The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann
The Eichmann trial has become the focus of a controversy which transcends national and religious frontiers. In Germany the issue has recently been given an extra dimension by the storm over Hochhuth’s play, The Vicar: an impassioned indictment of the Vatican’s wartime policy of silence, and especially of Pope Pius XII, who is represented as indifferent to the massacre of the Jews and solely concerned with stemming the menacing flood of Communism. With the German Episcopate up in arms over this play, and a fresh storm promised when The Vicar reaches London and New York, as it soon will, both the critics and the public have something bigger to think about than the controversy over the alleged failure of the various Jewish organizations to resist or sabotage Hitler’s “final solution” which has followed, especially in the United States, from the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem.1
Cardinal Montini (as he then still was) doubtless knew what he was doing last June when, in what turned out to be almost his final public act before ascending the papal throne, he intervened in the columns of the London Catholic weekly, The Tablet, with a pained and angry defense of his predecessor. Hochhuth happens to be a Lutheran, but the burden of his charge—that to the Curia the Jews seemed expendable—has already evoked an embarrassed echo among some German Catholic intellectuals. It would be agreeable to be able to add that German public opinion as a whole was shocked, but most Germans still remember wartime sermons exhorting both Catholics and Protestants to fight the Red menace. Now that Christian Democracy is in the saddle all over Western Europe, these memories are both embarrassing and slightly unreal, which may be the reason that news of the controversy came as a surprise to the British public, and doubtless to the American too.
Looked at in this way, the Jewish catastrophe becomes a fairly typical chapter in recent European history, account being taken of such trial exercises as the Turkish massacre of the Armenians during and after the First World War. Against this background the question whether the Jews might have done more to save themselves falls into place as a problem of the second order. Or so it seems to people in Europe (Britain, for the purpose of this argument, being part of Europe). The case is evidently different for Americans, and a fortiori for American Jews who have hitherto compensated an uneasy sense of guilt by a resolute attachment to heroic myths. At the core of this mythology one is not surprised to encounter the consoling belief that the murder of some four to six million Jews—mostly in Eastern Europe—was experienced as a dreadful crime by the surrounding peoples, whereas the truth is that most of them welcomed it and did nothing whatever to help the victims. Allied to this central piece of myth-making, there are other bits and pieces, such as the notion that, having learned the truth at long last,…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.