112 of 117 people found the following review helpful
On the last day of the sixth grade in 1962, as my mother was taking me home from school, the news on the radio was that Adolf Eichmann had been hanged in Israel. If there was a defining moment that influenced my choice of a career and course of study, it would be that car ride.I started reading that afternoon. Each question I had only led to more questions. At first I did not know who Eichmann was.Then, I could not understand how he had been prosecuted in a country which was not even in existence during the Second World War. I wanted to know how the Israelis had gotten hold of him. I was fascinated by the glass booth.
I became a history major at Emory where I continued my struggle with the Eichmann trial. In law school at Georgia I studied international law with Professor Dean Rusk who had been Secretary of State in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Professor Rusk set forth the legal basis for any country to prosecute crimes against humanity. After law school I served as a law clerk to a federal judge where issues of the application of laws for extra-territorial crimes were often present.
In short, I thought I knew all I needed to know to answer the questions which perplexed me as a twelve year old. Professor Lipstadt has proved me wrong.
This is a magnificent account of the crimes, capture, confinement, trial, appeal and execution of Adolf Eichmann. Professor Lipstadt, who teaches history at Emory, was given access to Eichmann's memoir in the 1990s during her own defense of an English libel trial brought by a Holocaust denier. But for that access it is doubtful this important work would have ever come to be.
Lipstadt unflinchingly examines the myths, realities and politics of these events. Simon Wiesenthal's claim of involvement in Eichmann's capture from Argentina is debunked. The American Jewish Committees peculiar reticence to the indictment and trial is explored. The Argentine government even gets a surprising semi-kudo when she demonstrates it observed Eichmann's takedown and did nothing to interfere with the Mossad team.
Historians and lawyers will find answers to many questions in these readable and engrossing pages.
71 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
On a trip to Israel several years ago, I visited Beit Lohame Hagetaot ("The Ghetto Fighters' House"), the first museum in the world dedicated to the Holocaust. Beit Lohame Hagetaot, which is located on Lohame Hagetaot, a kibbutz near the border of Lebanon that was founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors, including several from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, has an extensive collection including many items which are on loan to the more famous Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. One artifact that the Ghetto Fighters' House retained to display in its own facility is perhaps the most chilling of the objects and images I've seen at either museum - the infamous three-sided "glass booth" that surrounded Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem. I didn't know the museum had the glass booth, and when I came across it on the top floor of the building, my blood ran cold. In this enclosure had stood the man who was responsible for the removal of one and a half million Jews from their communities, and their transportation to concentration camps via rail, death marches and other means. This was a man whose name conjured up evil itself, not only an orchestrator of untold suffering, but an enemy of all that is right and good. While the glass booth embodied the person who occupied it, it also represented the victory of justice: Eichmann was caught, tried, and executed by the Jewish people.
As I examined the materials accompanying the exhibit, I thought about stepping into the booth, however, my revulsion for Eichmann was so strong that I wasn't sure I wanted to occupy the same confined space that he had, even though more than four decades had passed since his trial. After overcoming my hesitation, I entered and sat in one of the jumpseats built for the guards who were always by his side during the proceedings; however, when I sat in the defendant's chair I experienced a feeling of contamination, a tangential contact with ultimate evil that haunted me for the remainder of the day. On a return trip to Israel a year ago, I revisited Beit Lohame Hagetaot, this time with my wife and sons; and while I made sure that they saw the glass booth, my encounter with it was brief, the disturbing memory of my previous experience welling up inside me.
A number of books have been published on Eichmann over the years, the most famous of which is Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem." Arendt's book is also the most controversial, and not without reason. I read a good deal of it about twenty years ago, however, I found much of it disturbing and never finished it. Arendt's lofty, detached tone along with her argument that Eichmann was merely an unthinking clerk rather than an unrepentant anti-Semite who dispatched millions to their deaths with excessive zeal were among the things that bothered me. Shortly afterward I read "Eichmann Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police," a fascinating selection from the 275 hours of interviews conducted by Avner Less prior to the start of the trial. Here Eichmann revealed himself to be a master of both evasion and self deception, simultaneously self-pitying and snake-like, but also pathetically obsequious. He knew exactly what he was doing - there were none of Arendt's high-minded philosophical explanations about the "banality of evil," or her theories of a man, and practically an entire people who were guilty of "not thinking" or "understanding" what they were doing.
