HOW EVIL ESCAPED; Told for the First Time, the Incredible Story of How the British Allowed Mass Murderer Adolf Eichmann to Escape from under Their Noses .
Byline: GUY WALTERS
AS THE Nazi bureaucrat responsible for sending at least two million Jews to their deaths, Adolf Eichmann was one of the most evil men in history.
But newly released documents yesterday revealed that British efforts to hunt for one of the chief architects of the Holocaust were called off in early 1947, less than two years after the end of the war. In a cruel twist, it later turned out that Eichmann had been living under the noses of his hunters, hiding in the British-controlled zone of Germany, before smuggling himself out to South America.
The files, newly declassified by the National Archives, show that in February 1947, a Major Cooper, wrote to a senior officer, informing him that 'an exhaustive search had been carried out but the only indication of his fate was he may have committed suicide'.
As a result, the case was closed, and Eichmann remained free until he was spectacularly abducted by Israeli secret service agents from Argentina in May 1960. He was put on trial in Israel and was hanged in June 1962.
The news that the British stopped looking for Eichmann quite so soon is a huge embarrassment, but as a historian who is researching Hunting Evil, a major new book on the efforts to bring former Nazis to justice, it comes as no surprise to me.
During the course of my research, I have come across countless documents and spoken to many people who confirm that Britain lacked both the will and the wherewithal to hunt down the perpetrators of genocide, and was instead more interested in arresting Nazis who had murdered British PoWs.
As one former officer in the War Crimes Investigation Unit recently told me: 'War crimes were not at the forefront of people's minds.' The formation of what was originally called the War Crimes Investigation Team in April 1945 was an ad hoc affair, conceived only 'because of the numbers of war criminals being uncovered' wrote one officer. This seems an extraordinary admission, as the Allies had known about the scale of Nazi brutality for many years.
To make matters worse, bureaucracy and military bungling held up the formation of the team, and by June of 1945, it was still not properly formed.
'Until we get these teams completed with men who are up to the work,' an irate colonel wrote to his brigadier, 'we shall not be able to meet our responsibilities for War Crime Investigation.
'Meanwhile, the public, Press and political interest in the matter is such that delay is likely to bring a storm down on us if we cannot produce results in the near future.' It was a prescient admission, and one that reached the ears of the Prime Minister himself, Clement Attlee. In November 1945, Attlee wrote to the Secretary of State for War, saying that he was 'concerned at the delays which have occurred with regard to the prosecution of war criminals.
'It is essential that the persons on whom rests responsibility for the investigation of war crimes and the bringing to trial of the authors should be officers with drive and energy and that the high priority to be accorded to war crimes matters should be carefully understood.' SADLY, Attlee's words went unheeded. Although the officers and men assigned to investigating war crimes were of good quality, there was not nearly enough of them, and neither did they have any background in detective work.
In fact, by Christmas 1945, the team could boast just 11 officers searching for war criminals - a pathetic figure when one considers that the Allies' 'wanted list' would run to nearly 50,000 names.
All this played into the hands of those Nazis on the run, and none more so than Adolf Eichmann.
It is important to remember that it was not until 1946, during the Nuremberg trials, that the enormity of his crimes were fully appreciated by the Allies.
Nevertheless, they were certainly appreciated by Eichmann who, knowing he faced certain execution if caught, had initially disguised himself as a Luftwaffe corporal to escape the encroaching Allied forces at the end of the war. …