Adolf Eichmann and Personal Responsibility

Adolf EichmannFrom 1939 until the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann oversaw and helped to carry out the deportation of millions of Jews to killing centers in Poland and in the Soviet Union1. At the end of the war Eichmann was in U.S. custody, but he escaped in 1946 and was captured again in 1960 by the Israeli Security Service. On December 15, 1961, the Israeli Supreme Court found Eichmann guilty of crimes against the Jewish people. Eichmann appealed the decision, but the appeal was denied, and he was executed on June 1, 1962.

On May 29, 1962, just two days before his execution, Eichmann wrote a letter to President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi of Israel. The letter was made public for the first time just last week, and it is fascinating. In part, Eichmann’s letter reads: “[T]here is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders. I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

Eichmann’s argument is a version of the age-old rationalization for sin, “The devil (or somebody acting on the devil’s behalf) made me do it.” In other words, “I cannot be held accountable for willful wrongdoing, because somebody else prompted me to do it.” This kind of argument seems futile when coming from a prominent, ruthless Nazi war criminal. (Although other Nazis influenced Eichmann to do what he did, he was not forced to slaughter Jews.) And yet, the same futile argument has been made from the beginning of the world.

  • Genesis 3:12-13. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (emp. added).
  • Matthew 25:24-25. He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours’ (emp. added).

When we come face-to-face with our own sin, it is very tempting to mimic Eichmann’s or Eve’s petty attempt to dodge responsibility. Remember, however another may encourage or occasion us to sin, each of us still will be held accountable for his own sin. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). 


  1. “Adolf Eichmann,” United States Holocaust Museum, 2015, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007412. 

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- 2017