Hannah Arendt demonstrates, again from the German example, the virtual impossibility of ordinary courts' getting at the fundamental truths of large-scale atrocity. Justice cannot be served, she tells us in this Introduction to a detailed journalistic account of a trial of accused Auschwitz murderers, because of "the lack of definitive yardsticks for judging crimes committed in these extraordinary and horrible conditions." Existing legal criteria are simply inadequate to the combination of evil and obfuscation perpetrated by high technology and technocratic bureaucracy.
Of about 2,000 SS men posted at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945 (and many must still be alive), "a handful of intolerable cases" had been selected and charged with murder, the only offense not covered by the statute of limitation in December, 1963, when the Frankfurt trial began. Investigation into the Auschwitz complex had lasted many years--documents ("not very informative," according to the court) had been collected and 1,300 witnesses questioned--and other Auschwitz trials were to follow. (Only one subsequent trial has so far taken place. This second trial began in December, 1965; one of the defendants, Gerhard Neubert, had been among those originally accused in the first trial. In contrast to the first trial, the second has been so poorly covered by the press that it took some "research" to determine whether it had occurred at all.) Yet in the words of the prosecutors in Frankfurt: "The majority of the German people do not want to conduct any more trials against the Nazi criminals."
Exposure for twenty months to the monstrous deeds and the grotesquely unrepentent, aggressive behavior of the defendants, who more than once almost succeeded in turning the trial into a farce, had no impact on this climate of public opinion, although the proceedings were well covered by German newspapers and radio stations. ( Bernd Naumann's highly perceptive reportage, which originally appeared in the FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung