The Eichmann Trial
By Deborah E. Lipstadt
Nextbook, 2011, 237 pages
This is an easy to
read, must-read history that everyone should know. It is arguably the best
non-fiction book of 2011. Its author, Emory University Professor Deborah E.
Lipstadt, wrote another award-winning history book about one of her own
experiences. She made the front pages of many world newspapers when an English
anti-Semite and holocaust denier sued her in an English court because of her
remarks about his attitude. She tells the story of this trial, what prompted
it, how it was defended, the reactions on all sides, and how she won, in her
Introduction to this almost novel-like history of the Eichmann trial.
The story of the
Eichmann case has been written before, including by the well-known Hannah
Arendt, who erroneously describes Eichmann for the most part as a foolish,
colorless, servile civil servant who did poorly in school and followed the Nazi
State laws slavishly. But she tells the story the best. She reveals much more
than previous writers. She reveals many related facts, including how Simon Wiesenthal,
the famed Nazi hunter, misrepresented the number of non-Jews killed by Hitler
to further his agenda, how the Israeli Mossad had opportunities to capture
Eichmann but did not pursue them, how Eichmann was discovered by amateurish
sleuthing and dumb luck by the daughter of a half-Jewish Argentinean man who
was dating Eichmann’s son, and how the initial overwhelming reaction in the
United States to Eichmann’s capture, including by many Jews, criticized Israel.
But much more than that, she reveals the testimony pro and con Eichmann and
Lipstadt tells how
Eichmann escaped the allied prison after being captured, worked for awhile in
upper Germany, and then dashed off to Argentina under an assumed name, lived in
a run-down shack, and worked in a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant. Argentina never
offered him asylum because he entered the country under an assumed name. When
captured, Eichmann acted submissive. He admitted his identity. When he went to
the bathroom on the plane, the Israeli captors waited outside the toilet.
“After a few minutes, Eichmann called out to Malkin [his captor], ‘Darf ich anfangen? (‘May I begin?’) Only
when told yes did he begin to move his bowels.”
But this submissiveness, Lipstadt discloses, was deceptive, because Eichmann
was clever, as shown by the testimony of many people who encountered him and by
some of the slips he made during his own testimony. He was “proactive,
energetic, and a creative master of deception.”
When his superior
officers “ordered him to deport one trainload of Jews, he pushed for two.
Ordered to end deportations on a certain date, he fought to extend the
deadline. Ordered to deport Jews from one region, he included those of
She describes the
concerns, litigation style, and effectiveness of the prosecutor, the problems
faced by Eichmann’s defense counselor, the prejudices and involvements of the
three judges who adjudicated the case, and the tearful testimony of witnesses.
The prosecutor brought about a hundred holocaust survivors to describe the
horrors they experienced. She is careful to identify mistakes by these people
as well as the positive aspects, and their contribution to history.
In regard to
Hannah Arendt, a Jew born in Germany and former lover of a famed Nazi, she
details and explains her errors, distortions, anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli Prime
Minister David Ben Gurion, borderline anti-Semitism (“which side of the border
is unclear”), unfair criticisms of Jews, including Holocaust survivors,
conclusions based on insufficient evidence, and her misunderstanding of
Eichmann’s intellect when contrary to clear evidence, in writings and the
testimony of people he encountered, she saw him as a mere banal clerk.
Remarkably deceptive is Arendt’s claim that she was present throughout the
trial when she was only in attendance for a very short time.
She ends her book
with a forty page even-handed description of the erroneous depictions by Hannah
Arendt in her articles and book about the trial, writings that were very
popular, writings that misled her readers. She follows this analysis with a
fifteen page discussion on the affects of the trial on Americans, Israelis, and
the rest of the world. She also includes eighteen pages of notes and nine pages
outlining the chronology of events.