Jewish and Palestinian workers unity in Israel today bodes well for future struggles

Monday, August 6, 2018

Eichmann/Arendt: Reading notes on The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Read this in a sitting after devouring Arendt's own Eichmann book.

Lipstadt struggles to "correct" Arendt's presumptions and arrogance. Unfortunately, it's like a freshman rhetorician trying to rebuke the waves. Good or ill, this subject will always be Arendt's meat.

Lipstadt doesn't help herself when she repeatedy compares the Eichmann trial to her own court battle with David Irving.


Some excerpts:

The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt

....Some of the more vituperative attacks came from William Buckley's National Review. He devoted three editorials to the topic within weeks of the capture. In surprising statement, Buckley described Eichmann as having had "a hand in exterminating hundreds of thousands " (emphasis added). Condemning the proposed trial as a "pernicious" effort designed to speak for a "mythical legal entity (the Jewish People)," Buckley marveled that it was to last three months, whereas the Christian Church's focus "on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ [lasts] for only one week of the year." This, he declared, was symptomatic of the Jewish "refusal to forgive." Buckley saw in the trial the "advancement of Communist aims" and the fanning of the "fire of anti-Germanism." (In later years, Buckley spoke with an exceptionally different voice. In a stunning forty-thousand-word essay titled In Search of Anti-Semitism, he admitted to his father's overt anti-Semitism and concluded that the writings of two conservative commentators and long-term contributors to the National Review , Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan, were anti-Semitic. 9 ) The criticism grew so intense that Amos Elon, Haaretz 's New York correspondent, mused: "The world … did not think like we did.… What appears to us to be 'historic justice' looks to others like a semi-pathological legacy of a traumatic experience."

....Not surprisingly, some of the most vituperative criticism came from Jews who had found a comfortable home in the highest reaches of the non-Jewish world. Harvard professor Oscar Handlin was an expert on immigration who had written a book on Jews in America—a topic not generally addressed by Harvard faculty in the 1950s. In a speech at Harvard and in subsequent articles, he lashed out at Israel's actions, denigrating the forthcoming trial as an "act of revenge in satisfaction of the private offense." Ignoring the fact that Eichmann had escaped from a POW camp, entered Argentina under an alias, and lived clandestinely in the country, he accused Israel of violating Eichmann's "right of refuge" with its "underhand[ed] kidnapping." For over a century, Handlin contended, Western liberal societies had opposed pogroms and attacks on Jews because they believed Jews shared with them "a common stake in human decency." This principle, which animated Jewish life in the West, was threatened by the kidnapping. There were certainly legal problems associated with Israel's kidnapping, but Handlin's juxtaposition of Eichmann's "right of refuge" with Israel's "underhand[ed]" actions and description of the Holocaust as a "private offense" are astonishing. More stupefying, however, is that, but fifteen years after millions of Jews had been murdered when most Western nations had barred them entry, he waxed rhapsodic about the West's conviction that it shared with Jews a "common stake in human decency." Handlin seemed oblivious that during the war, as Saul Friedländer has observed, "not one social group, not one religious community, no scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews." Predictably, Rabbi Elmer Berger, the leader of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, described the trial as a "Zionist declaration of war" against American Jews' claim to equal citizenship. Psychologist and anti-Zionist Erich Fromm, writing in the anti-Zionist Jewish Newsletter , seemed to have lost any sense of perspective when he claimed that Israel's action was an "act of lawlessness of exactly the type of which the Nazis themselves … have been guilty."

....AJC leaders....traveled to Jerusalem, where they told government leaders that Israel's public comments about the trial should stress that not only Jews but also Germans had suffered severely because of Eichmann and the Nazis' actions. The AJC leaders also suggested that Israel cast its comments about the Holocaust in universal terms. The Americans explained that when synagogues were bombed they spoke to the press in "broader terms" and referred to them as "houses of worship" in order to overcome non-Jews' indifference. Israel should do the same and stop "harping constantly on the identity of the deceased Jews." 20 One can imagine Ben-Gurion's reaction. These Jews trumpeted their complete acceptance into American society, but when their synagogues were bombed precisely because they were Jewish institutions, they fell back on the generic "houses of worship" and avoided identifying the victims as Jews. In fact, one need not imagine Ben-Gurion's reaction. He expressed it quite explicitly at the meeting of the World Zionist Congress.

