Berlin – Referat IV B4

It was at Kurfürstenstrasse 115 in central Berlin that Gestapo’s department B4 had its office. This department was responsible for the Jewish question and was responsible for the deportations of the western Jews and the Jews of southern Europe to ghettos and extermination camps in eastern Europe. For this reason, the department was also called "Judenreferat". The Head of the department from March 1941 was SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann. The deportations of the Jews were in many cases an extensive bureaucratic process. In Eastern Europe, the process was less complicated because the states there had ceased to exist. In western and southern Europe it was different because the Gestapo had to negotiate with the German local authorities or other representative in the area the Gestapo intended to deport the Jews. The reason why the department was not on Bürgstrasse 28 as the other three departments (Catholics, Protestants and Freemasons) was cause its confidentiality. The fate of the Jews in eastern Europe was also a sensitive issue within the Nazi ranks. Details and scope about it had to be kept to as few as possible, even within the Nazi leadership. The department was divided into two other departments, A and B. A was responsible for coordinating the deportations of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps. B was responsible for matters relating to the property of the deported. Eichmann had local representatives in several of the occupied countries responsible for the local deportations.

When the Jews in a certain area were to be deported, the officer in charge went there. With him he had about 10 employees and together they formed a Einsatzkommando. The officer sought cooperation with local civilian leaders who were in charge of the Jews in the area. The goal was that all Jews in the area would be handed over to the officer and his represantives and deported to Eastern Europe. Depending on the attitude of the local civilian leaders towards the Jews, some leaders were more eager to cooperate than others. Sometimes agreement could not be reached and some cases a compromise was reached. Another important part of the work was to requisite trains for the deportations, trains that were otherwise necessary for the German war effort. This was a job that usually fell on employees. Other tasks were to collect the property of the deported, this also required transportation.

Current status: Demolished with information board (2011).

Address: Kurfürstenstrasse 115, 10787 Berlin.

Get there: Metro to Wittenbergplatz Station.

My comment:

The information board is part of a bus stop located right where the Referat stood (the building was destroyed during the war).

After the war, Eichmann was captured by the Americans who, for lack of evidence, released him. Eichmann knew that he sooner or later would have to answer questions about his duties during the war. Therefore, he fled with his family via detours to Argentina where he assumed a number of different identities. Directly after the war, his role during the war was not clear, the main focus was on the more leading Nazis and the commanders of the concentration camps. But as the documents surrounding the Holocaust were reviewed, the more often Eichmann’s name and signature arose and his central role became increasingly clear. Eichmann became one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals. In the mid-fifties, information emerged that Eichmann was in Argentina and the reconnaissance was intensified. By 1960, the Israelis had identified a person named Ricardo Klement as Eichmann.

However, the fascist-friendly regime in Argentina was not interested in extraditing Eichmann to Israel for trial. The Israeli parliament then approved a plan to kidnap Eichmann and bring him to Israel. There he would be brought to justice for crimes against the Jewish people. The Israeli Security Service (Mossad) sent a team of field operatives to Argentina. They confirmed his identity and monitored Eichmann virtually around the clock and mapped his procedures to determine a suitable location for kidnapping. Eichmann lived with his family in a small house just outside Bueno’s Aires. He took the bus between home and work, the bus stop was a short walk from home. Therefore, the team decided to kidnap Eichmann during his walk from the bus stop to his house. The kidnapping took place on May 11, 1960. He was taken to a safe house where the initial interrogations were conducted in order to establish his identity. He was then smuggled out of Argentina in a commercial aircraft of the Israeli El-Al and taken to a Jerusalem detention center.

The Israelis were very concerned that Eichmann was indeed brought to Israel and not killed by any vengeful member of the team. Therefore, there was no one within the team whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis. When Eichmann was in custody, Israel’s prime minister Ben Gurion announced to the parliament that Eichmann was in Israelic captivity. When it became public, protests were heard from various quarters against Eichmann being kidnapped by a foreign team and that this violated international law. Israel ignored the protests. Eichmann was tried in April 1961 and charged on 15 counts all related to crimes against the Jewish people. The trial was well-guarded by both the police and the media and was perhaps the first real TV trial. The trial lasted until September 1961 and he was sentenced to death by hanging.

It was also during the trial that the image of the bloodthirsty and mentally disturbed Nazi was overthrown. Eichmann turned out to be a zealous dutiful bureaucrat who claimed to have only obeyed orders in the regime he had been working. Eichmann was an ordinary middle-level official in Nazi Germany. Had he lived in a different time, he would probably have performed his duties with the same diligence towards his superiors. Eichmann’s death sentence was carried out in Ramla prison on June 1, 1962. He showed no regrets. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean. The bulletproof cage Eichmann sat in during the trial is on display at the Ghetto Fighters House museum, just north of Haifa, Israel.

Follow up in books: Cesarani, David: Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes and Trial of a Desk Murderer (2006).