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German intelligence 'knew in 1952 where Eichmann was'

Eight years before Israeli agents caught Adolf Eichmann, the chief co-ordinator of the Holocaust, in Argentina, West Germany¿s intelligence service knew where to find him, a recently revealed document shows.

BERLIN // West Germany's intelligence service knew where to find Adolf Eichmann, the chief co-ordinator of the Holocaust, as early as 1952, eight years before Israeli agents caught him in Argentina, according to a recently released document that shows how reluctant post-war Germany was to bring him to trial.

A secret service file card obtained by Bild, Germany's biggest tabloid, from the archives of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the foreign intelligence service, says Eichmann was living in Argentina under the alias Clemens, and that the editor of Der Weg, a German language newspaper in Argentina, knew his address.

It remains unclear what action West German authorities took in response to that information. But the fact that they did not hunt him down suggests there was no desire to bring to justice the man who organized the murder of six million Jews.

Eichmann, who had been living in Buenos Aires under the name Ricardo Klement with his wife and children, was finally caught in May 1960 by Israeli agents who secretly brought him to Jerusalem, where he was put on trial, found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged in 1962.

Several top members of the Nazi leadership, including Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, committed suicide. Others were prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials in 1945 and 1946, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister, and Hermann Göring, the air force commander, who killed himself with poison on the eve of his hanging.

Bettina Stangneth, a historian who is about to publish a book on the hunt for Eichmann, said: "With this information one could definitely have found Eichmann in 1952, and it would be an insult to any secret service to claim that the information wasn't sufficient.

"The alias together with the address of a man who knew where Eichmann was would have been enough."

Ms Stangneth said the document find was sensational because it proved that Eichmann's location and alias were known four years earlier than had been previously been thought.

"Maybe Germany was quite happy to know he was so far away. We failed to put this man on trial in Germany. We had information on how to get him and we didn't want him," Ms Stangneth said.

West Germany's police force, justice system and civil administration were filled with former Nazis after the war. Even the intelligence service, which became the BND in 1956, was set up and run until 1968 by Reinhard Gehlen, who had been in charge of military intelligence for the Nazis on the eastern front.

An Eichmann trial in Germany could have revealed damaging and embarrassing information about people still in positions of influence in Germany politics, officialdom and business. It would have been a blow to the recently created democracy.

"Who would have been interested in having an Eichmann trial? How many people could he have pointed at from the dock in 1953 because he knew them?" Ms Stangneth said.

West Germany's role in the hunt for Eichmann and scores of other lower-ranking Nazi fugitives in the decades after the war remains obscure because authorities continue to restrict access to files from the era. In contrast, the CIA declassified many documents on Eichmann in 2005 and posted them on the Internet.

A court ruled last year that the BND's blanket ban on releasing any of the files on Eichmann was unlawful. But files remain difficult to get. The BND has argued that releasing them would damage Germany's national interests.

However, researchers say Germany is doing itself more damage by keeping the files under wraps.

Uki Goni, an Argentine journalist who has researched the Nazi community in Argentina, said: "Whatever went on back in the 1950s cannot be embarrassing for Germany today. The only thing that is deeply embarrassing is that it continues to make it practically impossible for researchers to access this documentation. It is morally repellent that in 2011 the BND is still sitting on these documents."

Germany's files on Eichmann and other fugitives could shed light on how thousands of Nazis and former members of Hitler's SS, including more than 200 indicted war criminals, lived comfortably in exile in Argentina and other South American countries in the 1950s and 1960s, Mr Goni said.

The opposition Left Party last week called on the government to order the release of all the documents on Eichmann. Jan Korte, a member of parliament for the party, said: "It is incomprehensible why the Chancellery is blocking the release 50 years after Eichmann's conviction."

The BND responded to the mounting pressure by announcing a modest concession last week. It said it was in negotiations to open its archives to a select group of four historians for a four-year project to research its history. But it reserves the right to ban them from publishing any findings it deems too sensitive.

Eichmann coordinated the deportation of Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe to the concentration camps. He escaped from an Allied internment camp and lived undercover in Germany until his escape to Argentina in 1950.

Mr Goni said he was not surprised the BND knew Eichmann's location as early as 1952.

"The German embassy in Buenos Aires knew very well who the Nazis were living in the city. You could see them having dinner at German restaurants or meet them at the opera," he said.

The media interest in Germany in the new Eichmann document has been noticeably muted.

Ms Stangneth said: "I'm missing a sense of curiosity about our own history/ I'm missing a lack of desire to find out what really went on."

Germany's record on bringing former Nazis to trial has been patchy, and the overwhelming number of sentences amounted to less than one year in jail.

However, Germany won praise from Nazi hunters at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre last week for stepping up efforts to prosecute the last surviving perpetrators.

Prosecutors have initiated a number of prosecutions in recent years, most notably that of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, who is on trial in Munich accused of hounding Jews into gas chambers in the Sobibor extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

foreigndesk@thenational.ae