Given my relatively recent visit to Beit Lohame Hagetaot, I decided to read "The Eichmann Trial," especially as 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of this seminal event.
"The Eichmann Trial," at 203 pages, is relatively brief, but packs a tremendous punch. Author Deborah Lipstadt is uniquely qualified to write on this subject, given that she herself was embroiled in a long civil trial in 2000 when she was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving. Lipstadt's extensive introduction to "The Eichmann Trial" elaborates on her own experience and while she links the present (Irving) to the past (Eichmann), if the truth be told, a few paragraphs would have sufficed in this regard. Once she leaves her own trial behind, she's completely on target. The story begins with the locating of Eichmann, who was living in Argentina in a cinderblock house with no electricity or running water, a far cry from the lifestyle he enjoyed as an SS colonel in the Third Reich. From this point on Lipstadt recounts the controversy surrounding Eichmann's abduction and the issue of Israel's right to try him, the reaction by much of the press (e.g., The Washington Post ran two editorials asserting that any trial in Israel would be "tainted with lawlessness") and so forth. No space is wasted as Lipstadt zeroes in on one relevant issue after another, highlighting central points in the testimony that have broad-reaching implications. Only a few quotations are necessary for the reader to see that Eichmann, who portrayed himself as merely a small cog in a very big wheel, and a soldier who was simply following orders, was in fact an outrageous liar. He had damned himself by dictating a memoir in Argentina several years before his capture, the transcripts of which came back to haunt him. Lipstadt writes that "In the newly released memoir, Eichmann expressed himself as an inveterate Nazi and anti-Semite. In contrast to the claims made by Hannah Arendt that he did not really understand the enterprise in which he was involved, the memoir reveals a man who considered the Nazi leaders to be his 'idols' and who was fully committed to their goals." In his own words, "I do a job if I can understand the need for it or the meaning of it, and if I enjoy doing it. [Then] time will just fly by, and that was how it was with the Jews."
Lipstadt, who is incredibly fair-minded in her comprehensive retelling of the trial and its various themes and personalities, devotes the last chapter of "The Eichmann Trial" to Hannah Arendt and her controversial "Eichmann in Jerusalem." There were many who were outraged by Arendt's theories, which almost seemed to exonerate Eichmann of personal culpability. There were also those on the other side of the fence, who thought she was brilliantly objective. Lipstadt points out that while there are merits to the arguments both pro and con, and she cites many specifics in Arendt's favor and not, the scale is ultimately tipped, and decisively so, against her. Eichmann's own memoir, writes Lipstadt, "reveals the degree to which Arendt was wrong about Eichmann. It is permeated with expressions of support for and full comprehension of Nazi ideology. He was no clerk. This was a well-read man who accepted and espoused the idea of racial purity." But that's just a preamble. Not only did Arendt get many of her facts wrong, Lipstadt writes, "[she] may also have been subliminally writing for her teacher and former lover, the revered philosopher Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933, ejected Jewish professors from the university where he served as rector, affirmed Nazi ideals, and never recanted his wartime actions.... In 1960, a few months before the trial, Arendt considered dedicating one of her books to Heidegger but decided not to, because it might upset others. In an unused dedication, she described him as 'my trusted friend to whom I have remained faithful and unfaithful.' She helped resurrect his postwar career by minimizing his Nazi affiliations and fighting to get him readmitted to the scholarly world. When 'Der Spiegel' exposed his wartime record she protested that people should 'leave him in peace.'" (Incredible as it may seem, Hannah Arendt was Jewish.) Lipstadt goes on to lambast Arendt, saying "She was guilty of precisely the same wrong that she derisively ascribed to Adolf Eichmann. She - the great political philosopher who claimed that careful thought and precise expression were of supreme value - did not 'think.'" While all of this may appear to be a sidebar, in fact it's quite the opposite. Lipstatdt isn't overstating it when she claims that Hannah Arendt's work, which mistakenly ignores the central role that historical anti-Semitism played in the scheme of the Holocaust, "has shaped contemporary perceptions of the Final Solution."
