit the life and crimes of a relatively obscure lieutenant-colonel into the giant criminal enterprise that we now call the 'Holocaust'. The word itself, borrowed from more innocent applications to mean specifically the extermination of the Jews, had only come into being - in the Yad Vashem Bulletin - three years earlier; the Library of Congress did not take it on as a subject heading until 1968. And there was little serious historical work to rely on. Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews appeared only in 1961, much to Hannah Arendt's good fortune but too late for the prosecutors putting their case together. They had to rely principally on two earlier works, one of which, Gerald Reitlinger's The Final Solution, can't have given them, or a would-be biographer, much heart.
LRB 4 November 2004 | PDF Download