“The Eichmann excuse went out with the first trainload of Jews to be gassed.” I informed the Prosecutor Association of Texas.
“I took an oath.”
“I was told to do it.”
“I am just doing my job.”
“I do not make the rules.”
“I am just following the law.”
“I am not the one responsible.”
“I am just trying to earn a living.”
“I could get in trouble if I do not follow the law.”
“I am in the middle of a ‘holy calling’ with my job. 
We will be discussing this topic on The Consider Podcast while comparing it to Seattle’s King County Prosecutors and those in authority who think they can stand before a holy God with The Eichmann Excuse. Only repentance, godly sorrow repentance can save one from the righteousness hell-fire judgement God has prepared for those who enjoin The Eichmann Excuse.
Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes-his own teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:30)
The following was consulted information requested by The Consider Podcast
A Notorious Nazi Official Who Was “Just Doing His Job”
It isn’t controversial to say that Nazi Germany is one of the worst regimes in human history. According to one study by the University of Hawaii, there were nearly 21 million victims of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. The stories are truly horrific and they are a reminder that many of the freedoms, liberty, and security that we have can be quickly taken away.
When looking at Germany under the Nazi party, it is easy to find former Nazi officials claiming that they were “doing their job.” The main argument here (which was made in the subsequent Nuremberg trials) is that these Nazi officials were just doing their jobs and just following orders from their superior officers.
One high-ranking Nazi official who made that argument was Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust and one of the key perpetrators of the Nazi regime. However, looking at his “just following orders” defense after the war presents a fascinating look at how humans are able to commit extremely dark acts in certain circumstances.
A Brief Background on Eichmann
But before examining how Eichmann tried to avoid his end by relying on the “just following orders” defense, let’s take a look at Eichmann’s life and heinous actions as a Nazi official.
Adolf Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany. in 1906. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and quickly rose through the ranks of the SS. As you likely know, the SS (which stood for Schutzstaffel) was the Nazi party’s paramilitary organization. The SS and Gestapo were two of the most ruthless military forces within the Nazi party, causing unspeakable death and destruction before the Nazi party was defeated.
Eichmann’s first assignment was in Vienna, where he was tasked with identifying Jews and confiscating their property. In 1938, after the annexation of Austria, Eichmann was appointed to the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, where he oversaw the forced emigration of thousands of Jews. Eichmann’s efficiency in this role caught the attention of high-ranking officials in the Nazi regime, and he was subsequently promoted to the head of the Gestapo’s Jewish Section.
In this role, Eichmann was responsible for the implementation of the “Final Solution.” He organized and coordinated the deportation of millions of Jews to extermination camps, where they were systematically murdered in gas chambers. Eichmann was known for his ruthless efficiency and his meticulous attention to detail. He developed a system for tracking the movements of Jews across Europe and coordinating their transportation to the camps. He also oversaw the confiscation of Jewish property and the distribution of their assets to Nazi officials.
Eichmann was particularly interested in the logistics of the deportation process. He developed a system of rail transportation that could transport large numbers of Jews to the camps quickly and efficiently. He also experimented with different methods of killing, including carbon monoxide gas and Zyklon B, a deadly cyanide-based pesticide.
Luckily, the Allied forces were able to overcome the Axis forces and prevail during World World II. But as the Allies were solidifying their victory, several Nazi officials (including Eichmann) were planning their escape from Germany. After the war, Eichmann went into hiding in South America, where he lived under an assumed identity for several years. He was eventually captured by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial in Israel the following year.
During the trial, Eichmann expressed no remorse for his actions and claimed that he was simply following orders. He argued that he was a “small cog in a big machine” and that he was only doing what he was told. However, the evidence presented at the trial painted a different picture. Witnesses testified to Eichmann’s active involvement in the deportation and extermination of Jews, and documents found in his possession confirmed his central role in the Final Solution. The trial received widespread media coverage and helped to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Eichmann’s conviction and subsequent execution in 1962 were seen as a symbolic victory for the victims of the Holocaust and a warning to those who would seek to perpetrate similar crimes in the future.
The “Just Following Orders” Defense
Clearly, Eichmann did some heinous acts. Almost everyone would argue that his punishment and execution were justified. But at the same time, I think it’s worth our time to explore this “following orders” defense that he used.
The defense isn’t that complicated. It rested on the idea that soldiers and officials were obligated to follow orders, even if they were immoral or illegal. In the case of the Nazis, many argued that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, including Adolf Hitler himself. The thinking, therefore, was that because they were following orders (perhaps under penalty of death), they had no choice but to carry out these heinous orders.
Ultimately, this defense is problematic for several reasons.
First, it assumes that soldiers and officials do not have a moral obligation to question the orders they receive. This ignores the concept of individual responsibility and the duty to disobey orders that are clearly immoral or illegal.
Along with this, the defense assumes that the orders given by Nazi superiors were lawful and within the bounds of acceptable behavior. However, the orders given by the Nazi regime, including the extermination of millions of Jews, were clearly illegal and immoral.
Third, the defense ignores the fact that many Nazi officials (like Eichmann) actively participated in the planning and execution of the Holocaust. They were not simply following orders, but actively contributed to the genocide.
Finally, the “just following orders” defense also ignores the fact that many soldiers and officials did, in fact, refuse to carry out orders that they considered immoral or illegal. These individuals demonstrated that it was possible to resist the Nazi regime and still maintain their sense of personal and moral responsibility.
The defense certainly has its limitations. This is likely why the Israeli court found Eichmann (and other Nazis) guilty and subject to execution. But I also think there is an interesting thought experiment here. Essentially, the question is how humans in extreme situations are susceptible to following the instructions and orders from their superiors. To help us with this question, we can look at a study that was recently published in the journal Current Biology.
But let’s take one step back. During the same year that Eichmann was looking to be exonerated, Stanley Milgram was conducting his famous shock experiment. Basically, he was studying humans’ propensity to follow the orders of a superior—even if those orders resulted in the harm of someone else. As you probably already know, there were plenty of Milgram’s research subjects who continued to inflict pain on mysterious individuals behind a curtain—primarily because they were being instructed by a research assistant.
In the Current Biology study, the researchers were able to provide some more context on what happens when individuals are told to follow superiors’ orders. The researchers concluded that when people are following orders, they are experiencing their actions more like passive movements than actual, fully, voluntary actions. Basically, there is a longer lag between the action that the individual takes and the outcome that occurs. Because of this delay, there is a reduced sense of agency, meaning that individuals become more passive and obedient.
So what does this all mean?
Clearly, as humans, we have agency over our thoughts and actions. We are in a position to judge right from wrong and make decisions that are in line with our and society’s morals. However, what actually occurs in the human mind when making these types of decisions may be more complex than we initially anticipated.
Learning From a Terrible Chapter in History
Eichmann and his fellow Nazis did some absolutely horrific things. They deserve all of our condemnation and scorn. Even though it may be uncomfortable to study the Nazi regime and figures like Eichmann, it is essential to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
It is especially important to analyze the “just following orders” defense. By looking at the Milgram experiment and current research on the topic, we can see that people tend to obey authority figures, even if it goes against their conscience or moral beliefs. That isn’t to excuse their behavior. However, it shows that the power of social influence is strong. As humans, we are social creatures. We want to fit in with the crowd and not face scorn or disapproval from others.
I think it is important to keep all of this in mind. It has been less than 100 years since a terrible regime in Germany unleashed utter destruction across Europe. Yet as they were doing that, many of the highest-ranking individuals thought that they were justified in doing so. While the future is uncertain, it is critical for us to remember this fact and do everything to prevent a similar scenario in the future.
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