Let's hope that "The Eichmann Trial" undoes some of the damage caused by Arendt's flawed theories of fifty years ago.
51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
This is a reasonably good and very accessible history of the Eichmann trial, and for that reason it's certainly worth reading. Lipstadt is far too "interpretive" in her telling of history, i.e. she spends too much time speculating how certain characters must have felt. She'd do better to stick closer to the data.
My biggest problem with the book is Lipstadt's repeated self-reference, linking the Eichmann trial to her own libel trial levied by the Holocaust denier David Irving. In fact the intro to the book presents her trial along with Nuremberg and the Eichmann trials as one of the three seminal legal events surrounding the Holocaust. (Ignoring, of course, the myriad tribunals in post-war Europe that were unconnected with Nuremberg all the way through the trials of John Demjanjuk).
The fact is that Lipstadt's trial is NOT a seminal part of Holocaust history. It's not that important in a historical sense. She is an excellent scholar and the world should be very relieved that a madman like Irving was not vindicated by this case. But in the end, her trial is an overplayed curiosity when one thinks about the magnitude and centrality of the legal events that were actually connected with the Holocaust.
It makes one lament the fact that there are essentially no books or publically accessible accounts of things like the Polish National Tribunal, the Treblinka trials, the Auschwitz trials, etc. All these things are of far greater historical interest than Irving vs. Lipstadt.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
A thoroughly powerful book with critical relevance to the world we live in today. Dr. Deborah Lipstadt (the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University) presents a meticulously researched and detailed account of the events leading to the capture and the resulting trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Readers will find detailed descriptions of the atrocities attributed to Eichmann to be very disturbing but should not be daunted if to only remind one that genocide continues to be a blight on humanity. Of particular interest is the author's examination of Hannah Arendt's writings, especially her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt witnessed the trial, and her observations and subsequent publications were met with commentary ranging from disgust to exuberate praise. Lipstadt seeks to clarify and challenge Arendt's opinions and observations of the trial, and this is one of her main contributions to the field. What results is an extraordinary review of both Arendt and Eichmann. Overall, The Eichmann Trial is a remarkable book that clearly reinforces the fallacy that "I was just following orders" is an excuse for unspeakable crimes against humanity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2011
April 11, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the start of the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the event that brought the full significance of the Holocaust to the world's attention.
The Holocaust has played a major role in my life. First, my parents were fortunate to escape from Vienna shortly after Hitler and the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938 - "Anschluss," as it was called back then. My parents were then able to get their parents out of Vienna a year later. I was born in 1942 in England and my parents and I moved to the U.S. in 1950. Other members of my family were not so fortunate. Many of them died in the Holocaust. On several occasions in my first 15 years after we moved to the U.S., I was the recipient of anti-Semitic remarks. All of these events made me feel that Jews were a much hated people.
In 1993, I learned that the late Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor in the Eichmann trial, was a distant cousin. I got to know his widow, son and daughter and we became very close. I learned that Gideon was attorney general of Israel at the time of the trial. Later, he was the founding President of the Yad Vashem, the Israel-based center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust. He also served as a member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) for many years, and a minister at large in Golda Meir's Cabinet. Historian Deborah Lipstadt has just written a vital account of the trial of Eichmann, the SS officer who managed the logistics of setting up death camps and transporting Jews to them.
In "The Eichmann Trial," (Nextbookpress), Lipstadt makes the point that it was the volume of witnesses who testified that finally put a face on the horror of the Final Solution. Even though many who testified were not directly affected by Eichmann's cruelty, their eyewitness accounts of calamity and destruction were riveting. They ensured that the unspeakable tragedy did, in fact, have a voice.
In contrast, Lipstadt notes, the Nuremberg trials just after the close of World War II were chiefly examinations of documents. The most poignant moment of those trials was the use of film of emaciated survivors taken by liberators of the concentration camps.
The decision by Gideon Hausner to call a multitude of witnesses was a risk. Lipstadt writes that it was a questionable legal strategy and that Eichmann's judges questioned the relevance. But the personal narratives won out.
The testimony "would transform the trial from an important war-crimes trial into an event that would have enduring significance," Lipstadt said. "It would give a voice to the victims that they had not had before."
