The Eichmann Trial (Jewish Encounters Series)

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9780805242607: The Eichmann Trial (Jewish Encounters Series)

***NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FINALIST (2012)***

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

The capture of SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in May of 1960 and his subsequent trial in Jerusalem by an Israeli court electrified the world. The public debate it sparked on where, how, and by whom Nazi war criminals should be brought to justice, and the international media coverage of the trial itself, was a watershed moment in how the civilized world in general and Holocaust survivors in particular found the means to deal with the legacy of genocide on a scale that had never been seen before.
 
Award-winning historian Deborah E. Lipstadt gives us an overview of the trial and analyzes the dramatic effect that the survivors’ courtroom testimony—which was itself not without controversy—had on a world that had until then regularly commemorated the Holocaust but never fully understood what the millions who died and the hundreds of thousands who managed to survive had actually experienced.
 
As the world continues to confront the ongoing reality of genocide and ponder the fate of those who survive it, this trial of the century, which has become a touchstone for judicial proceedings throughout the world, offers a legal, moral, and political framework for coming to terms with unfathomable evil. Lipstadt infuses a gripping narrative with historical perspective and contemporary urgency.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Deborah E. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. She is the author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (a National Jewish Book Award winner); Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory; and Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933–1945. She lives in Atlanta.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

INTRODUCTION
 
In the early 1990s, when serving as a consultant to the team planning the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I attended a meeting of the Content Committee, the group of laypeople who reviewed the plans for the museum’s permanent exhibition. It promised to be a spirited gathering. At issue was the question of displaying hair that the Germans had “harvested” from Jewish women at Auschwitz and sold to factories that produced blankets and water-absorbent socks for U-boat crews. When the Soviets liberated the camps, they found storehouses filled with hair. The Auschwitz Museum had given the USHMM a number of kilos of it. The museum designers planned to display it near a pile of victims’ shoes, which also came from the camps. When the plan was first proposed, some staff members objected, arguing that it degraded and objectified the women. Although it was appropriate to display hair at Auschwitz, they did not think it should be displayed a continent away from there. Some feared that teenagers would find it, given the particular world that this age cohort often inhabits, ghoulishly amusing. Their opposition notwithstanding, the committee voted nine to four to display it. Then a number of survivors grew wary and asked that the matter be reconsidered; hence this meeting. The project director had come equipped with scholarly, psychological, and even rabbinic arguments to counter the opponents. Scholars, including one of the most eminent Holocaust historians—committee member Raul Hilberg—argued that the hair should be displayed because it demonstrated the Final Solution’s “ultimate rationality.” The Germans considered a body part something to be transformed into an “industrial object” and a salable commodity. Psychologists believed that the display of the hair would be no more disconcerting than many other aspects of the exhibit. Leading Orthodox rabbis determined that displaying it did not constitute a nivul hamet, desecration of the dead, and transgressed no religious rulings. In an attempt to allay some of the objections, the designers proposed that a wall be built in front of the exhibit case. Visitors would have to choose to see the display and not just happen upon it.
 
But then two committee members, both of whom were survivors, rose. One argued that this would be a “violation of feminine identity.” A second spoke more personally. “That could have been my mother’s hair. She never gave you permission to display it.” When she sat down she said, in an aside, “It could have been my hair.” The conversation soon ended. There was no vote, but all those present knew that the decision had been made. As we left, a committee member mused to no one in particular: “I don’t object to the hair. But who am I to challenge survivors?” Shortly there­after, the chair of the Content Committee announced that the hair would not be included in the permanent exhibition. Today it sits in a storehouse outside of Washington. It has never been displayed. Survivors, speaking in the first person singular, had a semantic, historical, and moral authority that trumped the psychologists, designers, historians, and other experts.1
But for the Eichmann trial, this might never have happened.
 
This trial, whose main objective was bringing a Nazi who helped organize and carry out genocide to justice, transformed Jewish life and society as much as it passed judgment on a murderer. In the general world it changed our perception of the victims of genocide.
 
