18 OCTOBER 1963, Page 21


False Witness

By DAVID PRYCE-JONES DR. ARENDT'S opening chapter* strikes the postures of a bully. The Eichmann trial, she advances straightaway, was a show, with Ben-Gurion 'the invisible manager of the pro- ceedings,' and in the Israeli intention `the audi- ence at the trial was to be the world and the play the huge panorama of Jewish sufferings,' for this case was built on what the Jews had suffered, not on what Eichmann had done.' In her opinion, this was misconceived by the prose- cution, and because of the Israeli Attorney- General's personal faults of showmanship, rhetoric and plain ignorance, it was also mis- handled. She takes it for granted that this per- formance corresponded to the underlying Israeli assumption of the trial: `that it was the business of Jews to sit in judgment on their enemies,' and so she finds a key sentence of the prosecution in the statement, `if we shall charge [Eichmann] also with crimes against non-Jews . . . this is because we make no ethnic distinctions.' In effect, this was to spell out the lessons of anti-Semitism to Gentiles and Arabs, but more particularly to those Jews' of the Diaspora who have still not accepted the full Zionist conclusions.t

On such subjects, touching so many suscepti- bilities, offence is easily given and this chapter of Dr. Arendt's book has touched off a scandal which is all the more understandable because the writing has an ironic tone, almost mocking, a little patronising. In the remaining chapters, how- ever, Dr. Arendt licks the bully into shape, so that after some Hegelian merging of contra- dictions, she can finally address a classroom more or less reconciled, though with a tongue defiantly stuck out here and there.

It turns out that most of •Dr. Arendt's points about the trial itself are legalistic. The crux was that Eichmann, living in the Argentine, would not have been brought to trial anywhere but in Israel, even though this necessitated a kidnapping which could at best be justified under some prin- ciple of universal jurisdiction, or as an 'act of State.' She writes: 'To the question most com- monly asked about the Eichmann trial: What good does it do?, there is but one possible answer: It will do justice.' This seems sufficient to cut through formalistic objections. She argues that this trial was properly no more than the last of the post-war Successor trials and 'once the Jews had a territory of their own, they obviously 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.' The failure then, lay ultimately not so much in the proceed- ings nor even in the 'elaborate sophisms' sur- rounding them as in the exaggerated respect for legal precedence shown by the Israelis.

This hesitancy covered up a vital distinction, in that the Israelis tended to see Eichmann's crime

* EICI IM ANN IN r.si. By Hannah Arendt.

(Faber, 25s.)

t A book along mese lines is Moshe Pearlman's 'HE CAPTURE URE AND 1 RIAL OF ADOLF EICHM ANN (Weidenfeld, 50s.).

as the culmination merely of the most ferocious pogrom in history whereas in fact it was some- thing new, genocide, and since this new crime is likely to recur in the future, a combative definition must be based on some clear proposi- tion of the human right to survival. The negation of this right led Eichmann to the gallows, and it would have been a creative act of international law for the judges to say so. Dr. Arendt would have preferred them to dare address Eichmann in these terms: 'Just as you supported and car- ried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a num- - ber of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inherit the world—we find that no one . . can be expected to want to share the earth with you.'

The flaw in this seems to be its lack of realism : since no one wants to share the earth with Nazis, should they all be-sentenced to death as a result? Certainly it is no mitigation to plead that 'where all, or almost all are guilty, nobody is,' but is the obverse more than an abstraction, that poten- tiality of crime in all the members of a totalitarian State amounts to the actuality? Where and how does one draw the line?

The interest, and part of the scandal, of Dr. Arendt's book lies in this attempt at rethinking the problems posed by obedience to a totalitarian power and the punishment that it subsequently deserves. 'The facts of the case,' she writes, 'of what Eichmann had done—though not of every- thing the prosecution wished he had done—were never in dispute; they had been established long before the trial started, and had been confessed to by him over and over again. There was more than enough, as he occasionally pointed out, to hang him.' To deal with Eichmann then, was to draw down to the roots of the Nazism of which he was a representative, and one, too, who was rather less criminal than most, more 'idealistic' in the Nazi conception, in that he was making his career not so much by the corruption so fre- .quently found in bureaucrats at his level, as by obedience to the law of the Ffihrer. His idea of duty and of conscience, even the language in which he expressed himself right up to, his death, were impressed upon him not by an intrinsic depravity but by the society around him, par- ticularly those Nazi supporters whom he could accept as setting a social example. Hence Eich- mann could see his own career as one long hard- luck story; hence his mind was filled with 'human interest stories of the worst type' while he could forget the nature of his work; hence he did not lie as a cold-blooded murderer but revealed him- self in all his shabby limitations, an opportunist, a self-deluder with a mania for writing and speak- ing about himself as he wished to see himself. This account of Eichmann's mentality' is coherent and plausible, and although it runs counter to the prosecution's presentation, it finds support in the sentencing judgment.

