1946: Laszlo Baky and Laszlo Endre, Hungarian Holocaust authors

5 comments March 29th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1946, fascist Hungarian politicians Laszlo Baky and Laszlo Endre were executed by hanging in Budapest for their role in the decimation of Hungarian Jewry.

These two charmers were major figures in Hungary’s horrible final months of World War II.

Post-Stalingrad, the Hungarians had realized they were yoked to the losing side and started looking for an exit strategy; instead, early in 1944, they got a German occupation.

This occupation lifted the virulent anti-semites Baky and Endre into national power, because along with keeping Hungary in the Axis coalition, the Nazis also forcibly overcame its junior partner’s former reticence about Jewish genocide.

Adolf Eichmann arrived into Nazified Hungary and used our day’s two principals (along with another executed collaborator, Andor Jaross, they’re known as the “deportation trio”) as his instruments. Within months, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being shipped to the gas chambers. This period is one of the waypoints of pernicious Nazi race theory, when the collapsing German regime spent military resources urgently needed at the front to organize the mass slaughter of Jews.*

And they had to work fast, because by that next winter the Red Army was seizing Budapest. These enthusiastic fascist operators did not fare well by the postwar government.

Most photos from Kuruc.info (the garishly branded ones) and the Yad Vashem database (the not garishly branded).

Laszlo Endre under arrest.

Both men, just prior to their execution.

* To do justice to the breadth of the human capacity, this is also the time and place where we find Raoul Wallenberg minting lifesaving Swedish passports by the thousands.

On this day..

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1962: Adolf Eichmann

6 comments June 1st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1962, the architect of the Final Solution received such justice as could be meted to him on earth at Israel’s Ramla Prison.

Adolf Eichmann, the vacuum cleaner salesman turned SS Obersturnbannfuhrer, remains the only person judicially executed in the history of modern Israel, whose intelligence services kidnapped him from Argentina where he had settled after the war.

Other Nazis had used the “only following orders” defense with little success in the Nuremberg Trials shortly after World War II. On trial years later (and at the hands a Jewish state) Eichmann — a bookish, unmenacing man who invoked Kant — posed the questions of individual responsibility and human psychology in starker terms.

To be sure, he was no anonymous functionary. Neither, however, had he dirtied his nails at the stomach-churning business end of the Holocaust: rather, he had engineered the stupendous logistical project of deporting Eastern Europe’s Jews for extermination, an (impressive) accomplishment worth exponentially more lives than any Einsatzgruppe could ever account for, yet simultaneously abstract from the upshot.

Eichmann said he did it without ill-will towards its subjects — simply to obey and to achieve.

The Banality of Evil

[I]f it was of small legal relevance, it was of great political interest to know how long it takes for an average person to overcome his innate repugnance of crime, and what exactly happens to him once he has reached that point. To this question, the case of Adolf Eichmann supplied an answer that could not have been clearer or more precise.
-Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt took him at his word* and saw in Eichmann the abyss gazing back into us, into his judges — not a monster but a man unsettling in his normalcy, whose job was not TPS reports or quarterly sales results but turning humans into ash.

The company man. The career man. Every man, standing in for countless thousands more who pushed the papers that drove the trains to Auschwitz.

What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.

Not everyone accepts her conclusions, but Arendt’s characterization of “the banality of evil” has become the man’s epigraph. And Eichmann disturbs us precisely because we seem to be able to meet him on his terms, even sympathize with him when the horror of his crimes begs for a monster like Streicher or Goebbels we could safely consign to the Other.

Arendt’s turn of phrase has a certain breezy (hackneyed, even) life in the public discourse, but her analysis of Eichmann’s careerism remains a challenging and deeply relevant one for we heirs of the world that hanged him.

The complete transcript of Eichmann’s trial is available online here. Video of his trial has been posted online here (in English) and here (original languages).

* Albeit with some reservations; others have argued that Eichmann was considerably more personally invested in his mass-murder project than his demeanor at trial admitted. Certainly he had an interest in showing the mellower Eichmann when he was on trial for his life.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Germany,Hanged,History,Infamous,Israel,Language,Milestones,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Popular Culture,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,War Crimes

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