 
On April 11, 1961, the theater of Beit Ha’am, Jerusalem’s brand-new cultural center, was packed. Over seven hundred people filled the room for the trial of a man accused of being the chief operational officer of the Final Solution. Newspapers worldwide carried news of this event. American television networks broadcast special telecasts. This was not the first Nazi war-crimes trial. Yet there were more reporters in Jerusalem than had gone to Nuremberg. Why was this trial, coming just after the conclusion of Passover, different from the Nuremberg tribunals, where far more prominent figures in the Nazi hierarchy had been tried? Some of the differences were connected to the when of these two events. Nuremberg occurred in the immediate aftermath of the war, when many people wanted a mental respite from the horrors of the preceding five years. At Nuremberg multiple defendants had stood together in the dock. Now one man stood alone. The drama of this proceeding was further intensified by the way Eichmann had been brought to trial. Captured in Argentina, he had been spirited out of the country to Israel. Even then, a full year after his capture, there was still some mystery about precisely how he had been found. But the when and the how of his capture were eclipsed by the who: who found him and, more important, who would try him. At Nuremberg victors had sat in judgment. Now the victims’ representative would sit in judgment. Immediately after the war, most Jewish Displaced Persons, as Holocaust survivors were once known, were focused on trying to piece together a new life, not on seeking punishment. Even if they had wanted to bring those who had destroyed their world to justice, they had no mechanism to do so. In contrast, by 1961 the immediacy of the war and its consequences had passed. The survivors, whose wounds had begun to be bound up by the passage of time, now had more physical and emotional stamina to demand justice. Most significant, how­ever, now there was a sovereign entity to deliver it. The State of Israel, which was then entering its Bar Mitzvah year, exemplified the victims’ emergence from the very powerlessness that had helped make the Final Solution possible.
 
The excitement and interest surrounding the trial had little to do with questions about its outcome. Most people, both those in the courtroom and those beyond, expected Eichmann to be found guilty. What was unknown was what would happen when history, memory, and the law met in this Jerusalem theater. Would the law prove adequate to adjudicate such an unprecedented event? Would the proceedings deliver retribution or genuine justice? Would Eichmann’s defense strategy of obedience to orders hold sway? Would he try to justify the genocide? And what, if anything, would be the lesson for the future?
 
 
As I complete this book, the fiftieth anniversary of the Eichmann trial nears. It is an event that is a vivid part of my childhood memories. During that period, dinner in our home was timed so that we could watch the televised news clips from Jerusalem. I remember the picture of Eichmann in the glass booth that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on the opening day. On the second day of the trial, if the Soviets had not launched Yuri Gagarin into space and safely retrieved him, the news of the trial would have been the lead story. As a thirteen-year-old, I was intrigued that something so profoundly connected with Jews had been featured so prominently. At this point in time, my world was pretty much divided into Jews and non-Jews. Virtually everyone in my immediate circle—classmates, neighbors, and friends—was Jewish. If you had asked me to recall those years, I would have told you about the thriving Jewish community in which I lived. And I would have insisted that I never encountered even a hint of anti-Semitism. I would have said so despite knowing that there were neighborhoods in which Jews could not live and firms that would not employ Jews. I had heard my friends’ older siblings say that, despite their outstanding grades and academic records, they would not get into a particular Ivy League school because its Jewish quota was filled. Already in the eighth grade we knew not to consider certain colleges because it was exceptionally difficult for a Jewish student who lived in a Jewish neighborhood and attended a Jewish school to gain admittance. Rather than being shocked by this, we accepted it, I am embarrassed to say, as a fact of life. This was how things were. In 1961, John Kennedy had just become president. I remember how perplexed I was during his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination by the media debate over whether a Catholic “could” be president. My twelve-year-old reasoning was straightforward: Everyone in America was either Christian or Jewish. It was a given that the presidency was off limits to Jews. White Christians, particularly those of privilege such as Kennedy, faced no such barriers. Why, then, should there be any question about his nomination? As I look back on those years, I am bemused, not by my failure to understand the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, but by my acceptance that certain avenues were closed off to Jews. (My parents were far more incensed about it than I. In contrast, I was well aware and deeply troubled by the fact that African Americans faced terrible and violent discrimination.)
 
