The former Nazi officer wrote with a ballpoint pen, a new technology of the day. His ornate, nearly Gothic longhand--practically illegible now--filled page after page of lined, legal-size paper. Then he was taken from his jail cell and hanged.

Now, nearly 40 years after Adolf Eichmann was abducted, tried and executed by Israel for his role in the extermination of 6 million European Jews, the Jewish state is preparing to release the manuscript of Hitler's "technician of death"--1,200 pages of self-justification, rationalization and obfuscation.

The document was ordered sealed at the time of Eichmann's death by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and, subsequently, all but forgotten. But in a statement released today, the government signaled it is preparing to release Eichmann's writings to German researchers who will publish them for historians and others who want a glimpse into what he had to say.

So far, no more than a handful of historians and handwriting experts have glimpsed the Eichmann manuscript. Those who have say it may shed some light on the workings of Eichmann's mind but that it is unlikely to add significantly to his own exhaustive testimony at the 1961 trial or to the history of the Holocaust.

Still, the prospect of the manuscript's publication has fueled a debate here among Israeli scholars and journalists about how to make it public, whether to publish it as a heavily footnoted academic document or just open it up to popular scrutiny. The debate is a reminder of the intense sensitivities that still surround the Holocaust in Israel more than a half-century after the fact.

"The interesting thing is that, after so many years, this document is still treated with such sensitivity and embarrassment and . . . shows how central the Holocaust is in our identity," said Tom Segev, an Israeli journalist and historian who has written extensively on the Holocaust. "They still treat it as a hot potato."

Eichmann was a traveling salesman who joined the Nazi Party and volunteered for the SS shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933. Designated early on to deal with the emigration of German Jews, he rose to play a central role in the transport of European Jewry to the death camps. After the war, he escaped to Argentina, where he lived until Israeli agents kidnapped him in 1961, spirited him out of Buenos Aires and brought him here to stand trial.

The core of Eichmann's defense was not that the Holocaust did not take place but that he was a relatively minor cog in the killing machine, a man who obeyed orders. But the weight of documentary evidence and testimony against him was overwhelming.

In the course of the trial, Eichmann began to record his ruminations and legal arguments in his jail cell. He filled hundreds of pages with a rough draft, then produced a final draft.

"It's a justification of his defense," said Yehuda Bauer, a leading Israeli historian who has written a dozen books about the Holocaust and is one of the few people to have examined excerpts of the manuscript. "A man is in danger of being sentenced to death, and he knows perfectly well what the prospects are, and he's trying to present his version. Of course, he is lying through his teeth; that's obvious."

Ben-Gurion, who regarded the trial as important to Israel's national psyche, decided against having the manuscript published because he wanted no distraction from the weight of the court's verdict and sentence, historians say.

The existence of the Eichmann papers was made public in the 1980s in the memoirs of his chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, who was Israel's attorney general at the time of the trial. But it was Segev, the journalist, who refocused attention on the manuscript this year.

"So far, none of [Eichmann's] heirs, children and grandchildren have demanded the manuscript, but if they were to make such a demand, the State of Israel would find it had to defend itself because it's actually in possession of stolen property," he wrote in the newspaper Haaretz in April. "This is embarrassing, now more than ever, because of Israel's demands to banks, insurance companies and all sorts of archives all over the world to reveal Holocaust-related material in their possession."

It wasn't long before Eichmann's heirs took their cue. "This manuscript must be returned to us," Eichmann's son Dieter told the German newspaper Die Welt last week. "It is our heritage."

Another son, Ricardo, a professor of Middle Eastern archaeology in Berlin, told Die Welt that the manuscript should be made available to researchers. "If it were up to me, a copy should be sent to an archive in Germany, and I really don't care who gets the original."

That may be what happens once Israel works out the legal issues of who owns the manuscript as well as publication rights. In the meantime, Israeli officials are suggesting the manuscript should be published only in a scholarly format, in the original German, complete with historical annotation and footnotes.

"It should be published in the language in which it was written and published whole from beginning to end," said Evyatar Friesel, a historian who is Israel's state archivist. "And it should be published with a scholarly framework."

To Segev, though, it is "totally unnecessary" to couch the manuscript in a scholarly format. He argues that the document should be made public immediately, for researchers and historians to pore over and use as they like.

CAPTION: Adolf Eichmann, shown here writing a letter in his cell at Israel's Remleh prison in April 1961, composed a 1,200-page manuscript in an attempt to justify his role in the Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews.

* Born in Solingen, near Cologne, March 19, 1906, into a middle-class Protestant family.

* Grew up in Linz, Austria, where he joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1932. He held several jobs in the Nazi bureaucracy in Austria and in Berlin.

* In 1939 he was transferred to the main Security Office in Berlin. His office became the headquarters for the implementation of Hitler's "Final Solution" policy of exterminating Europe's Jewish population. He witnessed the execution of Jews in several places, including Minsk, then in the Soviet Union.

* Starting in 1941, his office began creating death camps, developing gassing techniques and organizing the system of convoys that were to take European Jews to their deaths.

* Eichmann's name was not widely known in public, and at the end of the war, he escaped from an American internment camp to Argentina.

* Israeli agents tracked him down there in 1960 and abducted him to Israel.

* He was tried in Jerusalem and sentenced to death for crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity.

* He was hanged in Remleh prison on May 31, 1962.

SOURCE: Routledge Who's Who in Nazi Germany