The Eichmann trial was one of the first times the world heard that many Jews actively fought German tyranny. Witnesses recalled the Warsaw ghetto uprisings, fierce and brave resistance ultimately crushed by the Nazis who leveled the area with tanks and heavy artillery. This challenged a prevailing view of passivity in the face of the German regime's power.
The trial was significant in showing that the Holocaust was unique and was not just another example of anti-Semitism throughout world history. The enormity of the testimony proved the Holocaust "was an unprecedented crime....No one had ever tried to wipe out an entire people and then erase any vestige either of them or the crime," Lipstadt wrote. The trial's location also was key. The Eichmann trial was the first of the Holocaust aftermath to be held in Israel. It became a national obsession, with citizens glued to radios for hours listening to the proceedings. Although Hausner was opposed to the death penalty and later supported the banning of capital punishment from Israeli law, he made an exception in Eichmann's case.
The significance and reach of this legal case has been much debated, particularly by political theorist Hannah Arendt, who wrote "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil," a book that was highly critical of the trial. Arendt particularly took Jews to task for failing to fight back against the Nazis, and even in some cases helping to facilitate their own destruction. Lipstadt points out that they did fight back in some instances and that in any case, the rest of the world made very little attempt to help the Jews.
Lipstadt also disagrees with prosecutor Hausner's version of Eichmann's role, which was described in his book, "Justice in Jerusalem." Hausner considered Eichmann as the chief architect behind the entire Holocaust, including the concentration camps, ghettos and mass graves. He believed that Eichmann developed the plans that led to most of the deaths in the Holocaust. But Lipstadt describes Eichmann as the chief operating officer carrying out orders, pointing out he made only minor changes to commands. Yet she details how Eichmann allowed a number of people to escape by leaving Europe instead of reporting to death camps. Such autonomy seems to argue against her view that he was more functionary than commander.
Lipstadt is both complimentary and critical of Hausner's handling of the trial. I am not in a position to assess her comments as I have not reviewed the trial's tapes. However, as noted earlier, she particularly acknowledges that Hausner's decision to call 100 witnesses was most important because it placed a face on the holocaust. The world felt the full significance of the Holocaust and that endures to today. .
Lipstadt also underplays the significance of Simon Wiesenthal in the Eichmann trial and Wiesenthal's role in capturing many other Nazi war criminals. She correctly notes that he did not play the key role in Eichmann's capture in Argentina. However, as was described by author Tom Segev in his recent biography of Wiesenthal, Weisenthal fought the efforts of the Eichmann family to have their relative declared legally dead. This led to the continued efforts to find and ultimately capture him.
Like the Eichmann trial, Lipstadt herself played a significant role in convincing the world that the horrors of
the Holocaust actually occurred. She and her publisher, Penguin Books, were sued by David Irving over her earlier book, "Denying the Holocaust." She had described some of Irving's writings and public statements as denying the Holocaust. An English court ruled in Lipstadt's favor after a highly publicized trial, constituting an important victory against deniers.
Similarly, fifty years ago, the Eichmann trial played an essential role in convincing the world of the truth of genocide. Although it strains credulity that deniers continue to exist, the dismissive statements of some world leaders in Iran and elsewhere show that attention must be paid to eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. "The Eichmann Trial," as well as a video of the trial produced by the Public Broadcasting System in 1997 are needed antidotes to the resilience of misinformation that pollutes truth.
See New York Times book review section on 42011 for an excellent review of the book.
(Tony Hausner lives in Silver Spring, Md.)
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is an easy to read, must-read history that everyone should know. It is arguably the best non-fiction book of 2011. Its author, Emory University Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt, wrote another award-winning history book about one of her own experiences. She made the front pages of many world newspapers when an English anti-Semite and holocaust denier sued her in an English court because of her remarks about his attitude. She tells the story of this trial, what prompted it, how it was defended, the reactions on all sides, and how she won, in her Introduction to this almost novel-like history of the Eichmann trial.
