“The Formidable Dr. Robinson”: A Reply

Miss Arendt, said Mr. Laqueur in his review of Jacob Robinson’s book And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight (NYR, Nov. 11) “had stumbled on what seemed a hornets’ nest but is in fact a very intricate and painful problem.” This sentence would be true if it read: “She stumbled on what in fact was a hornets’ nest because she had touched upon what seemed an intricate problem and is indeed a painful one.”

Reviewing Robinson’s “full-scale attempt to refute” my report of the Eichmann trial, Mr. Laqueur was so overwhelmed by his author’s “eminent authority” that he thought it superfluous to acquaint himself with the subject under attack. He accepts Mr. Robinson’s basic distortion, contained in the subtitle of his book, “The Jewish Catastrophe and Hannah Arendt’s Narrative,” which implies that I recounted part of “Jewish contemporary history,” while in fact I have criticized the prosecution for taking the Eichmann Trial as a pretext for doing just that. (Needless to say, I would never have gone to Jerusalem if I had wanted to write a book on “contemporary Jewish history.”) Mr. Laqueur believes that I asked “why was there not more active resistance” among the Jews, while it was the prosecution that had brought up this question; I had reported this incident and dismissed the question twice as “silly and cruel, since it testified to a fatal ignorance of the conditions of the time” (pp. 11 and 283 of the second edition). He claims that I have been unaware of the “particular vulnerability” of the Jewish communities in the face of organized persecution, whereas I actually have enumerated these vulnerabilities—no territory, no government, no army, no government in exile, no weapons, no youth with military training (p. 125). He insists that I “argue that justice was not done in Jerusalem,” while I actually argue that despite a number of carefully enumerated irregularities, the very opposite of “countless” ones, justice was done insofar as the trial’s “main purpose—to prosecute and to defend, to judge and to punish Adolf Eichmann—was achieved,” a passage even quoted in Robinson’s book.

Nowhere did I say, as Mr. Laqueur claims, that “Eichmann was hanged…by the wrong court and for the wrong reasons,” or that “irreparable harm was done to the rule of law.” On the contrary, I justified the competence of the court and the kidnapping of the accused (pp. 259-265) and stated that the trial in Jerusalem was “no more, but also no less, than the last of the numerous Successor Trials which followed the Nuremberg Trials.” Finally, Mr. Laqueur—knowing neither my book nor the trial in Jerusalem—believes that I attacked the court proceedings as a whole, whereas what I attacked was the prosecution. (The conflict between bench and prosecution ran like a red thread through the proceedings; I reported it, and sided in nearly all cases with the bench—which was rather common among the members of the press.) Had Mr. Laqueur been at all familiar with the subject matter, he would not have…

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