• Review
By – August 31, 2011

When Israel placed the fugi­tive war crim­i­nal Adolf Eich­mann on tri­al 50 years ago the world had nev­er seen any­thing like it. After a dra­mat­ic kid­nap­ping in Argenti­na, a sov­er­eign Jew­ish state was to bring a Nazi to jus­tice on behalf of the Jew­ish peo­ple. Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, the author of this account, knows first-hand about plac­ing anti- Semi­tism on tri­al, hav­ing spent five years build­ing a suc­cess­ful case against Holo­caust denier David Irv­ing. Prof. Lip­stadt chal­lenges sev­er­al myths relat­ed to Eich­mann and the Shoah. Con­sis­tent with Tim­o­thy Snyder’s recent Blood­lands, she shows why it is wrong to imag­ine that 6,000,000 Jews account for most of the civil­ian deaths in the Holo­caust. She sees embar­rass­ing inep­ti­tude in the Mossad’s pur­suit of Eich­mann, in con­trast to the hero­ic account in the mem­oir by Mossad chief Iss­er Harel, The House on Garibal­di Street. And, as Tom Segev’s recent biog­ra­phy of Simon Wiesen­thal does, she finds lit­tle jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Wiesenthal’s claims to a role in appre­hend­ing Eichmann.

She also high­lights reveal­ing cas­es of ambiva­lence in Amer­i­ca and Israel. Promi­nent Amer­i­can Jews crit­i­cized Israel for try­ing Eich­mann, fear­ing their loy­al­ty to the Unit­ed States could be ques­tioned because Israel act­ed for the Jew­ish peo­ple.” Ben-Guri­on, for his part, did not want to call atten­tion to the many Nazis still in high posi­tions in the West Ger­man gov­ern­ment for fear of alien­at­ing Chan­cel­lor Kon­rad Adenauer.

The phrase the banal­i­ty of evil” entered the lan­guage when Han­nah Arendt wrote in the New York­er that Eich­mann epit­o­mized the con­cept. Lip­stadt finds evi­dence that Arendt made that assess­ment before even arriv­ing in Jerusalem to report on the tri­al, and cites tes­ti­mo­ny con­tra­dict­ing Arendt’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. She also takes issue with Arendt’s unfor­giv­ing view of the Jew­ish Coun­cils appoint­ed by the Nazis, and with Arendt’s epis­to­lary descrip­tions of Israel that bor­dered on anti-Semi­tism and racism.” Nonethe­less, Prof. Lip­stadt hears anoth­er voice” in the Arendt who described her­self as a Ger­man Jew dri­ven from my home­land by the Nazis,” and who reflect­ed that any real cat­a­stro­phe in Israel would affect me more deeply than any­thing else.”

When Eich­mann came to tri­al there were no Holo­caust muse­ums in the Unit­ed States; now there are dozens. It was the Eich­mann tri­al, Lip­stadt believes, that gave the Shoah its iden­ti­ty in mod­ern his­to­ry through the exten­sive tes­ti­mo­ny of sur­vivors. That may be the most impor­tant rea­son why the trial’s rever­ber­a­tions are still felt so strong­ly today.

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