The story of the Eichmann case has been written before, including by the well-known Hannah Arendt, who erroneously describes Eichmann for the most part as a foolish, colorless, servile civil servant who did poorly in school and followed the Nazi State laws slavishly. But she tells the story the best. She reveals much more than previous writers. She reveals many related facts, including how Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter, misrepresented the number of non-Jews killed by Hitler to further his agenda, how the Israeli Mossad had opportunities to capture Eichmann but did not pursue them, how Eichmann was discovered by amateurish sleuthing and dumb luck by the daughter of a half-Jewish Argentinean man who was dating Eichmann's son, and how the initial overwhelming reaction in the United States to Eichmann's capture, including by many Jews, criticized Israel. But much more than that, she reveals the testimony pro and con Eichmann and analyses it.
Lipstadt tells how Eichmann escaped the allied prison after being captured, worked for awhile in upper Germany, and then dashed off to Argentina under an assumed name, lived in a run-down shack, and worked in a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant. Argentina never offered him asylum because he entered the country under an assumed name. When captured, Eichmann acted submissive. He admitted his identity. When he went to the bathroom on the plane, the Israeli captors waited outside the toilet. "After a few minutes, Eichmann called out to Malkin [his captor], `Darf ich anfangen? (`May I begin?') Only when told yes did he begin to move his bowels." But this submissiveness, Lipstadt discloses, was deceptive, because Eichmann was clever, as shown by the testimony of many people who encountered him and by some of the slips he made during his own testimony. He was "proactive, energetic, and a creative master of deception."
When his superior officers "ordered him to deport one trainload of Jews, he pushed for two. Ordered to end deportations on a certain date, he fought to extend the deadline. Ordered to deport Jews from one region, he included those of another."
She describes the concerns, litigation style, and effectiveness of the prosecutor, the problems faced by Eichmann's defense counselor, the prejudices and involvements of the three judges who adjudicated the case, and the tearful testimony of witnesses. The prosecutor brought about a hundred holocaust survivors to describe the horrors they experienced. She is careful to identify mistakes by these people as well as the positive aspects, and their contribution to history.
She ends her book with a forty page even-handed description of the erroneous depictions by Hannah Arendt in her articles and book about the trial, writings that were very popular, writings that misled her readers. She follows this analysis with a fifteen page discussion on the affects of the trial on Americans, Israelis, and the rest of the world. She also includes eighteen pages of notes and nine pages outlining the chronology of events.
In regard to Hannah Arendt, a Jew born in Germany and former lover of a famed Nazi, she details and explains her errors, distortions, anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, borderline anti-Semitism ("which side of the border is unclear"), unfair criticisms of Jews, including Holocaust survivors, conclusions based on insufficient evidence, and her misunderstanding of Eichmann's intellect when contrary to clear evidence, in writings and the testimony of people he encountered, she saw him as a mere banal clerk. Remarkably deceptive is Arendt's claim that she was present throughout the trial when she was only in attendance for a very short time.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2012
Definitely an interesting and at times provocative read on this subject.
The book is about two topics - the actual Eichmann trial in Israel and the subsequent writings of Hanna Arendt. These are preceded by a short and intriguing expose of the abduction of Eichmann in Argentina.
The trial had different meanings for those involved. The judges (there were three) wanted to confine it to Eichmann, whereas the prosecutor, Hausner, wanted to invoke the entire Holocaust - and literally broadcast this to Israel and the entire Western World. In this he largely succeeded - by bringing in scores of witnesses whose testimony at times had no direct connection to Eichmann. The trial was covered by an international press who broadcast these searing indictments and educated an audience to the full totality of the Second World War.
Hausner's unregulated approach infuriated the judges who wished to have a more regulated trial. As the author demonstrates, this "broadcasting" accomplished, for the long term, the goal of implanting the Holocaust in the public domain.
But, the second topic in the book, and more controversial, was the publication of Hanna Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil". This set a paradigm for the interpretation of the events of the genocide for years to come. Because the trial was an exposition of the Holocaust, rather than a personal indictment focusing solely on the crimes of Eichmann it sometimes gave an impression of individuals in Germany who were merely automatons following the orders of a top-down society. Also Hanna Arendt never got beyond seeing a man stuck in a glass booth - this reinforced her impression of a simple-minded bureaucrat who had no concept of malevolence.
For whatever reason, she could not realize that this now impotent Eichmann in a courtroom in Israel surrounded by Jews, could possibly be a quite a different person in a German setting with his Nazi cohorts. The bully in the schoolyard, with his pals, will have a completely different persona sitting with his parents in the principal's office. Thus we got from Hanna Arendt the term "banality" - suggesting the commonplace, the nondescript, an individual performing a routine job. This became part of the myth of the Holocaust - perhaps until Daniel Goldhagen wrote his book "Hitler's Willing Executioner's" and shifted the paradigm to something else besides the "cog in the machine". As Ms. Lipstadt points out, Eichmann was not just doing a job - he did it with innovation and enthusiasm - pushing boundaries as in extending deadlines, filling up more cattle cars with Jews. He was a major player in the Hungarian round-up of hundreds of thousands of Jews who were sent to their deaths in Hungary. Like all his other comrades, they believed in the work they were doing and loved their job. These people were not banal - they were evil and it was by choice. By contrast a German, Anton Schmid chose to be kind.
I strongly feel that Hanna Arendt misled and did a disservice with the term "banal". As the author astutely points out Hanna Arendt was not even present to witness Eichmann's interrogation by the prosecutor Hausner. She also points out that Arendt minimized Eichmann's anti-Semitism.
This was an engaging and excellent evaluation of the Eichmann trial.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2011
There have been two significant judicial trials related to the Holocaust -- the trial of Adolf Eichmann for crimes against humanity and, just a few years ago, the trial of historian Deborah Lipstadt for her "libel" of Holocaust denier, David Irving. Who better than Profeesor Lipstadt to write a popular and approachable book about the first and foremost trial of the Holocaust. The Eichmann Trial is worth reading.
After World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the chief operating officer of the destruction of millions of Jews, fled to Argentina where he hid for several years. In the late 1950s, the Israeli security forces became aware of his whereabouts but did not act on the information. Before the capture was authorized, Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, made a critical decision: rather than simply killing Eichmann in Argentina and leaving him in a ditch, he was brought to Israel and put on trial. In 1960, the Israelis captured Eichmann and transported him to Israel to stand trial for his crimes. Ben-Gurion walked into the Knesset (the Israeli legislature) and announced, "Eichmann bi'yadenu," Eichmann is in our hands. It was a dramatic and powerful moment.
Immediately, the Israelis were questioned by the world, including by American Jews: how could a state that did not exist during the Holocaust try Eichmann? Could the Israelis conduct a fair trial? Wasn't Eichmann illegally abducted? Would the victims and survivors have a voice in the trial (they had none at Nuremberg)? Where would the trial be held (no court house at the time was equipped for such a trial)? Who would defend Eichmann?
To fully appreciate the magnitude of the trial, Lipstadt reminds us that in the 1950s and 1960s, there were no Holocaust memorials and while the fact of the Holocaust was known, people were still focused on returning to life and fighting the Cold War. Also, Israel was still in its relative infancy. Although it miraculously defended itself in two wars, it had not as powerful as it would become in 1967. Without this context, it is hard to fully appreciate the importance of this trial. Lipstadt expertly sets the context and walks through the critical decisions (and mistakes) made in conducting the trial. Having sat through a highly publicized trial herself, Lipstadt adds an extra dimension to her recounting of the tale.
The Jewish Encounters series, of which this is the most recent addition, is intended to present Jewish subjects "in a lively, intelligent and popular manner." The Eichmann Trail is not an academic piece, yet, it is written by a woman with impeccable credentials on the subject. Lipstadt masterly narrates the story. But, the story does not end with the trial. After the trial, the New Yorker ran a series of articles by Hannah Ardent, a Jew who fled Germany. She argued that the trial was unfairly conducted and that Eichmann essentially followed orders and was not an anti-Semite. Who better than Lipstadt to examine this?
The only thing that I did not love about the book was the author's interruption of the narrative with references to her own trial. The comparison of Eichmann's trial and Lipstadt's trial should have been in an epilogue. That distraction is easily overcome.