Dr. Arendt criticises the prosecution for un- folding the dreadful history of the genocide and seeking to relate Eichmann directly to it. This involved calling witnesses for twenty-three sessions out of a total of 121 to supply the 'back- ground.' But something of the same proportion of Dr. Arendt's book is devoted to this same background, and this not because she is covering the trial faithfully but because there is no approach except the historical. Like everyone else, Dr. Arendt is confronted by the enormity of these events, and to isolate certain aspects for which Eichmann was proved responsible- Theresienstadt, the deportations, the foot marches from Hungary—is , only to distort the larger perspectives implicit in totalitarian politics. How many witnesses are called, and where from, are questions of emphasis. After listening to Zindel Grynszpan's testimony, she felt that 'Everyone should have his day in court,' but later she discovered that other witnesses did not equal his shining honesty. To allot such praise or blame is merely to reveal one's tastes.

Similarly Dr Arendt is harsh on the Jewish officials who facilitated the Nazi organisational task. In his detailed The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg analysed such com- pliance as the essential product of Nazi bureau- cratic machinery. Dr. Arendt's insights usually amplify such conclusions by explaining them in terms of totalitarian politics, and one of her most convincing themes is the interpenetration of killer and victim, of Nazi and Jew. In her opening chapter she quotes aptly from David Rousset's Les fours de Notre Mort: 'The triumph of the SS demands that the tortured victim allow him- self to be led to the noose without protesting.... They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold .. . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery.' It is therefore all the more inconsistent to find Dr Arendt isolating the Jewish officials from their context and reverting to standards of criticism which belong to moral- istic politics. Once again, it seems to spring from her own tastes : if Jewish leaders could be deceived by mass-thought then, so can Zionist leaders now, runs the connection.

It was precisely this interpenetration of Nazi 'and Jew which led to the need for some such trial (Eichmann was the obvious unpunished Nazi), so that survivors from the holocaust might at last slough off some 'part of their memories, free themselves from a long taint, a brainwashing. After the collapse of the system which had herded them to death, the Jews were in no mental or physical condition to retaliate. With exceptions, SS men and women were not torn apart in the camps at the end of the war as natural impulse would dictate. The process of rehabilitation pro- duced an emotional complexity which pervades Israel. A few, mostly of the elder generation, have retreated into a private numbness of accusing themselves of surviving when so many died. The majority have flung themselves all the more pas- sionately into the concerns of the new State where they never need meet a Gentile again. Below the surface is the repressed past and the often neurotic responses to it. These are subject people just do no. Jiseu: s and one sentence stood out from Dr. Arendt s book : 'As witness fol- lowed witness and horror was piled on horror, they sat there and listened in public to stories they would hardly have. been able to endure in private, when they would have had to face the story-teller.'

The Eichmann trial liberated this inhibition. It was a catharsis. The tension in Israel during the trial was 'ever-present. I heard of a bus in

Haifa whose thirty passengers had spon- taneously burst into tears listening to the story of a witness relayed on the wireless. The legal aspects and the range of possible punishments were the general topics of conversation. So that if this was intended to be a show trial in the sense that people were meant to stand back and make deductions from it, it was a great failure. People participated in it, lived it. Perhaps Dr. Arendt would say that this was a proof of the government's poor powers of prediction?

Inevitably there is a gulf of unbridgeable ex- perience between old and young in Israel. This can be seen any day at the Yad.Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, when visitors above a certain age are often moved to tears while schoolchildren need to be hushed and made to pay attention by their teachers, 'Why didn't you revolt?,' a ques- tion which Dr. Arendt rightly calls cruel and silly, comes all the more poignantly but in- escapably from a fifteen-year-old Israeli. No doubt this trial was intended for them, and no doubt too, it was beyond them; it belonged to another continent, another way of life: it was the affair of their parents. Vengeance, retalia- tion, justice, these were the resulting emotions they could,understand, helping to bridge the gulf of experience, wiping out the past which stares down so brutally and incomprehensibly from the museum and memorial walls, and merging it into the future which their parents want as the antithesis of this past.

Going into the courtroom on the morning when Eichmann's appeal was dismissed, I heard one elderly woman on the street-corner say to another, 'It's our last day.' In the courtroom, the stuffiness was overpowering and many people dozed, to be shaken awake by policemen. The legal voice read on, about Turkish ships in

collision, Regina v. . . 1873; Geneva, and from time to time, the man in the glass cage twitched. I never subscribed to the popular journalists' view that he looked like the next man : he was saturnine, sallow, mean-featured. Suddenly the verdict; the cage was empty; the courtroom cleared and we all stood blinking in the sun outside. The elderly women were still there. The appeal for mercy was rejected by the President and within forty-eight hours Eichmann was hanged. After his death I do not remember talking about the trial again: there was nothing to discuss.