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The Formidable Dr. Robinson”: A Reply

Clearly, the number of “mistakes” one can discover in any book with the help of Mr. Robinson’s extraordinary methods is staggering. And we have by no means exhausted them yet. Mr. Robinson belongs among the happy few who are psychologically color blind; they see only black and white. Hence, when I described Eichmann as not at all stupid and yet entirely thoughtless, or point out that on the basis of the evidence he was not an inveterate liar and yet lied occasionally, and then proceed to give some instances where he actually lied, Mr. Robinson is firmly convinced that these are “contradictions,” “hopping back and forth,” in his inimitable jargon. Needless to say, my “contradictions” are almost as countless as my “mistakes.” All these methodological difficulties, however, which perhaps can be excused in a book written by a lawyer and meant to restate a prosecutor’s case, are overshadowed by a truly dazzling display of sheer inability to read.

In his Preface, Robinson charges me with “misreading” documents and books, and on page 2 of his book he starts to pile up examples of what he understands by reading and what by misreading, until at the end one finds oneself overwhelmed by a unique embarras de richesse. There are first the endlessly repeated instances in which Eichmann’s words, often given by me in indirect discourse and sometimes even in quotation marks, are misread for direct discourse of the author. Thus quoting from a passage, which is introduced in the original by “According to the version [Eichmann] gave at the police examination” and is liberally sprinkled with clear indications of indirect discourse (“as he saw it,” etc.), Mr. Robinson writes: “According to Miss Arendt, the story of Adolf Eichmann is a ‘bad luck story if there ever was one.’ ” But even when I quote verbatim from the police examination, in which Eichmann had described his visit to Auschwitz to meet Mr. Storfer and said: ” ‘We had a normal human encounter,’ ” and conclude the episode by saying, “Six weeks after this normal human encounter, Storfer was dead,” Mr. Robinson thinks that I “considered it a ‘normal human encounter.”’ And since he apparently wrote his book without consulting the “primary sources,” namely the trial proceedings, he can write, “In the face of what she says [Eichmann] referred to ‘a cross-examination that lasted longer than any known before,’ ” completely unaware of the fact that Eichmann (in the 106th session) had said literally: “Above all I wish that…my sons can say…’Please, he was in the longest cross-examination that ever was known…”’

Another difficulty with Mr. Robinson’s strange reading habits comes to light whenever he accuses me of not offering “explanation” or “support” for my statements. In all these instances he would have had to turn the page, and in some instances a couple of pages, to find lengthy explanations, and while he may find this too complicated because he seems incapable of remembering what he read only a few short sentences before, it is, unfortunately, indispensable for reading books or documents. Thus he can for instance quote me correctly on one page: “To a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story,” and then on the very next page reply: “The destruction of six million Jews—not ‘the role of the Jewish leaders’—is the ‘darkest chapter’ of Jewish history,” as though he never read the qualifying clause. The difference between what I said and what Mr. Robinson makes me say is the difference between “patriotism”—“that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples,” as I put it in my reply to Gershom Scholem (Encounter, January 1964)—and a monstrous lie. And the alternative to assuming Mr. Robinson’s inability to read would be to charge him with character assassination. However, the alternative of bad faith is difficult to entertain in view of the fact that Mr. Robinson’s difficulties with sentence structure occasionally work against his own interest. Thus he begins his treatment of “Behavior of the Victims” (p. 187 ff.) by ascribing to me a description which was taken, word for word, from the Attorney General’s examination of witnesses during the 22nd session and was quoted by me for the deliberate purpose of denouncing Mr. Hausner’s attack on these survivors. Since Mr. Robinson honestly believes he denounces me and not his colleague, he finds now what he failed to discover when he advised him, i.e., that this “picture contrasts radically with reality,” which, of course, was my whole point to begin with.

Mr. Laqueur found in Mr. Robinson’s book a few inconsequential mistakes and believes that more could be found by “a team of researchers.” Actually, the book abounds in monumental errors, of which I can give here only two representative examples. The first concerns the Nazi legal system, a clear understanding of which was of course of the greatest importance for the Jerusalem trial. The second deals with the widespread anti-Semitism in Europe prior to Nazi occupation, because this was an important contributing factor to the success of the Final Solution.

