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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 (2005), 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.
In 1932, in Bavaria, Eichmann (n. 1906) joined the then secret agency, the Schutzstafel (SS), and in 1934 joined the terrorist “Austrian Legion” and the SS unit at Dachau. Bored by the SS appointment at Dachau, he asked for reassignment to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and was assigned to its central office in Berlin; there he became part of the section concerned with Jewish affairs. In 1938, as Lipstadt points out (p. 69), the SD sent him to Austria. Antisemitism there had peaked after the Anschluss. Eichmann added to it, becoming a main figure in the persecution of Austrian Jews. He had boasted about his power to an SS colleague in a letter produced at the trial (P.71). Testimony at his 1961 trial sustained that Eichmann’s activities brought terror even to fully trained and disciplined soldiers. Viennese Jews were horrified by him. However, to Israeli interrogators and those participating in the trial, Eichmann admitted only decent business-like relations with Viennese Jewish leaders. After his success in Austria, he was invited to attend the Nazi Wannsee Conference in January 1942, where he was put in charge of coordinating schedules and arrangements necessary to coordinate the Final Solution. While he organized the identification, assembly, and transportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to the death camps in Poland and Russia, he personalized the rapid extermination of 430,000 Hungarian Jews.
In Chapter Two of The Eichman Trial, Lipstadt describes Eichmann’s capture with great precision, correcting inaccuracies of earlier reportage. In a later chapter she describes with the same precision the interrogation, the courtroom, and the process of choosing who would fill the various roles of Judge, Prosecutor, and Defense attorneys. Eichmann was tried and executed in Jerusalem in an Israeli court. The trial lasted from April 11 to December 15, 1961; he was hanged on May 31, 1962.
The glass booth made specifically for the Eichmann trial is now on the top floor of the Beit Lohamei Hagetaot—the Ghetto Fighter’s House, the first museum dedicated to the Holocaust. Former Warsaw Ghetto fighters lived nearby. The three-sided glass booth is now more than an artifact; it is an icon of transcendence. Eichmann had sent over one and a half million Jews to their deaths. In her conclusion Lipstadt acknowledges some of the effects of the 1961 trial, among the most significant was shrinking of the gulf between victims and onlookers—those who actually faced the ineffable and those who viewed it from a more fortunate distance.
Mary J. Gallant