The Eichmann Trial

Article excerpt

The Eichmann Trial, by Deborah E. Lipstadt. New York: Schocken Nextbook, 2011. 237 pp. $24.95.

Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Her work underscores the importance of confronting contested remembrance, as for instance in Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Free Press/MacMillan, 1993). Holocaust revisionism and denial come under attack as she applies the ideals of historical analysis in each of her works. Her quest for accuracy and an in-depth knowledge of her subject make an inestimable contribution to the larger orientation in Holocaust scholarship of tikkun olam, repairing the past to heal the future. In 1996, David Irving, a Holocaust denier and author, brought a libel suit against Lipstadt and Penguin Books for publishing a British edition of Denying the Holocaust in which he was mentioned. The case went on for six years. She described it in History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2005). Preparing for the Lipstadt v. Irving trial, she obtained some of the perpetrator testimony she used from the Eichmann trial (1961). Israeli authorities allowed her access to what until then had been a sealed document, the Eichmann memoir, written during his 1961 trial. From her engagement of materials in that earlier trial she determined to write the present work, The Eichmann Trial (2011), published fifty years after the 1961 trial in Israel.

In The Eichmann Trial, Lipstadt is plain spoken and maintains that the trial delivered a correct verdict. It contains an Introduction, six chapters and a Conclusion in which she gives a clear picture of Adolph Eichmann, who as a Nazi career officer was completely dedicated to the goals of racial cleansing. He put his own stamp on the eradication of European Jewry during 1942- 1945. Her forensics on the 1961 trial pays homage to Jews who were victims and survivors. So far from aligning with noted intellectuals at the 1961 trial, such as Hannah Arendt, who in her work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: The Viking Press, 1963), saw Eichmann as a bumbling clerk merely carrying out the Nazi mandate, Lipstadt saw Eichmann as knowing exactly what he was doing. Eichmann was an unrepentant antisemite who as a Nazi officer zealously sent millions to their deaths with intention and forethought. Marc Osiel, a student of Arendt's, in his work Mass Atrocity, Collective Memory, and the Law (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers) takes the Eichmann trial as a brilliant success, not just in terms of a scrupulous rendering of justice, but in the way the chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, presented the facts for collective memory. Hausner had worked to give survivors the right to testify at the trial, and to have the Holocaust itself provide the context for interpreting the actions of the defendant. Osiel cites Haim Gouri (Facing the Glass Booth: The Jerusalem Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994, translated by Michael Swirsky), who in a lead article titled "Facing the Glass Booth" (in Geoffrey Hartman's Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory and Anti-Semitism, London: Blackwell, 1994), noted that the Eichmann trial had allowed the Israeli nation to face contradictions in its remembrance of the Holocaust at a time when the next generation was in danger of seeing Holocaust Jews as having "allowed" themselves to be slaughtered. …