The book is short (200 pages) and reads like a well written New Yorker or New York Times Magazine piece. It is easily accessible and requires no background. In reading this book, you will understand how this trial became precedent for how many future trials would be conducted.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
... a book about Eichmann and his trial, on the other an encounter with Hannah Arendt. Lipstadt's book brings much to the fore that certainly I didn't know about Eichmann's capture and the almost instantaneous awareness of the kidnapping in Argentina among key world powers, and she definitely has a more sympathetic approach to the conduct of Hausner as prosecutor than Hannah Arendt did, but in the end, this is not, as you'd might surmise from the NY Times Book Review, a rebuttal or an answer or whatever confrontation you'd care to imagine to Hanah Arendt as it is a different perpsective, with different aims. Lipstadt is focused on the success of the trail beyond the trial: in particular, bringing the world face to face with yet another incredibly horrible genocide. We've learned little. Genocides preceded this one, and certainly have followed it. Still, this trial would seemingly have settled the score, at least until the current leadership in Iran and certain rural areas of Amerika are concerned, as to the historical horror that did take place.
And to that extent, this book diverges from Arendt's significantly. Arendt held Hausner in little esteem and certainly thought the Jewish leaders in several of the ghettoes were almost complicit with the Nazis. As incendiary as that opinion is, that really wasn't what she was after. Her sights were set on how a man, who was seemingly a well trained but essentially nondescript bureaucrat could so methodically carry out the extermination of fellow human beings without giving it anything other than a job-performance reflection. Was evil really that banal? One of the things I still don't understand is how an entire country, several countries, went along with it. It makes no difference to me whether it's the extermination of Native Americans at the hands of invaders from Europe; Serbians settling a score with Ottoman descended fellow citizens; Rwanadans machette-ing each other for exactly what?; and on and on.
No doubt it was that larger ethical question that upset Arendt and motivated her analyses. Lipstadt is not so much an apologist for Hausner and Ben Gurion, as someone trying to reset a perspective that has had to dea with both Eichmann and Arendt. And Arendt is a tricky proposition apparently in some quarters. While a devout believer in Israel's right to exist, she was first and foremost an ethicist that granted no one carte blanche, just because some part of their ideals were in fact wholly righteous. Of course, the kickback at Hannah was due in part to her undying, although quite critical, friendship and early love affair with Heidegger.
Nothing ever quite fits in the box, does it? And that is whether it is the defendant's box or the construct of anyone's life. Things leak. From Arendt's book I got the sense that Heidegger's concern that the net effect of WW1 was that with the advent of chemical warfare, humans were still needed for murder, but only just. Eichmann seemed to bring the human back into the murder, taking the chemical assault from the skies and bringing it intimately into the shower, albeit on a grotesquely large scale.
Lipstadt presents the case that the awareness of such monstrosity would not have occured with such convincing authority had it not been for the trial, and the very record of the trial is thus central to the Zionist case for existence. How the Mossad got Eichmann is detailed more thoroughly in her book than Arendt's. Ironically, Eichmann was given up inadvertently by his own child. Things leak. Arendt steps back from these particular details and asks why and how do these moral horrors gain footing and advance through the simplest of human actions, like doing one's job. For her Hausner never asked the ethical questions. He had a criminal case and a political agenda to pursue. Lipstadt would answer that is exactly what was required and justified. But, after the trail, what of the human factor, banal or otherwise? What is it in the design of the human heart and conscience that can turn that impulse into something so morally and humanly destructive? Not sure Arendt was able to come up with that, but she was struck by how such ordinary pursuits can turn into something like an Eichmann. Lippstadt argues that once you have an Eichmann, you must pursue the case before you with the facts at hand as irrefutably as you can. There is no other way to awaken the world to its own banality.
Lipstadt and Arendt should be read as colleagues, legal, philosophical and ethical.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2012
It is my opinion that one should not read Deborah Lipstadt's book without having first read Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Arendt's perspectives on and interpretations of the Eichmann trial have been the subjects of debate for fifty years and have become part of the conscious understanding Americans have of the significance of this event; accordingly, Lipstadt thought it necessary to devote Chapter 6 to an appreciation and a refutation of Arendt's essay. Unless one is aware of Arendt's perspective, much of Lipstadt's book will seem merely a cursory examination of the trial and a criticism of Arendt, but her intention is to present a far more serious argument. Most importantly, Lipstadt claims that Gideon Housner, the chief prosecutor, was correct in prosecuting Eichmann for crimes against the Jews in refutation of Arendt's argument that the indictment should not have been just for crimes against the Jews, but should have been for crimes against humanity committed against the persons of the Jews. Proving that point is the focus of her argument.