  1. The discussion of the Nazi legal system occurs on pp. 274-276 of Robinson’s book, and only after having read these pages did it dawn upon me that the case for the prosecution had been presented in honest ignorance of it. That this legal system was actually criminal did not make it any less “legal” for those who lived in the country. Robinson obviously never heard of the famous Nazi slogan, Führerworte haben Gesetzes Kraft, “the Führer’s words have the force of law,” because he does not recognize it in the English paraphrase. Hence, he does not know that the Führer’s orders, whether given orally or in writing, “canceled all written law” (Hans Buchheim). He therefore believes that the sections in the German ‘Criminal Code dealing with murder made Hitler’s order “illegal,” and is in doubt “whether [the order for the Final Solution] emanated from Hitler or Himmler” (p. 371). Only a “specialist,” as Mr. Laqueur would put it, can judge how fantastic this doubt is. That many of these orders were secret is a matter of course, but this by no means prevented them from being legally binding, because, contrary to what Mr. Robinson thinks, promulgation was not “the very essence of the binding force of law” in Nazi Germany; he simply does not know that there exist five fat volumes of Verfügungen, Anordnungen, Bekanntgaben (Decrees, Ordinance, Notices) which regulated very important areas in the life of the German people and still were classified as “top secret.” (Four of these volumes, published by the Parteikanzlei, are available in the archives of the Hoover Library.) In short, the order for the Final Solution was binding law in Nazi Germany because Germany had become a criminal state, and nothing could be more preposterous than to assert that it “constituted nothing but an illegal secret promise of the Führer of immunity from prosecution.”

  2. In my discussion of the situation in the Netherlands, I stated that “the prewar Dutch government had officially declared [Jewish refugees] to be ‘undesirable’.” Mr. Robinson declares categorically as usual: “This never happened,” because he never heard of the circular letter, issued by the Dutch government on May 7, 1938, in which refugees are declared to be “undesirable aliens.” I would not have mentioned this if it were merely a factual error, but the point of the matter is that the attitude of the Dutch government was only more outspoken than that of other European countries. Refugees, and especially Jewish refugees, were “undesirable” all over Europe, and Mr. Robinson tries in all instances to present the situation of Jews in Europe prior to the Nazi occupation in rosy colors. (His only exception to the rule is Italy where anti-Semitic legislation actually was enacted, in 1938, only under pressure from Berlin—the evidence is too well known to be quoted. For reasons best known to Mr. Robinson, I suddenly stand accused of “whitewashing Mussolini.”) The rampant Jew-hatred in Eastern Europe and the rapidly growing anti-Semitism in Western Europe can be interpreted and explained in many different ways, but there is no doubt about the extent to which it facilitated later Hitler’s Final Solution. This attempt to deny the historical truth is especially noticeable in Mr. Robinson’s discussion of Rumania. The drift of his argument is to accuse me of “minimizing German influence in Rumania’s Judenpolitik,” and to deny, in the face of all evidence, that Rumania, in the words of Reitlinger, was the “nation which began its deportations to Russia before Hitler had even given the signal, but which was constrained…through jealousy of the Germans.” Mr. Robinson, because of his mistaken notions about scholarship, despises standard works (which explains, incidentally, why he is at a loss to find out how I “know” that Hitler thought Antonescu to be more “radical” than the Nazis (p. 362); I cited a famous remark of Hitler to Goebbels, well known to all “professionals”); he prefers to base his presentation on an admittedly highly “selective” (lückenhafte) collection of documents, prepared for the trial by the United Restitution Organization, a group established to press Jewish claims against Germany; it includes a research department whose raison d’être is of course to “prove” that all initiative during this period came from Berlin, and therefore to “minimize” indigenous anti-Semitism.

III

A major part of Mr. Robinson’s book is devoted to “Jewish Behavior in the Face of Disaster,” which in my book played a minor role. Even the admiring Mr. Laqueur thinks that this chapter is the most disappointing of Robinson’s book. And it is true that much of its space is wasted on proving what nobody ever doubted—namely, that the Jewish Councils were established by the Nazis—as well as on a thesis that no one at all familiar with concentration and extermination camps will ever believe—namely, that there was no deliberate and infernal blurring of the line between victims and executioners. In the center of these sections are the Jewish Councils, and Robinson’s main thesis is expressed in two sentences: First, “Legally and morally, the members of the Jewish Councils can no more be judged accomplices of their Nazi rulers than can a store owner be judged accomplice of an armed robber to whom he surrenders his store at gunpoint” (p. 159, italics added). The worst reproach one could level at the Jewish Councils would indeed be to accuse them of disposing of Jewish lives and properties as though they owned them, and no one to my knowledge has ever dared to go that far before Mr. Robinson, with his inability “to pause for reflection,” appeared on the scene. And since he cannot remember what he wrote on p. 159 when he comes to p. 223, we hear, second, that whoever “accepted appointment to a Council…did so as a rule out of feeling of responsibility,” hence was by no means forced at gunpoint. Mr. Robinson’s second thesis has become common property among writers for the Jewish Establishment. The first thesis had a certain success in New York’s literary circles, partly, to be sure, because they knew absolutely nothing of the whole issue, but partly also, I am afraid, because of a moral obtuseness which Mary McCarthy very pointedly exposed in Partisan Review. (No one, of course, ever combined the two before for obvious reasons.)

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