27. November 2020
German secret service hides Eichmann files: French historian sues
Fabien Théofilakis, historian at the Sorbonne University in Paris, requests access to 60-year-old Eichmann files. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution refuses access.
The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem
The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 raised international attention. The testimonies of victims of National Socialism made the world public aware of the horrors of the extermination of the Jews. The cold statements of Eichmann, who presented himself as a normal officer who merely carried out orders, made Hannah Arendt write about the “banality of evil” in her famous book “Eichmann in Jerusalem”.
Spectacular was also the way in which the trial came about. Eichmann had gone into hiding in Argentina after the end of World War II. He was abducted from there in 1960 and brought to Israel.
What role did German secret services play?
Many details of the events of the 1950s and 1960s are still unknown, partly because the German Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) still keep some of their files under lock and key. There is a well-founded suspicion that the German secret services, which also employed many old Nazis in the postwar years and knew about Eichmann’s stay in Argentina early on, still want to suppress the truth today.
On behalf of Dr. Fabien Théofilakis, we have therefore filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court of Cologne. Our client is a historian at the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne and is currently working in the research area “State, Law and Political Conflict” at the Centre Marc Bloch, a Franco-German research center for humanities and social sciences in Berlin. One of his research focuses is the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem.
Germany must contribute to the understanding of the situation
The access to the files is not only central to the research of our client, but also to the reputation of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is expected – also abroad – to contribute to the investigation of the events. In recent years, the Federal Intelligence Service and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution have had their past investigated by commissions of historians. However, these commissions are subject to the justified accusation that they are not completely independent. Moreover, they are no substitute for the release of files, because historical research thrives on discourse, verifiability and criticism. It is therefore of central importance for the scholarly investigation of the events surrounding Eichmann’s disappearance, his abduction, and his subsequent conviction that independent researchers finally gain access to the complete and unvarnished files. 60 years after the documents were created, the secret services can no longer invoke reasons for secrecy.
The lawsuit against the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is to be understood as a supplement to the proceedings that we are conducting against the Federal Intelligence Service on behalf of Dr. Gaby Weber. The journalist had already successfully obtained the release of part of the files on Adolf Eichmann in 2011. With her new lawsuit before the Federal Administrative Court, we now also want to make the remaining documents accessible.
Special privileges for secret services?
Both the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Federal Intelligence Service invoke Section 6 (1) sentence 2 of the Federal Archives Act, a provision introduced in 2017 to completely exempt certain documents of the secret services from the obligation to offer them to the Federal Archives. Already at that time, the amendment caused criticism, among others from archivists and journalists. In our lawsuit, we argue that the norm excludes the obligation to offer documents to the Federal Archives but leaves the right of the citizens unaffected. Only if interpreted in this way is it compatible with the basic right to freedom of information.