....While these comments about Israelis are troubling, it was her evaluation of the relationship between the victims and the perpetrators that unleashed the avalanche of criticism. Where others saw Nazi intimidation of the Jewish leaders, she saw cooperation, if not collaboration. Whereas her critics saw one side holding all the cards and the other with none, she saw a level playing field. Her critique began with the Zionists. Arendt argued that the Nazis considered Zionists "decent" Jews because, in contrast to assimilated Jews, they thought in "national" terms. Without providing any data to justify her accusation, she charged that Zionists "spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann." Accepting at full face value Eichmann's protestation that his lifelong dream was to put land "under the feet of the Jews," she described him as a Zionist. She asserted that his idea for settlements in Nisko and Madagascar were evidence of the Nazi regime's "pro-Zionist policy." She seemed to fail to consider the fact that the Third Reich was unequivocally opposed to the creation of an independent Jewish state and that the settlements envisioned by Eichmann and his cohorts would have been draconian police states in which the inhabitants would have been exterminated by "natural" means.

....She considered the 1933 Ha'avara Agreement between the German and the Zionists an act of collaboration. As a means of enriching their own coffers and making life miserable for Jews, the Nazis blocked the funds of those Jews planning to emigrate. Most Jews could not get even a small portion of their assets out of Germany. (This is one of the enduring ironies of Nazi anti-Semitic policy. During the initial years of the Nazi regime, Reich policy was to get Jews to emigrate. Yet the Nazis placed numerous obstacles in the Jews' path, often making it impossible for them to do so.) The Ha'avara Agreement allowed Jews immigrating to Palestine to transfer a portion of these blocked funds to
the Zionist organization. The organization, in turn, bought German goods that were needed by the Palestinian Jewish community. When the émigrés arrived in Palestine, they received credit for their funds. This distasteful boycott-breaking arrangement was an effort to help Jews salvage some of their savings while developing the Yishuv's infrastructure. At the same time, it worked to the Germans' advantage by creating a market for German goods. 18 However, it was hardly a form of collaboration. As with all other forms of negotiations Jewish groups had with the Reich during this period, the other side held all the cards.

But her critique of the relationship between Nazis and Jews reached its pinnacle in her attack on the Jewish Councils. She held them responsible for the death of millions, contending that, "if the Jewish people had been really unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and a half and six million people." According to her, their "pathetic and sordid" behavior was the "darkest chapter" of the Holocaust. For her, it was darker than the mass shootings and the gas chambers, because it showed how the Germans could turn victim against victim. There are many problems with her argument. She ignored the fact that the Einsatzgruppen murdered tens of thousands of Jews during the first months after their entry into the eastern territories in the summer of 1941 without Jewish councils or community leaders serving, in her words, as "instruments of murder." 19 She not only ascribed to the councils more power than they had, but depicted thousands of council members with the same broad ahistorical brush. Some members acted heroically and some contemptuously. Some preserved lives, others worried only about their own. Some combined these traits. Chaim Rumkowski, leader of the Łodź Judenrat, enjoyed a surfeit of material comforts while ghetto inhabitants starved. Showing megalomaniacal tendencies, he printed postage stamps embossed with his image and ordered the composition of odes of praise to him. He was convinced he could save the ghetto by transforming it into a vital economic resource that the Germans would be loath to destroy. When the Germans wanted to deport Jews, he gave up the elderly and demanded that parents surrender their children. Only workers were protected.

....The notion of Jewish "cooperation" would probably have been most comforting to many Germans: it might have soothed their consciences by suggesting that the victims were complicit in their own murder. 21 Hausner did consciously avoid the topic because, unlike the Kasztner trial, this was to be a trial of the perpetrators, not the victims.

....The members of the Judenrat were not the only Jews Arendt condemned. She also took aim at the Sonderkommandos, those Jews selected to work in the gas chambers. Their job was to deceive the victims before the gassing, so that they would go more submissively to the gas chambers. Before cremating the bodies, they checked their teeth for gold fillings and bodily orifices for sequestered valuables. Arendt described them as doing "the actual work of killing," but somewhat cavalierly dismissed this as "no moral problem," because, she declared with no historical proof, the SS chose "the criminal elements" for the job. Some indeed were criminals. Many were not. Arendt also failed to mention that they all would be dispatched to the gas chambers every few months, because they knew too much.