Lipstadt and Arendt are doing two entirely different things: Lipstadt is concerned with the legacy of Eichmann's trial, a legacy at least partially shaped by Arendt's perceptions and the controversy they created. Arendt was reporting on the international significance of the judicial questions raised by the trial, many which had no precedent other than the Nuremberg trials. She provided editorial comment on those questions and on Housner's conduct of the trial. Although Arendt judged the testimony of survivors to be irrelevant to the judicial questions under consideration, Lipstadt regards their testimony, from the advantage of a perspective gained from fifty years of discussion, as the most important legacy of the trial: "Housner's determination that this trial would be founded on the human story of the Jewish victims' suffering stands, from a perspective of five decades, as the trial's most significant legacy" (p. 192). To Lipstadt, the human face of suffering defines the enormity of the crime against the Jews.
Lipstadt contents that Eichmann was virulently anti-Semitic, not merely the banality of evil, as Arendt describes him. She posits that argument on the long history of hatred for Jews in Europe, and claims that Eichmann was culturally as well as ideologically committed to the destruction of Jews. She claims that David Irving's libel suit against her was the initial spark which prompted the book and brought her to believe that the world must take into account the long cultural tradition of anti-Semitism. Irving is a Holocaust denier and sought the trial in hopes that it would give exposure and some legitimacy to his claims. The judge's ruling against Irving ran to more than one hundred pages, and, instead of giving Irving's denials the legitimacy he sought, provided Lipstadt with an understanding that if people are able to take Irving's Holocaust denials seriously, then anti-Semitism is gaining strength, especially in Europe. Her reflections, therefore, on the importance of Eichmann's trial are an argument that the effort to eradicate Jews and the indifference of the rest of the world was not an isolated spasm of malice, a banality of evil, but a long rooted tradition of hatred given expression in the technological capability to do genocide and that Eichmann was a skilled practioner of the art of mass extermination.
Lipstadt's analysis of Arendt's "banality of evil" is instructive: "It was the transformation of seemingly normal people into killers that rightfully intrigued her. Though much of what she said about the Jewish victims and the manner in which she said it is disturbing, her contention that many of the perpetrators were not innately monsters or diabolical creatures but `ordinary' people who did monstrous things not only seems accurate but is the accepted understanding among most scholars of the perpetrators. It is precisely their ordinariness - their banality - that makes their horrific actions so troubling. In many respects it is the behavior of these people - and there were hundreds of thousands if not millions of them - that constitutes the unfathomable question at the heart of the Final Solution" (p. 169).
She does not reject Arendt's evaluation, but contends that it does not go far enough to account for the crimes against the Jews perpetrated by the Nazi mechanization of evil. "As a result of the trial," Lipstadt argues, "the one hundred survivors who testified as prosecution witnesses, and by extension all other victims, acquired what Shoshana Felman has so aptly called `semantic authority over themselves and over others.' Together with that semantic authority came `historical authority'" (p. 201). Lipstadt is not so much refuting Arendt as she is trying to provide the reader with what she believes, with the advantage of fifty years of debate and discussion, are the most important aspects of the trial. The book therefore is not an attempt to provide a new perspective on the trial but an effort to modify the existing one.
Her arrangement of the book is open to criticism. The reader should have been made aware earlier that the book was going to center on a refutation of some of Arendt's points and that her main thesis was that the indictment was correct in accusing Eichmann of crimes against the Jews. I see the connection she tried to establish between Irving and Eichmann - both are Jew haters - but that connection is perhaps moot when she moves from a description of key points of the trial into a discussion of Hannah Arendt and her supporters and critics. I suggest that the target audience for her long essay are those who are familiar with Arendt, not those to whom the Eichmann trial is something which happened "a long time ago." I found the lack of a bibliography annoying and suggest that she could have provided an on-line bibliography for readers who wanted to explore the subject further. There were many instances when I felt a footnote would have been helpful, especially in her discussion of Arendt, even though the book is seemingly well documented. I also found the lack of an index annoying. In short, what could have been an important rethinking of the Eichmann trial and the debates which stemmed from Arendt's essay provided little to a reader unfamiliar with the historical significance of the trial and Arendt's reflections on it.