Finally, on the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, historian Deborah Lipstadt has taken an analytical approach, demystifying this seminal moment in 20th century court history with her book, "The Eichmann Trial."
For fifty-years, the term, “banality of evil” has been part of the political and cultural lexicon, due to Hannah Arendt’s famous book describing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”
Now through scrupulous research, Lipstadt’s insightful book reveals facts that had been overlooked and exposes opinions that became lore.
No stranger to either the subject of the Holocaust (she was a consultant on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), or court trials related to it, (she successfully won her case against Holocaust denier David Irving and authored a book on the subject, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.”) Her new book describes the capture, trial and worldwide response to it; the latter with a particular focus on Arendt.
In laying the groundwork in her introduction, while she draws comparisons to her own trial and Eichmann’s, their main commonality being a deeply rooted anti-Semitism, she is careful to make distinctions. In the Eichmann trial the Nazi was the defendant and survivors were called as witnesses to testify. In her own trial, the burden of proof was on her.
Importantly, her greatest contribution is in proving that Eichmann was not the “order-taker” he claimed and that Arendt portrayed him as, but that he was responsible to “ensure that the freight cars should be used to their maximum capacity.” Additionally she reveals transcripts not used in the trial to show that in Hungary, even in the face of Allied bombardment of rail stations, he resolved to “still march” the Jews to the lower Austrian border.
Equally significant is her exposure of Arendt’s detached, phenomenological approach to the trial where it was, “the transformation of seemingly normal people into killers” that intrigued her. Beyond emotional detachment, Lipstadt also points out how Arendt was in fact physically absent for several weeks of the trial vacationing in Basel.
Beyond this, another of the more significant changes that the trial stylistically bore was the term, “Holocaust.” She writes, it was “cemented into the lexicon of the non-Hebrew-speaking population.”
On that note, while the media in 1961 had nowhere near the lightning speed and utter ubiquity it possesses today, the term “Holocaust” had been on the front pages of newspapers and created a focus and attention previously unseen.
The trial also provided worldwide interest in a new field of study giving birth to countless academic institutions now offering genocide and Holocaust studies.
But perhaps the most profound effect was…
“…as a result of the trial, the story of the Holocaust, though it had previously been told, discussed, and commemorated, was heard anew, in a profoundly different way, and not just in Israel but in many parts of the Jewish and non-Jewish world. The telling may not have been entirely new, but the hearing was.”
On this, her book comes at a crucial time, when through the lens of the internet and ''Do-It-Yourself '' media reporting, fact and fiction frequently blur. Lipstadt summons a razor sharp perspective, clearly and incisively delineating the two and setting the historical record straight.