....Though she was castigated as being anti-Israel, she believed that Israel was justified in kidnapping Eichmann, since there was no alternative route to bring him to justice. She supported holding the trial in Israel, the "country in which the injured parties and those who happened to survive are." When Karl Jaspers disagreed, she wrote him a letter that is remarkable for its use of the first person plural. " We kidnapped a man who was indicted in the first trial in Nuremberg.… We abducted him from Argentina because Argentina has the worst possible record for the extradition of war criminals.… We did not take the man to Germany but to our own country." (Emphasis added.) 27 Israel, she insisted, "had as much right to sit in judgment on the crimes committed against their people, as the Poles had to judge crimes committed in Poland." She considered the charge that Jewish judges would be biased "unfounded," wondering why the partiality of Jewish judges should be any more in question than that of the Polish or Czech judges who had presided over war-crimes trials in their countries. She dismissed the contention that, since Israel did not exist at the time of the crime, it did not have jurisdiction, as "legalistic in the extreme," as well as "formalistic [and] out of tune with reality and with all demands that justice must be done." She articulated what Israel's critics ignored: there was no international court to preside, and no other country, Germany included, wanted to host it. For Arendt, having this trial in Israel had profound—if not metahistorical—significance.

....She used the term "banal" to bolster her contention that Eichmann did not act out of a deep ideological commitment or because he was inherently evil. Had he acted out of such motivations, his actions would have made "sense." She tried to understand how he, and so many other Germans, so seamlessly became killers. They were seemingly normal people who performed unprecedentedly evil acts. She believed that many of them acted in this fashion even though they were not initially motivated by an irrational, deep-seated hatred. 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. was not just where she voiced her comments but how she voiced them that aroused such passions. Even her supporters acknowledge that she "bears some of the responsibility for how her book was read (and even misread) and why it caused so much pain and anger." A sympathetic biographer described her as "imperious in tone" and "peculiarly insensitive." 39 Her friend Alfred Kazin, who had covered the trial for The New Republic , faulted her for projecting an air of "detachment" when, in actuality, she was "as distraught as the rest of us." In an appreciative essay, Tony Judt described her remarks about Jewish responsibility as "insensitive and excessive." 40 The attacks on her, many of which were over the top, elicited responses from her that were borderline—it's unclear which side—anti-Semitic. In a comment that lends credence to Wasserstein's claim that she absorbed the anti-Semitism of the historians on whose work she depended, she wrote Jaspers, "In the long run it's perhaps beneficial to sweep out a little of that uniquely Jewish rubbish."

In Israel the entire episode—capture, abduction, and trial—had the most immediate impact. It enhanced Israel's conviction that the nation had a legitimate right to represent world Jewish interests. Eichmann's abduction contributed to Israel's sense of "derring-do." As one contemporary commentator boasted, using an idiom of that day, it was evidence of Israel's "moral robustness, and even masculine character." 11 The legacy of Garibaldi Street would ultimately be evident in the Entebbe Airport, at the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, and numerous other places where Israel perceived threats to its citizens. It would also be seen in the late twentieth century, during the struggle to free Soviet Jewry. Israel insisted to Diaspora Jewish organizations that it would take the lead on this matter. It argued that it spoke for world Jewry, particularly Jews in distress.

It reinforced a Zionist version of history that contrasted Israelis, who were citizens of a sovereign state, with Diaspora Jews, who depended on the benevolence of others for protection. According to this narrative, Israelis could defend themselves and bring those who did them harm to justice; Diaspora Jews could not. Ben-Gurion described the trial as unveiling for young Israelis "the profound tragedy of exile, of dependence on alien mercies, of abandonment to the evil and willful impulse of tyrants." 12 But the trial accomplished something else as well, something that is a polar opposite to this Zionist Weltanschauung. It fostered a different perception of the victims. In Israel and much of the rest of the world, the prevailing impression was that the victims had gone like sheep to the slaughter, and that those who survived had done something untoward in order to ensure their survival. 13 The law under which Eichmann had been tried, the 1950 Nazis and Their Collaborators Law,
was instituted in response to grassroots pressure from survivors, not to punish Nazis, but to punish Jews. The Knesset did not adopt the law in anticipation of the arrival of Nazi war criminals in Israel. The intent of the law was to ensure that Jewish survivors who had "collaborated" with the Nazis by serving as Kapos or the like were punished. During the Knesset deliberations, Minister of Justice Pinhas Rosen spoke of the "suspicion and mutual recrimination" among survivors about what they did to stay alive. 14 This began to change as a result of the trial. Before, Alterman, expressing a view regnant in Israel, considered survivors a group that was "separate … unfamiliar and anonymous" to the rest of Israeli society.



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