Into this simplistic and rather naïve world came the Eichmann trial and the Holocaust. It would take me a number of years to understand fully that the horrors for which Eichmann was being tried had sprung from the selfsame anti-Semitic soil that kept Jewish kids from top-notch schools, and Jewish graduates from jobs in many prestigious firms. Eventually I came to understand the interconnectivity of these phenomena. However, I never dreamed that from this soil would also come a movement that would have a dramatic impact on the course of my own life and would entrap me in a complex legal battle. My personal encounter with the Jew hatred which is at the root of Holocaust denial began with a few pages in my book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. I described David Irving, a British writer, as the world’s leading Holocaust denier. Irving was a prolific author whose books were reviewed in The New York Times, Times Literary Supplement, and other prestigious publications. One of his books contended that Hitler did not know of the Holocaust and when he learned of it tried to stop it. After hovering at the edges of the denial movement for over a decade, Irving testified in 1988 at the trial of denier Ernst Zündel and declared that there was no “overall Reich policy to kill the Jews,” that “no documents whatsoever show that a Holocaust had ever happened,” and that gas chambers were “an impossibility.”2 He subsequently contin­ued on that path in an unequivocal fashion. Explaining to a reporter why he had eliminated all references to the Holo­caust from a new edition of his book on Hitler, he said: “If something didn’t happen, then you don’t even dignify it with a footnote.” He denied the use of gas chambers to kill Jews systematically, argued that there was no officially sanctioned Third Reich plan to annihilate European Jewry, and contended that Hitler was “probably the biggest friend the Jews had in the Third Reich. He was the one doing everything he could to prevent nasty things happening to them.”3 Given his comments, I never imagined that I was doing anything potentially controversial when I described him in my book as a “Hitler partisan wearing blinkers” who “has been accused of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions.” I wrote that “on some level Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler’s legacy.”4 My comments were harsh but, given what he said, seemed quite legitimate.
 
In 1995, my book was bought by Penguin UK and published in the United Kingdom. Not long thereafter, I received a letter from Penguin’s lawyers informing me that David Irving intended to bring a libel suit against me. I initially dismissed this as a groundless threat designed to frighten me. Even if his suit made it to court, which I doubted it ever would, I was certain the British justice system would see the absurdity of Irving’s claims and dismiss the matter. I did not then realize that the United Kingdom’s libel laws, which were the mirror image of American law, favored the claimant/plaintiff by putting the burden of proof on the defendant. The onus was on me to prove the truth of what I wrote, rather than on Irving to prove the falsehood. Another unique American safeguard was denied me. The public-figure defense is rooted in a United States Supreme Court ruling that a public figure, such as an author or a politician, can sue for libel only if he or she can prove malicious intent—i.e., that the author of the words knew or had good reason to know that they were false but wrote them anyway. This, too, would have prevented Irving from taking action against me in the United States. No such protections existed in the United Kingdom, and the matter came to court in 2000. After a trial lasting twelve weeks, the judge issued a three-hundred-page judgment which excoriated Irving and validated my defense team’s claim that he was an unrepentant denier, falsifier of history, and someone who expressed overt racist and anti-Semitic views. Among the hundreds of people who made contact with me during this period were many survivors, who said that not since the Eichmann trial had they been so tied to a court proceeding. One older woman said: “I was shocked during the Eichmann proceedings by ‘seeing’ a mass murder. Now I am shocked, not just by the absurdity of a man with such a record dragging an established historian into court, but that the British courts are taking his claims seriously.”
 
The British press paid careful attention to the case and the verdict. A number drew parallels with the Eichmann trial. The Daily Telegraph declared in its lead editorial, “This trial has done for the new century what the Nuremberg tribunals or the Eichmann trial did for earlier generations.” Newspaper hyperbole aside, there was something else binding the two events. A few weeks earlier, the trials had been linked in a more overt fashion. During his trial, Eichmann wrote a memoir. After Eichmann’s execution, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion agreed, at the suggestion of prosecutor Gideon Hausner, to seal the manuscript in Israel’s National Archives. Hausner contended that Eichmann had been given extensive opportunity to present his case, and therefore Israel had no further obligation to publicize his version of events. In the late 1990s, one of Eichmann’s sons requested the release of the manuscript. A debate ensued as to what should be done. Some Israeli historians wanted a German research institute to annotate Eichmann’s false assertions prior to publication. Other historians contended that Israel should just release the manuscript and allow the normal scholarly process to take its course. In the spirit of much else in the Middle East, nothing happened. During my trial, one of my former students suggested I look at the manuscript to determine if it contained anything that might be useful to my defense team. Our objective was to prove that Irving’s claims about the Holocaust were lies. It was not to prove that the Holocaust happened. However, we thought that a direct statement from Eichmann’s manuscript about the mass murders would, at the least, demonstrate that Irving denied the very things that those who had engaged in the killings freely admitted. Though it was a long shot, I asked m...

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